Student-athletes come together to vote, not play

While some Stanford students celebrated Democracy Day by sleeping in and enjoying a break from classes, student-athletes rallied this Tuesday to show support for the All Vote No Play event. The event was led by men’s basketball graduate guard Josué Gil-Silva as a non-partisan effort to encourage civic engagement among student-athletes. Former Indianapolis Colts and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck ’12 delivered a keynote address before a student-athlete panel. 

Gil-Silva’s interest in civic activism was fostered at young age by his parents’ involvement in a nonprofit basketball academy. “Every Monday I would be there volunteering and coaching the youth,” Gil-Silva said.

His parents taught him “to give back to those who don’t have the resources and to be a voice for the voiceless,” he said.

Former Stanford tight end and current U.S. Senator Cory Booker ‘91, M.A. ‘92 made a video for the event, encouraging student-athletes to use their voices for social change. 

“From Muhammad Ali to Billie Jean King, some of the greatest advancements for justice in America have been made by athletes,” Booker said. “Whether you realize it or not, as an athlete you have a great impact and influence amongst peers and young people. This is a time to use it because democracy is not a spectator sport.”

All Vote No Play opened with a student panel comprised five student-athletes from different varsity athletics teams. The panelists were senior track and field sprinter Megan Olomu, junior track and field sprinter Udodi Onwuzurike, fifth-year men’s basketball forward senior Spencer Jones, junior water polo driver Bella Bachler and Gil-Silva.

The panelists delved into community involvement and the factors that inspired them to engage in public service. 

Olomu said her parents’ immigrant background gave her a broader perspective on the potential loss of democratic rights.

“My mom is from India and my dad is from Nigeria. Seeing where my parents have come from has instilled in me how lucky I am to be in this country,” Olomu said. “They’ve imparted on me why it’s important to stand up for democracy and injustice.”

Meanwhile, Onwuzurike spoke about his clothing drives for people in Nigeria, where he is from. He was inspired to start clothing drives after traveling there this past summer.

“It really pained me to see other fellow athletes who were running barefoot or with only one shoe,” Onwuzurike said. 

The 5’10” sprinter, who recently announced that he would forgo his two remaining years of college and compete professionally, intends to engage in more volunteer work with foster children in his hometown Detroit. 

After the panel ended, Luck came to the podium and expressed admiration for the panelists’ community engagement. 

He implored to student-athletes that their platform is much larger than they realize. 

“The worship that my daughter has for student-athletes is unbelievable,” Luck said. “She looks at you guys playing sports, particularly the women, and thinks ‘maybe I can do that one day.’ That gets me emotional, and it’s powerful, so don’t forget that platform.”

The former quarterback dove into what it means to be a good teammate on-and-off the field. 

“Showing up is half the battle, but the other half is how you show up,” Luck said. “Figuring out what’s the best version of me that I can muster today.”

Luck also encouraged the student-athletes to embrace their role on the team at this current juncture. “Teams are full of unique roles embodied by different people,” Luck told the audience. “As a freshman [for me], it meant being a scout team quarterback. It meant giving the starters the best look possible to prepare for the game.”

Luck further emphasized the importance of building connections among individuals in a group setting. 

“To me, connection all starts with affirming other roles and the importance of their role,” Luck said. “It’s basically saying ‘I see you, and I hear you.’”

By elucidating what it means to be a good teammate, Luck drew parallels between sports and democratic participation. 

“As we live in a more pluralistic society in the United States, we struggle to integrate pluralism into how we live,” Luck said. “When I reframe [a disagreement] into ‘oh that’s a teammate talking about something,’ it’s not so hard to find overlapping values and build bridges of commonality.”

While others believe there is still more work to be done to dispel notions of athlete indifference to political affairs, organizers said gatherings like All Vote No Play show that student-athletes are continuing to positively impact their communities. 

“It’s a stereotype that we really do need to work on dispelling because sometimes it is true,” Olomu told The Daily in an interview. “As president of SAAC [Student-Athlete Advisory Committee], getting student-athletes to come to a meeting once a quarter is like pulling teeth. But look at today’s [gathering], that’s a testament to policy that’s been pushed through by student-athletes.”


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