“The athlete activism that we have seen over the past year and, more importantly, its impact on the national discourse on athlete rights and their role in global change is deeply encouraging and we should be promoting,” said a Democratic congressional aide. “It’s powerful when athletes who can play professionally can turn around and help make things better for those who follow them, especially when we know the vast majority will fail to play professional sports.”
Democrats have also engaged athletes in party efforts to address broader systemic inequalities. In March, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, chaired by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.), invited the star of the United States women’s national football team and political firefighter Megan Rapinoe to testify before the committee in favor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill introduced in January by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) aimed at reducing the pay gap between men and women. On the same day, Rapinoe spoke alongside Biden at a White House event celebrating Equal Pay Day. During the meeting, the president called the football phenomenon âone of our greatest alliesâ.
Black athletes in particular have also become key partners in Democrats’ efforts to expand voting rights and challenge state laws to restrict access to the voting booth. Ahead of the November election, Obama partnered with James’ organization, More Than A Vote, to coordinate voter registration campaigns and recruit election officials from low-income and historically black neighborhoods. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals on September 30, the former president made an appearance in a virtual fans section, sitting next to retired NBA stars Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade, to promote the work of the organization. Since the election, the group has partnered with key figures on the left, including Democratic strategist and voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, to challenge new Republican-backed voter identification laws in Georgia, in Florida and Arizona.
Although officially non-partisan, More Than A Vote illustrates in miniature the growing network of ties that connect the Democratic establishment to sympathetic athletes. The organization is led by a small army of seasoned Democratic operatives and is backed by a listing top athletes including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Phoenix star Mercury Brittney Griner, US National Football team forward Jozy Altidore and Portland Trail Blazers goaltender Damian Lillard . Addisu Demissie, the organization’s executive director, was previously campaign manager for Booker’s Senate success in 2013 and Newsom’s governorship campaign in 2018. Jonae Wartel, group vice chair for advocacy and elections, a worked as the Southern Regional Director for the Democratic National Committee from 2017 to 2019. In November 2020, Wartel took leave from More Than A Vote to oversee the Democrats’ campaign in the second round of elections in Georgia.
âAthletes like LeBron want [to partner with] political experts who have values ââthat match their priorities, âsaid Tyler, who worked for a stint as the DNC’s national press secretary. “If you are starting an organization committed to the fight against voter suppression, you want people engaged in these fights to share your values ââand know what they are doing.”
In other words, they want to associate with the Democrats.
Although the athletes helped the Democrats score big At the November polls, the prospect of a long-term political alliance between the two groups remains uncertain. Even as Washington Democrats continue to woo athletes as spokespersons for Democratic causes, potential loopholes in the budding relationship have started to emerge.
Some members of the progressive wing of the party fear that the Democrats’ cooperation with top famous athletes could go too far, leading the party to prioritize the interests of economic elites over those of middle and low-income voters. .
âI think Democrats should compete for every vote they should get, whether it’s soccer moms or soccer players,â said Mulholland, the political director of Data for Progress. âAs long as athletes can be a way that Democrats can connect with voters and the public in a way that is not the traditional medium of political communication, I think it’s really helpful, but extremely wealthy sports stars shouldn’t be the top priority. of the Democratic Party.
At the same time, not all athletes are eager to be won over by Democrats. Although liberal athletes have become a vocal minority among today’s players, much of the sporting world remains staunchly conservative. During the Trump presidency, many high profile sports figures have expressed their support for the former president, including MLB pitcher Clay Buchholz, former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, the retired golfer. Jack Nicklaus, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and former New York Yankees closest, Mariano. Rivera, to whom Trump awarded the Medal of Freedom in September 2019.