This year has seen an unprecedented intersection between sports and broader societal issues.
Yet for one day this week, the college football world will pause in an effort to increase civil engagement.
The NCAA Division I Council in September approved a measure to make Election Day a day off from countable athletic activities. Annually, college athletes can instead use the day to vote and participate in community service.
For the University of Alabama, Election Day in 2020 falls during the football team’s bye week. Coach Nick Saban confirmed last month players will be given Tuesday off to vote, although the school arranged for players to vote absentee if they preferred. Saban said he usually votes absentee himself.
“I think it’s very important for people to vote,” coach Nick Saban said Oct. 21. “I think a lot of the things that have happened over the last six-to-eight months have brought people’s attention toward the importance of expressing themselves by the way that they vote.”
Weeks before Alabama began its season, Saban drew national headlines in August when walked at the front of a large group of the school’s athletes, coaches and staff marching in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
Days later, the school shared video of its efforts to have players registered to vote in the upcoming election.
“I’m happy with what we did around here getting players registered to vote and allowing our voices to be heard this year,” sophomore safety Jordan Battle said last week. “So we’re looking forward to that."
A group of Alabama players -- including senior running back Najee Harris, senior offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and redshirt senior center Chris Owens -- was particularly outspoken in the wake of nationwide protests this past summer over racial injustice.
The conversations also extended to Alabama’s men’s basketball team. Former player Wendell Hudson, the first Black scholarship athlete at the university, spoke to the team in June and stressed the importance of voting to bring about societal change.
“I don’t know how many of the young people are registered to vote,” Hudson said. “But if you don’t cast that vote, then you’re casting that vote, whether you think you are or not. If you don’t vote for the right candidate or candidates that might look at things a little differently, you’re voting for the ones that does not look at it that way.”
Coach Nate Oats then issued a challenge to his team.
“Wendell came in 1969 and the Voting Rights Act was in 1965,” Oats said. "I told our guys, I’d like to see 100 percent voter registration from all of you and let’s get you educated on every particular topic you need to be educated about before November when you can vote.
“Let’s start some of the stuff that your ancestors fought for. Let’s start taking advantage of that and let’s push the narrative even further forward.”
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.