This year there will be no practice or games on Election Day for NCAA Division I athletes.
Thanks to #AllVoteNoPlay, student-sponsored NCAA legislation that passed unanimously last year, these athletes will instead be given time off to vote or engage in civic activity.
#AllVoteNoPlay started with Eric Reveno, associate head coach of Georgia Tech men's basketball. It began when a polarized election pushed voting to the forefront of our national consciousness. But the spirit of #AllVoteNoPlay, as Coach Rev says, is so much bigger than voting. It's about igniting a cultural shift in college athletics.
It's about getting coaches to talk about civics, and changing the perception of Election Day from a day off from practice to a day on for learning, engaging and growing in civic understanding and community leadership.
Why coaches? Because 75 percent of NCAA athletes want more opportunities for civic engagement — and who's better poised to lead, model and support their efforts than the most trusted adults in their lives?
Still, asking coaches to support their athletes' ability to vote in a major national election is one thing. Asking them to take on a new role as civic educators is something else entirely.
"At one point in time, I thought — probably like many of you — that civics was a subject only for the classroom, [aside from] making sure my players knew where to vote on Election Day," Coach Rev says when speaking to his colleagues in athletic programs across the country. "I've since learned that focusing just on voting is like thinking that our players only have to show up on game days, without putting in the hard work in between to build their skills. And I've learned that my players are young men of character and curiosity who want to help drive positive change in the world around them, but they need guidance from trusted adults like me to help them get there."
His is a quiet movement, one that's been met with reluctance from the very people he hoped would embrace it. But slowly, a groundswell of support for #AllVoteNoPlay has bubbled up on campuses across the country. From community colleges through Division I programs, change is happening.
Drawing on the new #AllVoteNoPlay Playbook — a collection of inspiring ideas and actions curated by Vote by Design, a team of civic learning experts, athletes and coaches like Rev himself — coaches and athletes are developing their civic conditioning:
- Coach Clare Fitzpatrick from Holy Cross challenged her women's basketball team to reflect on how the support of a broader community allows them to succeed at their sport, and how recognizing the efforts of everyone within a community relates to citizenship. The question led to deepening gratitude for the "unseen" helpers — trainers, medical staff, custodians, ticket staff, referee and so many others — whose daily efforts elevate the team's success.
- Coach Grant Leep at Seattle Pacific University asked his basketball team to consider the concept of "showing up" for others as a foundational practice for civic leadership. He later found them cheering on a different sports team at their game. "Coach," they said, "we're citizening!"
- Coach Ryan Marks, at the University of St. Francis, started the school year talking about the importance of community. He hosted a screening of the 9/11 documentary "You Are Here" with his team. He also facilitated a talk-back about embracing strangers as neighbors and the lessons the team could draw on from 9/11 to be better teammates and community members.
Big plans were implemented to make Nov. 2 a "day on." Vanderbilt Athletics is organizing campus-wide activities and service. Athletes are volunteering at local schools, creating videos for children in area hospitals, mentoring Special Olympics athletes on campus and participating in campus conversations. Their visionary athletic director, Candace Storey Lee, sees the direct connection between these efforts and a larger push at Vanderbilt to commit to civic engagement and growth through ongoing conversations about privilege, race, inclusion, and learning from others through listening and active dialogue.
At Skyline Community College in California, #AllVoteNoPlay is more than just a single day. Its observances kicked off with a dedicated time for each player on the men's basketball team to learn how to check their voter registration status, and register as needed, with their coaches' support. The team also hosted a special guest, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President David Canepa, for a team conversation about the importance of civic engagement and involvement in their local community.
Yale is getting into the spirit of #AllVoteNoPlay, led by sophomore tight end Ryan Belk, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Belk is hosting a Team Bulldog Ballot Breakfast on Nov. 2 to watch and discuss videos by Citizen University CEO Eric Liu on the power, joy and responsibility of voting and civic engagement through a "Votesgiving" gathering.
Belk isn't the only student who's spearheading #AllVoteNoPlay on campus. Stanford basketball player Sam Beskind, women's water polo Coach John Tanner and others are coordinating a campus-wide celebration of #AllVoteNoPlay as part of Stanford's Democracy Day. A student-athlete gathering at the Stanford's Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (better known as the d. School) will offer hands-on "civic drills" and celebrate the university's commitment to helping athletes engage as active, productive citizens.
And what about Coach Rev? As you might expect, the founder and champion of #AllVoteNoPlay has something special planned. He's taking the Georgia Tech men's basketball team to the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta. There, they'll trace the historic legacy of Atlanta in the fight for voting rights, and honor the contributions of heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and many others.
Last year, over $14 billion was spent on the 2020 election cycle. It was a record-breaking amount — nearly double the previous total — and it produced one of the most divisive campaigns in recent U.S. history. But the 2020 election also has a positive legacy to carry forward: the greatest youth voter turnout in history. With the help of #allVoteNoPlay, this movement of agency and future focus is taking root on campuses all across the country. It's a cultural shift that started with one man, who saw his responsibility to cultivate leadership beyond the basketball court — and set a new standard for coaches everywhere.
It's time for coaches to get more involved in civics. And they're answering the call.