“The Zoom call just gave everybody a platform to get all their thoughts out on the table and to speak on the events that were going on,” Malachi Rice said by phone from his family’s home in Boston. “It also gave us a chance as a team to come together and figure out what we could do as a collective, as a unit to bring about reform, to bring about change. Pretty much everybody on the call felt strongly about it. It was a wake-up call, like, ‘Let’s do something.’ ”
Rice’s suggestion? Vote.
“Something I stressed on the call was just voting, the importance of voting,” Rice said. “Before, I was active in politics and what was going on, but when I got to George Tech, I got busy with classes and basketball and didn’t have time. But now, with this new initiative we’ve created, it’ll give student-athletes the opportunity to be involved in politics and to do their civic duty in voting.”
That was all associate head coach Eric Reveno needed to hear.
“The guys went around the room and expressed their emotions and how they were feeling — frustrated, angry, disappointed. Some were hopeful, but a lot of it was some heavy stuff, and I told them I was embarrassed and I got emotional,” Reveno said by phone. “I said, ‘I’m going to try to do everything I can to do better because we all have to change our habits, our daily engagement.’ Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in diverse bubbles all my life that I felt things were okay.”
The morning after the call, Reveno, who is 54 and white, said he woke up and it was still on his mind.
“I thought about how I’d spent my life trying to teach our guys positive habits and taking responsibility for things like taking care of their nutrition and sleep and getting to their financial literacy courses and making them better basketball players,” he said. “[But] what have I done about voting? What have other coaches done about voting?”
He approached head coach Josh Pastner about taking steps to help students vote, and they quickly obtained their supervisors’ approval. Reveno began tweeting the #ALLVOTENOPLAY idea “relentlessly,” he cheerfully admitted, to the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the NCAA. By the next day, nine Georgia Tech teams, including football under coach Geoff Collins, had committed to giving athletes Election Day — Nov. 3 this year — off.
The idea has caught on beyond Georgia Tech, with Boston College’s basketball coach pledging to give athletes the day off and others, such as Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few, beginning to follow. Few told ESPN “it was a great idea. It’s just a step. One of many that needs to happen.” Coaches of all 22 teams at George Mason pledged to cancel team-related activities Nov. 3. Coach Ed Orgeron told ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge that the members of his LSU football team were all “going to register to vote online.”
Reveno’s efforts also got a boost from Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr and from Jason Collins, a former NBA player whom Reveno had coached.
Admittedly, with students away from home, giving students the day off from athletics doesn’t mean they’ll vote.
“With absentee ballots, it can be largely symbolic and the day can be largely symbolic,” Reveno said. “Schools will have to build their programming around it, but to have that day in the NCAA books so that all 460,000 NCAA athletes have that day off and coaches build around it would be powerful. What really clinched it for me when I looked at the data and the U.S. census data for voting among 18- to 24-year-olds has been in decline since I was born in ’66. In 2008, it spiked up, but in 2010 it was back to low numbers. The trend is downward.”
That new awareness goes for Reveno, too. “I wasn’t taking my voting responsibility as seriously as I should, nor was I teaching civic engagement like I should,” he said. “It’s so simple, and it’s timely. I haven’t had to sell it much, and it took off.”
Pastner brought the idea to the attention of others during an ACC coaches’ committee call. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski “got excited,” Reveno said, “which carries a lot of weight.” And beyond the regional interest? “Heck, it could be a movement where no school is in session across the country so everyone has the opportunity to exercise the right to vote,” Pastner told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The next step is getting athletes registered, perhaps by adding voter registration forms to the paperwork athletes must complete. Grouping athletes by their home state helps, too, with a captain to help organize registration. There are also apps athletes can use to remind them when and how to vote. At the moment, there’s still uncertainty about how to organize the efforts. Reveno joked that he “has two degrees from Stanford” and wasn’t certain, so there’s work to be done.
Reveno hopes the idea will be codified in the NCAA rule book and admits that giving athletes that Tuesday off is problematic for sports like football or those that may have games midweek. He added that it could go beyond just athletes, too, with people getting free admission to games, for instance, by wearing an “I voted” sticker. “It’s not political,” he said. “It’s a fundamental, American thing.”
That was a point Rice made. Voting means awareness and education. His parents, particularly his mother, stressed civic responsibility to him, his twin brother (who attends Vanderbilt) and their older brother (a Columbia graduate) from an early age. Robin Rice “always made sure I knew what was going on in the world,” he said. “She always said how important that is and to know everything that is going on around me. When I got my first phone, she immediately downloaded a newspaper app and had me reading newspapers every single day, made that a routine.”
It took a little over a day for the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ Committee on Racial Reconciliation to recommend that athletes annually get Election Day off.
“I don’t really care that it started with me or with the team,” Rice told the AJC. “I just think it’s so necessary, especially in a time like this.”