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Minium: Thanks to Effort Begun by Wood Selig, Every Eligible ODU Athlete is Registered to Vote


Joe Reece helped lead an effort by ODU basketball team to register ODU students to vote

By Harry Minium

When the social-justice movement spurred by the death of George Floyd began to tug at the conscience of America, Old Dominion Athletic Director Camden Wood Selig quietly tasked senior administrators Randale Richmond and Carolyn Crutchfield to form a social-justice athletic task force.

"I don't want us to go through the motions," he said. "I want to affect real change."

Most of what that group is working on will bear fruit down the road for ODU athletics and I'll write more about that later. But the group has already had a big impact on many of ODU's nearly 450 athletes.

Its first task was to educate ODU's athletes about why it is important to participate in our democracy and then persuade them to register to vote.

We don't care if you vote for President Donald Trump or Vice-President Joe Biden or if you choose a third-party candidate. But if you don't vote, please don't complain about your government.

Voting, they were told, is the only way to affect change.

And heading into Tuesday's election, 100 percent of all ODU athletes eligible to vote are registered.

"That's quite an accomplishment and I'm proud of our staff and our student-athletes," Dr. Selig said.

This was not done in a vacuum. The NCAA had already mandated Election Day as a day off for athletes and other schools were also beginning voter-registration drives. It is also a day off for all ODU students and faculty.

Dr. Ron Moses, ODU's associate athletic director for student-athlete services and chief diversity officer, did a quick count of athletes and realized his group had a lot of work to do. He estimated that ten to 15 percent of University athletes were registered to vote.

Dr. Ron Moses

Persuading some to register was not easy. Many Americans don't vote because they don't feel like their votes make any difference and some ODU athletes felt the same way.

Moses, Kristen Eden and the other academic support personnel began scheduling Zoom meetings to educate the athletes on the importance of voting.

"We can't force them to vote, to register or even attend our meetings," Moses said. "I'm so gratified that so many did."

Some of those meetings were basic in nature, explaining the difference between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal government and how the separation of powers allows them to act independently.

Other Zoom meetings explained the political parties, how they began and what they stand for. When asked about the difference between what Republicans and Democrats stand for, Moses said they used issues where the differences are clear, such as abortion.

They also stressed that the elections that really matter are local. A lot of athletes are from Virginia Beach, which is electing a mayor and several city council members. Others vote in Norfolk, where plans for a new casino are on the ballot.

"We told them that local offices, really the city or county you live in, is what's going to affect your life directly," he said.

Some of those meetings had 100 participants and resulted in thoughtful discussions about COVID-19 and other major issues.

While it took some persuasion to get some athletes on board, by the time the effort began, the ODU men's basketball team was three steps ahead.

As you might expect, the deaths of Floyd and other African-Americans by police, and resulting demonstrations across the country, created a ton of emotions among ODU's black athletes.

There was an ODU March for Justice led by former football player Mufu Taiwo in March.

Basketball coach Jeff Jones encouraged his players to respond by also doing something positive.

He tasked forward Joe Reece and guard Jaylin Hunter with leading that effort. First, the entire team registered to vote and began sharing their thoughts on voting and other issues  on social media.

ODU basketball player Joe Reece helped lead effort to reach out to students..

They then organized a drive to register students. Wearing masks and practicing social distancing, the players walked around campus talking to students about getting registered and providing information on how to get registered.

"Throughout the COVID outbreak, we wanted to show that we are aware and that we care about all of the crazy things going on in America," Reece said.

"We wanted to lead by example. We're voting Why can't you?"

Reece acknowledged that he had his own doubts about voting that changed because of the summer's events.

"I was one of those people who thought voting was a joke, that it didn't matter," he said. "I realize now that everything we do, everything we say, on these issues matters."

Moses said that voting is a precious right for all Americans, but I might add, especially so for African-Americans. While black males were guaranteed the right to vote by the 15th amendment to the constitution in 1870, in reality, millions were prevented from voting by intimidation, poll taxes and other means for another century.

The same intimidation occurred to African-American women when females were finally granted the right to vote in 1920.

Kevin Swann, a minister and former ODU basketball player, went through the history of voter intimidation with ODU athletes. "Our athletes learned a lot from Kevin they didn't know," Moses said.

Coaches also got involved, including football coach Ricky Rahne, whose team accounts for about a fifth of all ODU athletes.

When the football team arrived for breakfast one morning at the L.R. Hill Center, they were greeted by ODU officials at four tables with eight laptops. "We checked to see if they were registered, and if they weren't, we helped them to get registered," Moses said.

ODU's academic advising team led efforts to register athletes to vote.

At times, that was complicated. ODU has athletes from dozens of states and each has different rules for absentee ballots. The ODU staff helped dozens of athletes get those ballots.

Moses said the joy he saw on the faces of some athletes was moving. LaMareon James, a true freshman football cornerback, voted for the first time at the Lamberts Point Recreation Center adjacent to ODU's campus.

"He had such a big smile on this face," Moses said.

Getting students registered to vote "was a very fulfilling experience," Reece added.

"Everyone has their own ideas, their own beliefs, and to us, that doesn't matter. What matters is getting involved

"My generation doesn't appear to care as much about this as they should.

"Imagine the difference it would make nationally if all of the 19-, 20- and 21-year-olds actually voted?"

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