Op-Ed: A coach's standard -- why I exercise my civic duty to vote

As a young child in North Carolina, I remember hearing stories of blatant and violent racism, Black men and women hosed in the streets and attacked by police dogs, from my parents and grandparents who lived through the civil rights movement. Their experiences influenced my upbringing greatly. Those stories modeled my view on the world, and I knew I had to grow up to be a change-maker in society for people of color, especially women.

When the National Football League launched its voting initiative, NFL Votes, this summer, it hit home for me. I realized the launch date was the same as a significant date in U.S. history -- it was the 55th anniversary of the day the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law. It was not long ago that my parents, grandparents and civil rights leaders fought for basic human rights, voting included.

Soon after I turned 18, I registered to vote. At this time, I had begun my first semester of college, so I registered on campus. Registering was a rite of passage for me, a coming of age. I have memories of tagging along with my mother as she voted when I was a child. During an election, she would pick me up from school and take me with her to the voting center in our neighborhood. We would stand in line together until it was her turn to cast her ballot. I could not wait to be able to do the same. The idea that my voter registration card afforded me the power to vote was exciting.

The year 2008 brought upon the first presidential election in which I was able to exercise my civic duty of voting. I was at home sitting in my living room when I learned then-Sen. Barack Obama won. I thought then about my grandparents, who likely thought we would never see an African-American in office. I thought, "How incredible is it that the first presidential election I was able to vote in resulted in a president whose skin color was the same as mine?" That moment was a testimony to how far we have come.

Since then our nation has evolved. We are facing unprecedented times, and we all have had to adjust our lives in significant ways. There has been a lot of change over the past few months. Training camp is different. How we are preparing for the 2020 NFL season is different. I recognize the change within our four walls here in Washington. There is a strong culture shift happening within our organization, as well, and for that shift to continue to move forward, it is critical for each and every person to do their job. Previously, when I was coaching women's basketball, personal standard was the guiding principal of my coaching philosophy and it remains a part of my philosophy with the Washington Football Team. Whether on the court or the field, I consistently ask players: "What standard of life are you willing to accept?" The standard you hold yourself to dictates your performance and the level at which you engage with your community. Exercising your right to vote is a part of that standard.

The 2020 election year represents more than I could ever imagine, especially as we look to commemorate two centennials, one for our country and one for football. Today, Aug. 26, we're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, and in three weeks, on Sept. 17, the NFL will celebrate its 100th anniversary. Women have come a long way since then and are paving their way in sports, especially across the league. The NFL is home to a diverse group of dynamic female leaders. There is still work to do to create more opportunities for us, but we are making progress.

As the first full-time African-American female assistant coach in the NFL, I could not have gotten to where I am today without the generations before me fighting for their rights, fighting to be the first, and ultimately fighting for equality. I find it immensely important to share my story with the hopes of inspiring more women to be the first in their industry. With my platform and my voice, I look to inspire not only other women, but the younger generation to exercise their right to vote and be the change they want to see.

To all the women and young people, you can be anything you aspire to be, but the journey is not easy. We must put in the work, just like those before us. No matter your political standing, it is crucial for you to educate yourself and exercise your rights. Not long ago there was a time when the opportunities we have now did not exist. Be prideful in this moment. Vote.

Jennifer King is the full-year coaching intern with the Washington Football Team


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