“One Player Makes an Impact, 2,000 Make a Movement.”
The powerful statement of unity adorning the NFL Players Association Twitter account bio is the message the NFL is striving for with the NFL Votes initiative.
Launched in August ahead of the 2020 election on November 3, the nonpartisan initiative that is an extension of the league’s ongoing social justice initiative Inspire Change, has spent the past three months providing current and former players, coaches, league personnel and fans with voter education and resources to have their voices properly heard, both locally and at the national level.
These resources reached more than 2,300 players and 6,000 members of the NFL family, including league legends.
“The NFL at its best promotes and reflects the values that we all share,” said Kenneth Edmonds, NFL vice-president of public policy and government affairs. “Civic engagement and voting is one of those core values as Americans I think and hope we all share. What can be more American than the ritual of voting where we get to select the leaders and representatives that reflect our values and priorities?”
The NFL and NFLPA announced on October 28 that nearly 900 NFL players registered to vote through the initiative, raising the ratio of registered active players to about 90%. The Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers proudly boast 100% of their current players are registered to vote.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie wide receiver Collin Johnson, 23, is proud to be one of those newly registered players. He voted at the organization’s mail-in ballot drop off center last week.
“For this being my first time voting, I’m finally ready and I’m educated enough to make that decision to vote,” Johnson said. “I just feel like it’s our duty as U.S. citizens to do so and also just educating myself on everything that’s going on around the world pushed me to vote. Now, I feel like it’s the right time.
“As I get older, you notice more and more stuff. When you’re younger, you think it can’t affect you. As I’m getting older, I’m realizing it very well could affect me on any given day, so I just feel like it’s my duty now that I’m old enough and educated enough.”
The NFL Votes initiative came about from players’ conversations with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the offseason following months of uncertainty and turmoil stemming from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as well as social unrest and protests following the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, many at the hands of police. Edmonds said the players wanted to meet the moment while leveraging the league’s platform to improve and empower communities.
The initiative is based on three key pillars of the electoral process: voter education, voter registration, and voter activation.
“We all have families and a place we call home, so it’s not just about sports, it’s about making sure communities are impacted in a positive way,” said Traci Otey-Blunt, NFL senior vice-president of corporate communications. “The beauty of the NFL is that we have a unique platform—we are in communities and always have been in communities—so the players are advocates in their communities. It’s definitely beyond sports because we’re all from communities.”
With only 60% of eligible Americans voting in the 2016 election, NFL Votes launched with a TV spot to encourage all eligible voters to exercise their civic duty. A second TV spot aired in September to engage the Latin community during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Not only are fans encouraged to vote, but many were able to at their favorite team’s stadium: 16 NFL organizations committed to using their facilities or grounds as election sites, while 30 teams embarked on fan-facing voter registration efforts.
All NFL, NFLPA and club facilities are closed on Election Day to ensure players, coaches and personnel have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote and to allow them to support voting efforts in their community.
“Especially in the current environment with concerns running high over COVID-19, the added benefit is that many of our facilities are centrally located, modern, and they’re large, so that really helps to facilitate socially distanced and safe voting,” Edmonds said. “They’re particularly suitable for this environment to serve as polling sites.”
The Carolina Panthers have been one of the more involved organizations, leading the charge to encourage and support fans in the voting process. From October 15-31, including on game days, fans were able to vote at one of 15 booths within Bank of America Stadium. The club celebrated its 10,000th early voter to cast a ballot on October 28.
“I think voting is the single best thing that we, as individuals, can do to leave an imprint on what we want to see happen,” Panthers tight end Chris Manhertz said. “I wanted to encourage people who didn’t go out to vote before to take it more seriously because there’s an onus on you as an individual to take pride in it if you want to see a change happen.”