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Why a day without college sports on Nov. 3 matters to me

Georgia Tech men’s basketball player shares motivation for voting this year

There will be no college sports played this Election Day, Nov. 3. The NCAA announced on June 12 its support of our #AllVoteNoPlay campaign, a grassroots voting effort led by student-athletes and coaches to ensure games and practices would not be held and we would be free to go to the polls and exercise our civic responsibility.

There is a backstory here. This was not a progressive, unprompted decision by the NCAA on behalf of its student-athlete labor pool. Nov. 3 will be a day off this year and into the future because one of my basketball coaches at Georgia Tech, Eric Reveno, was determined to make it happen.

The entire experience – and the positive outcome of the campaign – is a life lesson that combines the best of empathy, teamwork and perseverance. Sadly, it took the killings of Black people in 2020 to create the urgency.

As a college student and athlete, I am focused on school, basketball, my friends and family. Probably like many others my age, I would not give myself high marks when it comes to civic awareness or political activism. In past years, I didn’t think I had the time. I also was very naive in thinking my vote really might not have meaning. But there is one thing I’ve never been confused about: my skin color and how that impacts my life experiences.

I was racially profiled for the first time when I was 13 years old. In my hometown of Indianapolis, my twin brother and I were subject to a search because we “fit a description” while shopping at our local Target. These personal experiences along with the recent tragic events in our country are what compelled me to do my part and then some. Voting is perhaps the most fundamental tool for making systematic change in our country. It’s a way to ensure that your voice is heard. I now realize that my vote does matter and that is why I want to ensure others feel the same. How could I not?

My teammates came to a similar conclusion earlier this year. We came together as a team at Georgia Tech in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police on May 25 and tried to work through our feelings of anger and sorrow. We have had many team gatherings over the years. This one was different. We were not actually together in our locker room. Due to the coronavirus, we were connected via a video call.

The one question we kept coming back to was how do we as student-athletes make a difference. The immediate thought was to join the marches. But wouldn’t that be hypocritical if we weren’t all also registered and committed to voting? One hundred million age-eligible voters did not participate in the 2016 election. How was that possible, I asked my teammates and coaches. Coach Reveno, our associate head coach (Rev to all of us) stepped in. By the next morning, he was in a full sprint. This sprint speaks to who Coach Reveno is as a person. Since the time I stepped on campus, he has always been someone who is committed to making the world a better place and going above and beyond to do so.

I don’t know how many people he called, but he rallied hundreds, initially other coaches and then various administrators and student-athlete groups across the country. I had never been part of what people would call a “movement,” but that is definitely what this was. Coach Rev’s efforts — along with those of numerous others — successfully drove the NCAA to declare that for the first time Nov. 3 would be a mandatory day off.

Student-athletes, coaches and athletic administrators at colleges and universities across the country are mobilizing. Numerous college programs have initiated voting drives. Teams are announcing that 100% of their players have registered. It does not surprise me. We are athletes and are motivated by goals.

To further organize our efforts, we are building out our “Athletes Rise Up” platform on Instagram (@AthletesRiseUp). This will serve as our hub to make as many student-athletes as possible aware of the voting process. It will also help us support our peers as they figure out how they will go about voting: Where is their polling station? How will they get there and who else will they bring along? We are also signing up young people to volunteer as poll workers.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that the opportunity and urgency have never been greater. As it says in the title of a book written by Martin Dempsey, a decorated general, former chair of the Joint Chiefs and head of USA Basketball: There’s No Time For Spectators.

Malachi Rice is a senior basketball player at Georgia Tech and is from Indianapolis, Indiana. He is earning a degree in business administration and has a twin brother who plays basketball at Vanderbilt University.