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Sports teams give Election Day off to boost voter turnout

Several college and professional sports teams have announced they will make Election Day a holiday for players and employees. It's one of the first concrete policy changes by teams in response to national unrest over racial inequity. But is it enough to satisfy the demands of protesters and players? NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson spoke to The Wall Street Journal's Louise Radnofksy for more.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In recent weeks, college and professional sports teams have started to declare Election Day a holiday for employees and players. So far the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, the NCAA and others have jumped on board. To learn more about this movement, NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson spoke to Wall Street Journal sports reporter Louise Radnofsky, who's been covering the story.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So you wrote recently that college and professional sports teams are talking about making Election Day a holiday. Tell me, who's doing what? How would this work?

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    So several NBA and WNBA teams and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have all said that they will make the day a holiday for their employees. Akin to the way a state might make it a holiday that would allow all public employees to go and vote.

    One of the first teams to act on this with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves followed. Other teams have also followed in in recent days, including the Sacramento Kings. But in the cases of some of the players there also really interested in doing efforts to get out the vote.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So what motivated this?

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    You know, I think what's been striking in the last couple of weeks is the number of athletes, many of whom had previously branded themselves as apolitical or just not that kind of outspoken athlete, who've come forward and stepped out and said that they support Black Lives Matter, which, you know, as a movement was considered to be somewhat radical or controversial in some cases for athletes.

    Until recently, at which point things have flipped around a little bit. And athletes who have not said that they support the movement have come under criticism for that. So there's been this huge change in athletes' approach to activism, particularly among, I think, strikingly, White, and other non-Black athletes. And you've seen organizations not only rush to embrace their athletes, but also rush to embrace this movement, in some cases, reversing previous stances that they had had on sending political messages or allowing their athletes to protest.

    So you're really seeing a sort of a repositioning of all of these brands, the individual brands and the team brands, and at the same time, they're under pressure to deliver on what that actually means in practice. So I think what you're seeing in Election Day is the first tangible policy change coming from any organization that is aligned itself with Black Lives Matter.

  • Megan Thompson:

    It seems like it is a positive step for these teams to be doing this. But like you mentioned, a lot of the teams and the players have been kind of wary of wading into some of these issues in the past. Is this kind of an easy way to check the box right now in terms of being able to say that they've done something? Are there other things that teams are under pressure to do?

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    I think it's certainly an easier way for a team to do something that is generally considered to be more politically palatable, right. Everybody thinks that voting generally is a good thing and increasing voter turnout is a good thing. So it's a relatively non-controversial way of making a change.

    Of course, what you're hearing from Black Lives Matter in some parts of the country is a far more demanding demand, if you will. You're not hearing a lot of teams right now rushing to say that they have a position on whether to defund the police, for example. But saying where you stand on Election Day might be a first step to that. It might be the final step. I think that's what we're gonna be watching really closely.

  • Megan Thompson:

    So this isn't a new idea, right? I mean, where else have we seen efforts like this in this country?

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    It's not a new idea. You've seen 13 states already make Election Day a holiday and a 14th, Virginia, joined them this year, although in some states those bills failed. And Congress has also been under pressure to consider this. It was supported by a number of Democrats.

    It was somewhat resisted by the Republican controlled Senate. But Congress's failure to take a federal position on this, for example, created an opening for teams to go in there and make policy themselves. And they're hoping that other companies might follow suit as well.

  • Megan Thompson:

    When people are given the day off on Election Day. Does it actually boost voter turnout?

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    From a paper about 10 years ago, what we've seen is that making Election Day a paid holiday doesn't on its own increase voter turnout. I think what you're seeing with players in particular is almost an attempt to create a new experiment. What would Election Day look like if you had a paid day off and you had a paid day off for very high-profile figures seeking to go ahead and get out the vote themselves.

  • Megan Thompson:

    All right, Louise Radnofsky of The Wall Street Journal. Thank you so much for talking to me.

  • Louise Radnofsky:

    Thank you so much.

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