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Today's Practice Has Been Canceled

Alumnus Joe Kennedy wants college athletes to make civic engagement a habit

All Vote No Play, a new movement to help athletes “see, flex, and grow their civic muscles,” uses language its audience understands. There’s a playbook, civic engagement drills, and video snippets —or “chalk talks”— from everyone from basketballer Stephen Curry and coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors to former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

The initiative, which promotes voting and civic engagement among college athletes, was cofounded by Joe Kennedy (BS07), Oregon State University basketball coach Eric Reveno, and Lisa Kay Solomon, a designer in residence at Stanford’s school of design. Following protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Reveno tweeted that Election Day should be a mandatory NCAA off day.

“We must empower, educate, and guide our athletes to be part of the change,” he said. Three months later, the NCAA passed student-driven legislation giving athletes Election Day off for voting and community service. The NBA jumped on board, declining to schedule games on Election Day in the name of civic engagement; nearly 2,000 college and pro coaches have followed suit. Today, All Vote No Play is a program under the Team, a new nonprofit focusing on integrating civic engagement into college athletics.

“More than 500,000 college athletes are largely overlooked by most traditional civics programs, yet they are often some of the most influential leaders on their campuses,” says Kennedy “We increase civic engagement by harnessing the power of athletes.”

The organization was driven by volunteers until last fall, when Kennedy stepped in as executive director to help create organizational structure, raise funds, and grow the movement. It was a natural step for the social policy major,
who played basketball for the Wildcats, served as team captain his senior season, and was a three-time Academic All–Big Ten honoree.

In 2010, Kennedy returned to Northwestern as director of men’s basketball operations; in 2013, he moved on to Oregon State and in 2016 joined College of the Holy Cross. “We’d talk to our guys about life after basketball,” Kennedy says. “All these things they’ve learned as an athlete —competing and working under pressure and with a team, being a leader—these are the skills they need in life.”

Three-quarters of college athletes say they want more opportunities for civic engagement, according to an NCAA
survey. It “makes the invisible become visible,” says SESP student Jacob Rosner, a member of the men’s swimming team who interned with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and his Democracy Summer Program. “We get caught up in our own life, and civic engagement challenges us to escape the bubble and work for others.”

Athletes, for example, could volunteer to work at a local polling center, sponsor a game day for foster kids, or raise funds to support a player-run sports camp for underprivileged youth. Those with less time could watch the documentary The Assist, which details how the WNBA and the Atlanta Dream helped organize, inspire, and mobilize voters for the 2020 Georgia senate race.

Kennedy believes that if students develop civic habits in college, they’ll be more likely to vote and feel a sense of
commitment to the community as they grow older.

“The youth voter participation rate jumped from 39 percent in 2016 to 50 percent in 2020,” Kennedy says. “But we
wouldn’t be thrilled with a 50 percent free-throw shooting percentage. Let’s get it to 90 percent.”