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Making Their Voices Heard

Nov 3, 2020

The meticulous, structured nature of college football game preparations doesn't typically lend itself to flexibility.

But there is nothing typical about 2020, and its elections.

That's why the Cal football team – along with every other football program across the country – won't be practicing today as the United States citizenry participates in an election of a lifetime. The NCAA announced in September new legislation providing a day off from all athletically related activities on Election Day to increase opportunities for civic engagement.

"I imagine we'll have a pretty good amount of guys that choose to take part in the process," Cal football coach Justin Wilcox said. "I think guys are certainly more aware and active now than they've ever been."

The proposal by the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee came after a summer of increased awareness of racial and social injustice. It was approved by the NCAA Division I Council.

The fact that college football teams around the nation won't be practicing while being smack-dab in the middle of a game week makes a profound statement about the importance exercising civic duty.

"We made sure to emphasize that we have the opportunity here to make a difference and use our voice," Cal defensive end Zeandae Johnson said. "We got everyone on the team that was willing to register to vote, whether they were in this state or another state."

The Bears, who open the season Saturday at home against Washington, practiced on Sunday – which would normally be a day off – to compensate for Tuesday's lack of practice time.

Senior center Michael Saffell said Cal's players have been engaging in robust conversations about this year's election.

"We have all these student-athletes that are extremely intelligent," Saffell said. "We have guys of different ethnicities, different races, different political backgrounds, and that melting pot makes for unbelievable conversations. There are a lot of guys who care about this election and care about the political scene."

The new Election Day legislation isn't limited to just football. All student-athletes have the day off, including both men's and women's basketball.

"Student-athletes getting Election Day off exemplifies a commitment to allowing and encouraging student-athletes to make their voices heard, exercise their constitutional right to vote and continue to engage in community activism," Cal women's basketball junior Sierra Richey said. "I am grateful and excited that this is a trend that is gaining traction around the nation, and I am proud of student-athletes everywhere using their platform to initiate change."

While the COVID -19 pandemic has limited participation of student-athletes this fall, the new legislation will be in effect every year moving forward. With social restrictions hopefully eased by next November, more student-athletes will be given the freedom to ensure their voices are heard on Election Day.

"Now, more than ever, it's important that we all exercise our right to vote," Cal women's basketball coach Charmin Smith said. "For many of us, people had to fight and lives were lost to ensure that we could go to the polls. While COVID-19 has changed when people vote and how people vote, I do think it's important to set a precedent that this day is sacred. Moving forward, I hope that in non-COVID times, my team is out working the polls and participating in civic engagement activities on Election Day."

As Cal's coaches have prepared for today's day off, they have also helped their student-athletes gather the necessary resources to make an informed decision on at the ballot box.

"Since the summer months, we've made sure to provide our team with plenty of resources that could help them be educated voters this fall," Cal men's basketball coach Mark Fox said. "Whether it's getting our student-athletes registered to vote well in advance, or simply having conversations about the topic, we've tried to provide them what they need in this process."