From Pitch to Poll Booth to Politics

With the 2022 midterm elections right around the corner, promoting voter turnout nationwide is a top priority. The federal government, individual cities, and local advocacy organizations are all involved in maximizing voter turnout. Typically, these organizations work tirelessly for months prior to the election to register voters and encourage them to fill out their ballots. 

Recently, a new mass media world has brought itself into the efforts of get-out-the-vote: sports. Large athletic organizations such as the NFL have become increasingly more involved in civic engagement, from working with youth to taking a stand for social justice, and now, voting. 

One of the most prominent efforts has been the “NFL Votes” initiative. Launched in August 2020, to educate voters, register voters, and get voters to the ballot boxes and election booths. Ads promoting voting have popped up all over the internet and television broadcasts. In one such ad, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, Cleveland Browns QB Deshuan Watson, and New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan push the fact that only sixty percent of eligible voters turned out in 2016. All 30 active NFL stadiums across the country now serve as election sites, with early voting, ballot drop-off, and election day polling. These stadiums serve as the perfect multi-purpose venues to increase voter turnout, being that they are large, recognizable facilities.

However, it has been pointed out by critics that sports franchises had some influence over the world of politics for longer than it may seem. These huge sports leagues have always been involved in the world of politics, wielding immense political power, being able to coerce government officials to approve favorable terms for them. For example, cities have been forced to approve million dollar tax breaks for NFL teams, and peddle to their continuous needs of new, expensive, and financially unsustainable stadiums. These stadiums are the facilities that are “volunteered” to be election sites. Elsewhere, the NFL is able to negotiate multi-billion dollar television contracts because of an exemption to antitrust laws. These contracts have given the NFL the resources and recognition it needs to promote nationwide voting initiatives.

So, is this really sport’s first venture into politics?