Georgia Tech athletes get day off to vote on Election Day

(AP Photo/Jon Barash, File)

By PAUL NEWBERRY

AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) In the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality, Georgia Tech wants to make sure its athletes take time to vote in November.

The school said Thursday that nine teams, including football, will cancel all mandatory activities on Nov. 3 to recognize the importance of casting a ballot.

Geoff Collins was one of the first Power Five football coaches to express his support for those protesting the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

The death has sparked widespread protests and rekindled the debate over injustice toward African Americans.

"I need to find a way to lend my voice to what's going on in the black community," Collins, who is white, told reporters this week on a video conference call. "It matters to me. For far too long, I've been an internal guy, sending my thoughts and prayers and really seeing how this impacts guys on a daily basis my entire career.

"It was on my heart to step out with a small statement, lend a small voice, share my voice and try to find a way to help the healing process, make this world a better place. I want to let my guys know and the black community as a whole know that your experience matters. You matter. Your hopes matter. Your dreams matter. Your life matters."

Election Day comes four days before Georgia Tech's football team is scheduled to host Duke.

Other teams that pledged to refrain from any mandatory activities on Nov. 3 include men's and women's basketball, both of which will be preparing for the start of their seasons, along with women's volleyball, men's swimming and diving, and the men's and women's teams for tennis and indoor track and field.

In addition, the women's swimming and diving team has a meet set for Nov. 3 but is working with its opponent to reschedule.

Elsewhere, the nine men's basketball coaches of the America East Conference also pledged to give their players a mandatory day off on Election Day. Gonzaga coach Mark Few made the same commitment for his men's basketball team and called on other coaches to join him.

"I am very proud of our student-athletes and coaches for identifying a great way that they can take action to make a difference in our communities and society," Georgia Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury said in a statement. "It is our responsibility to provide student-athletes with an environment that promotes civic duty."

Women's basketball coach Nell Fortner and men's basketball coach Josh Pastner began pushing the idea at Georgia Tech after meeting with athletes to discuss ways to make a difference. According to the school, other coaches quickly signed on to support the initiative.

"I lead a group of strong, young women, student-athletes from all backgrounds and nationalities," Fortner said. "To my African American players and staff, I stand behind you and beside you as our nation continues to find its way for total equality for African American people. On Nov. 3, 2020, all of our voices can be heard and I will encourage my student-athletes to be heard."

Pastner said Floyd's death has given everyone a chance to evaluate "the way we treat each other as human beings and what we can and should do to back up our words." His associate head coach, Eric Reveno, has called for colleges nationwide to excuse athletes from mandatory duties on Nov. 3.

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Updated June 4, 2020

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