Teams log 100 percent voter registration, hold letter-writing campaigns ahead of election

Media Credit: File Photo by Dean Whitelaw

The athletic department conducted a voter registration drive and letter-writing campaign ahead of this week's election.

Before GW made Election Day a University holiday, the NCAA suspended all athletic activities Nov. 3 to give athletes and coaching staffs the ability to vote and engage politically.

But GW student-athletes and the athletic department have been gearing up for the 2020 election since the summer. The department rolled out the #OnlyatGW Voting Initiative in July to help student-athletes register to vote and learn more about issues related to the election through a database of resources, and several other teams participated in a letter-writing campaign last month to encourage voting.

Here is how the athletic department has been preparing for the upcoming election:

Voter registration program
Since debuting the initiative in July, at least five programs have publicly announced 100 percent voter registration.

Created by a team of student-athletes, coaches and staff, #OnlyatGW provided resources for voter registration and hosted a speaker series featuring former School of Media and Public Affairs Director Frank Sesno and former athletes who now work in politics.

Maddie Loder, a junior on the women’s basketball team, was one of three student-athletes leading the program’s creation. She was joined alongside junior gymnast Olivia Raymond and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President and junior women’s rower Lauren Bennett.

“We’re trying to make sure that not only are we educating people on who they can vote for, but we want to give people a safe space where they can learn and understand figure out on their own what their views are and who they think is the best person to carry on those views in their local, state and national elections,” Loder said in the initial press release.

Since July, programs have highlighted the initiative on social media. In a pinned video posted Aug. 25 on its Twitter account, men’s basketball pledged its commitment to 100 percent voter registration. The squad challenged Georgetown, Virginia, American, George Mason and VCU to also actively participate in the upcoming election cycle.

Women’s rowing tweeted Oct. 5 that 100 percent of its team had registered to vote. Women’s basketball also reported 100 percent voter registration Oct. 8. Two days later, men’s rowing tweeted that everyone on its roster, which includes representation from five countries, was registered to vote in their native country. Volleyball announced Oct. 20 that the program logged 100 percent voter registration.

Other GW programs – golf, softball, gymnastics, men’s and women’s soccer, sailing, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s cross country and track and field – promoted the program on Twitter but did not announce their own registration rate.

The athletic department also posted quotes from 10 student-athletes regarding the importance of voter participation.

“Voting for me is just a statement that my opinion matters,” said Beth Ellinport, a junior midfielder on the women’s soccer team. “Voting, although a subtle act, is almost a weapon against political indifference.”

Letter-writing campaign
Student-athletes from four programs – women’s basketball, men’s and women’s rowing and gymnastics – participated in a letter-writing campaign Oct. 17, according to a press release.

The campaign, dubbed the “Hour of Action,” involved writing letters to elected officials and potential voters. Women’s basketball forward and sophomore Faith Blethen orchestrated the event after her team met with Gabby Williams, a WNBA forward and social justice advocate.

“With the letter writing that we did, a lot of that idea came from her,” Blethen said in the release. “She said, ‘You can use your voice to start communicating with people who are in positions of power.'”

The squads penned about 1,000 letters to potential voters and political officials, like home-state senators. Vote Forward provided each student-athlete a template and list of names to address voters, the release states.

The effort was a collaboration with Vote Forward, a nonprofit that seeks to increase voter turnout for underrepresented communities. Members of the organization call on volunteers to inform registered voters on the election process and encourage them to vote, its website states.

Programs at GW have also gotten involved in fighting for social justice. The athletic department and more than a dozen teams spoke out against racial injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Women’s basketball players, the men’s basketball program and head coaches from both teams have also formed coalitions, joined organizations and used their platform to combat social injustice.

Students-athletes who participated in the event distanced in the Smith Center in accordance with COVID-19 safety measures. The gymnastics program participated remotely, the release states.

“It was very cool to see fellow teams getting together and doing the exact same thing to use our collective voice,” sophomore rower Aidan Rowland said in the release. “It proves that even though we’re limited in certain ways, we can still find ways to try and affect meaningful changes.”

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