A newly formed group of minority basketball coaches wants colleges across the country to turn their arenas and stadiums into voting centers on Election Day.
Black Coaches United, which features both men's and women's coaches, released a statement to ESPN announcing its hope that universities will participate and make voting more accessible on Nov. 3.
Tubby Smith, Leonard Hamilton, former Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, former Georgetown coach John Thompson III, Johnny Dawkins, Frank Haith, LSU women's basketball assistant Charlene Thomas-Swinson, Delaware women's coach Natasha Adair and other members of the group, which might add football coaches in the future, aim to offer a safe space for minority coaches at all levels who are seeking to discuss issues relevant to them and their experiences.
The group's emphasis on voting centers stems from a move made by the Atlanta Hawks, who announced that they would turn their State Farm Arena into a massive polling place after the city experienced an abundance of challenges in its June primary.
"We are encouraging colleges and universities, especially those in America's urban centers, to set up polling stations on their campuses," Black Coaches United said in a statement. "In July, the NBA's Atlanta Hawks offered the use of the State Farm Arena as a polling place following the debacle that took place during the June 9 primary election in Georgia. Many of us witnessed the long lines of would-be voters standing in a parking lot for hours waiting to exercise their right to vote. In the city of Atlanta, the number of polling stations have been reduced each year since 2014. The closing of polling stations across the country have consistently taken place in poor communities and communities of color. The long lines of voters waiting to exercise their right to vote should be alarming to all Americans that cherish democracy.
"Volunteering your arenas or student unions as a place to exercise the right to vote would be an act that affirms the statements many of you made to end systemic inequalities following the death of George Floyd."
Hewitt, who is now an NBA scout for the Los Angeles Clippers, said the group came together after multiple coaches had expressed a sense of isolation in this pivotal moment and a desire to unify and take action on significant issues. He said voting affects everyone, but the challenges in communities of color are something schools throughout the country can address if they turn their facilities into polling places.
The group has also called on schools to help student-athletes register to vote. In its statement, it applauded the efforts of Georgia Tech assistant Eric Reveno, who started a campaign to get college basketball coaches to help players register to vote. The effort quickly expanded, and the NCAA subsequently recommended that teams do not schedule team activities on Election Day.
"We encourage all member schools to assist students in registering to vote in the upcoming national election and designate Nov. 3, 2020, as a day off from athletic activity so athletes can vote and participate in their ultimate responsibility as citizens," NCAA president Mark Emmert and the association's board of governors said in a statement in June.
Black Coaches United has also called on Congress to pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020, which "addresses issues of discrimination and access for communities of color at polling places," per the Washington Post. The House has passed the bill named after the notable politician who died last month. The Senate has not.
"One of the issues [the bill] addresses is the reduction of polling stations in the neighborhoods of the citizens that have suffered from years of systemic inequalities," Black Coaches United said in its statement. "Mr. Lewis' life was devoted to ending the disenfranchisement of American citizens. He shed his blood on the Edmund Pettus bridge as part of this ongoing fight."
Hewitt said the group hopes to address challenges while also highlighting progress.
"Black Coaches United will most importantly give voices and opportunities to men and women of color in our game," said Cuonzo Martin, Missouri's head coach. "It's going to put action-oriented strategies in place to help coaches at all levels, and that's the key to creating systemic change. We have to keep coming together to grow, learn and present opportunities for minority coaches and leaders, and BCU will provide a platform to do so."