Creating change: Iowa State athletes have become educated on the power of their vote

Then-freshman guard Tre Jackson surveys the floor against then-No. 1 Baylor on Jan. 29 at Hilton Coliseum.

Matt Belinson

Politics and sports. Two societal forces that for some, should never intermingle.

The two have long been seen as oil and water, separate functions in America that work best when they are separated from each other. And for decades, widespread activism, public political discussion and political awareness have been absent from major sports franchises and collegiate athletics.

For some, this has been the way it should be.

The mantra of ‘Shut up and dribble’ became the rallying cry for many within the United States who thought the idea of athletes using their platform to comment on social issues and politics was out of line and unwanted. 

And while the term ‘Shut up and dribble’ may have involved professional basketball players in its initial meaning, the message and others like it have continued to reverberate across social media platforms and political talk shows toward all sports at the collegiate and professional ranks.

The killing of George Floyd back in May sparked an outcry across America, with athletes in the NBA, MLB, NFL and college football taking their platforms to a place of sports with political messaging.

Once again, these athletes and many more were told to stay silent and only focus on their respective sports. But the silence didn’t last long.

Despite the growing pushback against sports and politics merging, Iowa State Athletics’ two biggest programs made it a mission to educate its players and allow for their voices to be heard like never before on election day and beyond.

The two biggest examples Iowa State athletics showed in its push to educate athletes and allow for social activism came from the Iowa State football and men’s basketball programs.

Iowa State football

For Iowa State football Head Coach Matt Campbell, the challenge of getting the largest roster of any Iowa State athletics program educated and registered to vote was a difficult task, but one he entrusted to his assistant coaches to handle.

And even when COVID-19 sent everyone back home for months, Campbell’s staff went to work and helped register football’s 125-man roster, with hometowns across 19 states. Campbell said all but three players on the 125-man roster became registered to vote for the 2020 election.

“I think a lot of our guys have already voted and we’ve spent time over the last couple of weeks having events within the program to continue to educate our guys on voting,” Campbell said.

Greg Eisworth, a junior defensive back, said his coaches making it a priority to have the team engaged with politics is very important. Eisworth said the education the team has received over the last few months will only make the team stronger on and off the field.

“I think that’s big time that they put that much effort into helping us with that and educating us on that stuff,” Eisworth said. “I think that’s always a positive when we can come together for a great cause like that.” 

For a locker room filled with 18-to-22-year-olds, Eisworth has been impressed with how much his teammates have bought into the idea of voting and learning about social injustice. 

Football staff members like Greg Brabenec, director of football operations, and Derek Hoodjer, director of player personnel, have been organizing events and bringing in guest speakers to meet with the team over the last few months to educate the team on what goes into an election.

Iowa State men’s basketball

Iowa State guard Tre Jackson had never been through the voting process before.

Turning 19 years old back in May, the sophomore point guard said the idea of the Electoral College, the history of voting rights and voting in local elections were all new concepts he became aware of. 

Jackson registered to vote back home with his family in Columbia, South Carolina, and returned to Ames with his teammates with even more opportunity to learn about their power in casting a vote.

Having the opportunity to make some kind of change, no matter how big or small, is something Jackson doesn’t take lightly.

“Even with my little vote, I can make a big difference in this world,” Jackson said. “Just having the coaching staff really dialed on the change that needs to be made throughout the world with voting and all this other stuff, it’s just really big as a team and it’s really going to help us come together as a group even more.”

Head Coach Steve Prohm and his staff have taken their time during the course of this year and worked to register all 16 players on the roster to vote.

The Big 12 Conference announced plans to make Tuesday an off day for all athletes to be able to exercise their right to vote.

When the team was able to come back to Ames, Prohm and his staff worked together and brought in guest speakers, lecturers and professors over Zoom to talk about voting, early voting, the Electoral College, what’s on the ballot and many more topics. 

Since the end of May, Prohm said the men’s basketball team has met weekly to talk about the voting process, how to get work done beyond the polls and how to invest in each other and the communities they live in.

Prohm said America is facing lots of social issues and everyone needs to have a voice on the issues that matter and impact day-to-day life.

“We’re leaders and we need to help bring change,” Prohm said.