Sports in Society

Sports leaders with West Va. ties support voting rights bill

Alabama football coach Nick Saban is among the sports luminaries from West Virginia who urge support for federal voting rightsGETTY IMAGES

Several West Virginia sports leaders are urging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to "support federal voting rights legislation," as he remains "steadfast in his refusal to change Senate rules that would make passing such legislation possible," according to Wang & DeBonis of the WASHINGTON POST. In a letter sent to Manchin last week, five sports leaders -- most with ties to West Virginia -- said they “strongly support urgently needed legislation that will protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all Federal elections.” The letter was signed by Jerry West, Nick Saban, Oliver Luck, Darryl Talley and Paul Tagliabue. The group, while noting that some of them were past rivals in sports or business, wrote, "We come from some of our Nation’s most popular sports leagues, conferences and teams. But we are all certain that democracy is best when voting is open to everyone on a level playing field." The sports leaders "warned that those tenets 'are now under intentional and unprecedented challenge.'" The Senate yesterday began debate on the bills, "pressing ahead despite near-unified Republican opposition and obstacles within Democratic ranks to changing Senate rules" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/19).

MISSING FOOTNOTE: Manchin yesterday said that Tagliabue "left out a footnote" from Saban in the letter to Manchin supporting the “Freedom to Vote Act” that was publicized this week. The footnote reads, “Coach Saban is not in favor of getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate. He believes this will destroy the checks and balances we must have in this Democracy. The others signing this letter take no position on this aspect of Senate policies.” Manchin "attributed the omission of Saban’s footnote in the publicized letter to Tagliabue" and "suggested it was meant to misrepresent Saban’s position." Saban is a "longtime friend of Manchin" and appeared in a '18 political advertisement "supporting Manchin’s most recent Senate bid" (, 1/19).

SABAN TAKING A STANCE: USA TODAY's Dan Wolken writes this is an "unmistakably political stance," and one that offers "so little benefit to Saban in his current circumstance that we can only deduce he believes it’s important to pass this bill." In reality, a letter from sports figures "doesn’t seem likely to move a U.S. Senator one way or the other." But it "certainly should open the rest of our eyes about Saban as a figure who is moving away from cyborg mode and into the realm of humanity where people have emotions and opinions." To see Saban "actually put his name next to a piece of legislation that would be considered unpopular in his state is actually quite interesting and impressive" (USA TODAY, 1/19).

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