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FSU athletes lead push to register to vote

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Student-athletes across college campuses nationwide said they would be more active and use their platforms to bring about social change. They are also exercising their right to vote, some of them for the first time, in the 2020 elections.

Athletes at Florida State registered and voted by mail in the weeks leading up to Election Day on Tuesday. The push was often led by students to register or encourage teammates to do so.

“The majority of our teams are 100 percent registered to vote,” said Sarah Petronio, FSU’s director of student-athlete development and events. “That was our goal to accomplish the registration piece. They took the initiative. It was student-driven.”

Petronio said members of FSU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) were seeking how to use their voice in a productive way, and voter registration was at the top of the list. FSU coaches and administrators were able to help athletes navigate the registration process but often it was the athletes who were spear-heading the effort.

“I remember one day Cam McDonald was down outside the locker room with voter registration, steps of how to do that, making sure and encouraging guys to be a part of that,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said. “It’s been something that has been constant throughout the semester, not just with our football team, with our athletic department. I really appreciate the push from all the student-athletes and the support that has been given to our players, the opportunity to be able to (vote), whether it’s early voting opportunities or mail-in for guys that are from out of state that have the opportunity to vote.”

With the topic of racial inequality moving to the forefront this summer, athletes wanted to make their voice heard. Defensive tackle Cory Durden said in June that he didn’t want to be viewed as just a football player for three hours on Saturdays and helped organize a Unity Walk where the community could join and ideas could be shared. A number of players said community service and volunteering at schools was important to them, with a large group taking part in a book drive and beautification at nearby Riley Elementary.

Marvin Wilson’s tweet in the summer was sparked by what he considered a miscommunication following a text with Norvell, but it could also be argued that it was a learning experience for a young coach as well as an opportunity for listening and learning. Norvell and the staff also organized campfire sessions where players interacted and shared stories about themselves and their families.

“Not even just me personally after the video (on social media), we’ve had so many different guys really step up since then,” Wilson said. “Cory (Durden) with our unity walk, that was his event that he organized. We’ve had different guys involved with different groups around the Florida State campus that are helping put out different things that are helping the Black Lives Matter movement. We have a new unified motto around here with our spears showing that we are unified, we are one, we support each other including Black lives. Seeing Jaiden Lars-Woodbey go out there and be involved in so many different groups, Chaz Neal, the list goes on and on of different guys stepping up and really using their platform, using their voice, using their time outside of football.”

The NCAA has established Election Day as one where student-athletes and coaches could be free from games or practices, an idea that in part was sparked by Georgia Tech basketball assistant coach Eric Reveno. The momentum began with Reveno’s post on Twitter in early June and quickly built support within college athletics. 

“I do think that there’s a heightened sense of participation,” Petronio said. “But also I think this generation is very involved in utilizing that platform.”

Stadiums and arenas around the country have also been used for early voting or on Election Day, including the Donald L. Tucker Center.