As the NFL works to be a force for good and aid its players in their fight against social injustice and racial inequality in the United States, one area of focus is voting and the upcoming election in November.
A recent NFL Network roundtable delved into the issue of what the league and its players can do to bolster voting and voting rights in 2020. Network analyst Scott Pioli, former general manager of the Chiefs and a longtime league executive, called on all 32 teams to make this upcoming Election Day (Tuesday, Nov. 3) a paid day off for non-essential employees.
"I have this idea that I'd love to see NFL teams and their coaches mobilize their players and their non-essential employees on Tuesdays to put them out there," Pioli said. "To help as volunteers, to work the polls to volunteer at the polls to be a physical presence to bring people in."
Pioli added: "I see this as an opportunity for the NFL in a very, very critical year to step up, move forward and give us your time, give us your treasure, give us your talent, give us your human resources. Work on using facilities that you have whether its your indoor facility as a voting station. Work in conjunction with NBA teams, or MLB teams to use the facilities within your city. We've got all these facilities that are publicly funded that our teams use year-in and year-out; let's serve the public. Serve your local public. … Let's find a way to help people to get across cities and into areas to use public transportation, pay for public transportation to get people to the polls. And the most important things that, as I've talked to a number of secretaries of states throughout this country, is we need places to vote and we need people to help us. Let's find a way to pull our resources together and again make Tuesday, Election Day, a day that you give your employees a day off -- a paid day -- if they don't need to be in the office. … Find all the people that aren't necessary to be used to go out and help us with this election. Use every resource that you possibly have. Find all the people that aren't necessary to be used to go out and help us with this election. Use every resource that you possibly have. I think that's one big way that teams can help."
Tuesdays are typically off days during the season for players in which they focus on community relations.
Players Coalition member Matthew Slater, an eight-time Pro Bowl special teamer for the Patriots, supported Pioli's idea for recognizing Election Day as a paid holiday.
"I certainly think that's a creative idea," Slater said. "Ownership has the chance to get out there -- and it's not a partisan effort, it's a bi-partisan effort -- they can get out there and give our citizens a chance, and our local communities, to get out and vote. We know that voting is going to be an issue this year because of COVID, and this is a chance to make a real difference. So certainly I think that's a tremendous idea. Ownership really has a chance to respond in a powerful way and it goes beyond writing a check."
Patrick Mahomes and Tyrann Mathieu told reporters last month that they intended to work with Chiefs owner Clark Hunt on how they can enact change on a local level with voter registration. Mahomes also is partnering with NBA superstar LeBron James' "More Than a Vote" non-profit with the goal of "combating systemic, racist voter suppression by educating, energizing, and protecting our community in 2020."
New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way also was a panelist on the NFL Network roundtable and she brought up the example of Laura Wooten, a Black woman who worked as an election poll worker for 79 years, to show that everyone can work to have a positive impact on voting rights.
"Look at the Lauras and I say she was this ordinary woman who did this extraordinary thing for 79 years," Way said. "And if she could do it, then why can't all of us be part of this grandness of democracy, protecting the vote and making sure that it is accessible and relatable to everyone?"
Way also described The New Jersey Ballot Bowl -- a non-partisan student voter registration competition -- as an example of a voting initiative in action. Former Giants safety Michael Thomas and former Jets offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum have participated in the Ballot Bowl.
A common theme throughout the panel was finding creative ways to support voting and voting rights with fewer than four months until Election Day.
Pioli's proposal drew support from Way and Slater, who ended the panel stating his concerns for possible voter suppression during the 2020 election.
"I will say that over the course of history we have seen that voter suppression has been a big issue for us," Slater said. "My concern with this election year is that's going to rear its ugly head again. As you all are saying we all have to continue to be as creative as possible. We have to use our platforms as best we can, and understanding that if we want democracy to thrive and excel and be at its best it means that everyone has the same opportunity to exercise their right. And I'm so thankful. It's hard for me to look at this issue without looking at the past. You think about the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and all the men and women who gave so much so someone like myself can have the opportunity to vote. You look at people of color, we've had the chance to vote in less than 15 presidential election cycles. That's really telling and that really tells you a lot about where we've been, but I hope that where we're going is going to be a much better place."