The social and racial justice movements ignited in 2020 led to an unprecedented voting awareness and education campaign by the NFL, its stars and clubs.
Heading into the 2022 election cycle, the NFL Vote remained a priority for the league and its personnel (including players, coaches and front office staff), all of whom received voter education, information and support.
NFL Votes has become a vital engagement initiative for the league in its third year, and the NFL spent months Tuesday preparing for and targeting the Nov. 8 midterm elections, with the campaign reaching more than 160 million people, according to the league. . The initiative is a joint effort between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
“We see ourselves as stewards of a public asset with a responsibility to the community to encourage good, nonpartisan efforts in our society,” Washington Commanders President Jason Wright told USA TODAY Sports. “And this is one of them.
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“We can take the ambition, the creativity and the passion of the players and put some infrastructure around it and have a tangible impact beyond a social media campaign and an already massive fan message.”
The movement started with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, New Orleans Saints defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and several other players sharing personal stories about the votes. This has led to an advertising campaign in which players share these experiences, which have been broadcast during matches in recent weeks.
“I think we’ve effectively amplified their voice in this, and we really appreciate their participation as well,” NFL senior vice president of public policy and government affairs Brendon Plack told USA TODAY Sports.
Chiefs president Mark Donovan said Mahomes told his teammates in 2020 about his confusion about his registration status in the Kansas City area. Mathieu, who was with the Chiefs at the time, was candid about how voting wasn’t a priority growing up and said his views have changed. Conversations between the players and the team created a “straight path” to raise awareness and bring in experts who could actually provide resources around registration and information.
RISE To Vote, one of the league’s three official partners in NFL Votes, is a New York-based organization that works with other leagues and college athletic departments to promote voter engagement. With the NFL, RISE conducts workshops with players and business personnel and has visited with five teams this year: the Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Commanders and Chiefs.
Scarlen Martinez, who leads RISE’s athlete empowerment team, will begin a session with an NFL club in an educational note, exploring the impact of voting rights on various marginalized groups in the United States.
The second part is giving you the tools to be an informed voter. RISE helps people check people’s records, stay up-to-date on important dates, find candidate profiles and showcase their views.
“This wouldn’t be as successful if it wasn’t all hands on deck,” Martinez told USA TODAY Sports. “When everyone in your organization is beyond a problem or a priority and then getting people like us involved in the community to do this work, I think it’s really important.”
The third part of the presentation focuses on the broader issues of civic engagement. Martinez said that the vote is a part. But there are opportunities for philanthropy and volunteerism, and athletes are encouraged to use their platforms.
“They can talk about how effective it can be if you follow the right process,” Donovan said of RISE. “I think they do a good job with that. I think they understand the audience. They can talk to them and answer questions effectively. They are experts in their field, and they do it in a way that resonates with our coaches and players.”
Martinez said more efforts have been made on the part of the NFL to reach more communities. In coordination with the Rams’ season opener in September, he ran an NFL Vote booth at a J Balvin concert in Long Beach, California, to appeal to the Latino community.
The NFL said about 90 percent of active players are registered to vote. Some teams reported signing up 100 percent of their players in 2020, a goal the commanders also reached that cycle.
This year, the NFL is also partnering with “Vet The Vote,” an organization that hires military veterans to work as election workers.
“Who better to do this job of letting democracy work at its most critical time?” said Joe Maloney, vice president of government affairs.
In the two weekends before election day, the groups had activations with area logos to promote the vote. All NFL stadiums have the ability to be used as polling places, but with turnout traditionally much lower during a midterm cycle, the need is less pressing.
This will not prevent some groups from going to the communities in view of the elections. The Denver Broncos, for example, turned to NFL Votes as a season-long initiative, director of community development Liz Jeralds said.
The Broncos will host a Denver Mobile Voting Unit in their stadium parking lot on Nov. 4 and 5 as a drop-off and registration site. On Election Day, cheerleaders will help hand out Broncos-branded “I Voted” stickers in English and Spanish. The spirit squad is going to a pep rally at a local high school; In Colorado, anyone over the age of 16 can pre-register to vote.
“We really make sure we’re a resource for people in our organization and in our community and we encourage people inside and outside the building to get educated and active,” Jeralds said, according to USA TODAY Sports, which was signed by a player. for the first time recently.
Teams like the Commanders and Seattle Seahawks have websites that fans can use, including how to register to vote, important dates, and player or coach testimonials.
“Sports bring people together like few other things,” said Jeff Richards, vice president of marketing and community engagement for USA TODAY Sports. “So it’s important to us … that we’re using our platform to bring people together and you have to do that through elections as well, so that the people’s voices are heard.”
On game days, Richards said, everyone is welcome to be a part of the “12,” no matter what lifestyle they may come from. But that requires participation, like voting.
“There’s a lot of division right now,” Richards said. “There are people from different angles and perspectives who are very passionate about their point of view, now more than ever, there are ways to hear those opinions and say those things.”
The key to NFL Vote efforts is that all campaigns and education are non-partisan. Like a football roster, each fan is a cross-section of the country. The same people who exchange barbs on social media exchange high fives when their favorite player scores a touchdown.
The NFL is not advocating any specific outcome or policy change. The purpose of NFL Ballots is simply to vote, Plack said.
“While we don’t tell you who to vote for,” Martinez said, “I can provide tools to look for information and see who fits your needs and the needs of your community.”
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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