UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma made an impassioned plea for people to vote in Tuesday's election but also lamented the differences that have come up between longtime friends regarding issues facing the country.
Auriemma spoke Thursday on a Zoom call as part of Big East women's basketball media day, as UConn -- in its first season back in the league -- was named the unanimous preseason favorite. He is having a gathering for the Huskies at his home next Tuesday and was asked what Election Day means to him and what he thinks it means to his players.
Auriemma spoke of being an immigrant from Italy, then majoring in political science in college because of his fascination with how governments work. He also spoke of his mother becoming a U.S. citizen.
"To be honest, I've never felt anything like I'm feeling in today's world," Auriemma said. "Not ever at any time in my life have I been so disgusted with so much of what I see happening in the country.
"The pandemic is one of the least of our problems. There's a cure for the pandemic. It's out there; it's coming. I'm not sure there is a cure for some of the other stuff going on in this country. You can't make a vaccine for some of the nonsense that's been going on. The only thing you have for that is your vote. No one can inoculate you from the stuff that's been happening in this country, the things that are being said, the way people are treating each other. It's just the most anger I've ever felt in my life about anything has been what's going on in our world right now, in America especially."
Auriemma talked about once taking his team to West Point and a message he took away from that.
"They talked about doing the hard 'right' and not the easy 'wrong.' I just think that right now, there's just a lot of easy wrong being done," he said. "It's so easy to be anti-humanity for people. I've never had the kind of arguments, discussions, back-and-forth between really, really close friends, where you just say to yourself, 'Thank god there's a bond there that's greater than what's going on in this country.'
"Because otherwise, I see it: People who've been lifelong friends losing friendships over what's going on right now. The anger on both sides towards each other."
Auriemma also said slogans, gestures, T-shirts and signs expressing beliefs aren't necessarily accomplishing much.
"It's like, 'Let me put a sign up on my lawn. I did my part,'" he said. "That's as good as all the 'thoughts and prayers are with the victims' coming from Washington, D.C., whenever some crazy person -- I don't mean mentally ill person, I mean someone who's got to be deranged -- takes a gun and shoots a bunch of school kids.
"'Our thoughts and prayers are with you.' That sounds good. But when it comes time to vote for any kind of meaningful reform, [it's], 'Nah, I'm not going there.'"
Auriemma also referenced former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest and those who have joined Kaepernick in taking a knee.
"How's that working out? How many white policemen did it stop?" Auriemma said. "Everybody's doing these great things to show their support. Well, guess what. Your support comes Tuesday. No slogans, no buttons, no T-shirts, no signs on your lawn. Just show up Tuesday and do the right thing."
Several of Auriemma's former players were active this summer in the WNBA's social justice pursuits. He said he knows the election is very important to his current players as well. Huskies Christyn Williams and Paige Bueckers, the Big East's preseason player and freshman of the year, respectively, said they have already voted via absentee ballot.
"Voting definitely is very important to me," said Williams, 20, who is from Arkansas. "Because my grandmother went doorstep to doorstep to try to get people to vote. So I feel like it's my duty to vote."
Bueckers, a 19-year-old from Minnesota, added, "We can talk about change all we want. But until we take steps toward action, it's not going to mean anything. So it was really big for all of us to use our voice and vote."
Auriemma said he has invited past teams over to his home on election night, but it is nothing mandatory. The Huskies will not have practice on Tuesday.
"It's an off day, and I know there's tremendous interest in this particular election," Auriemma said.
He referenced 2008, when players such as Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery, who went on to WNBA careers, were all at UConn and came over to his home on election night.
"That was pretty amazing," he said. "It's an opportunity to make them feel part of the process. To sit there and experience what it feels like to have an investment, that they've invested a part of themselves in this election.
"And to not just wake up the next morning and go, 'Yeah, I wonder who won.' I think being connected in some way to what's going on, and for a lot of people, this year, this one is more emotional. This one is fraught with a tremendous amount of intensity, anxiety. I want them to experience what it feels like when you give yourself to something."