The NFL should launch a “Voting Awareness Month,” but here’s why they won’t

Like 49 percent of Americans, I consider myself a pro football fan. I wake up every Sunday, have a cup of coffee, set my Fantasy Football roster(s), and tune into the best sporting experience the world has to offer.

In 2014, NFL games reached 202.3 million unique viewers, “representing 80 percent of all television homes and 68 percent of potential viewers in the US.” If you think that’s impressive, think about this: 45 of the top 50 TV shows last year were NFL games. And all of the top 20 programs were football games. 2014’s most-watched matchup, featuring the Eagles vs. Cowboys, had 32 million viewers alone.

The NFL uses its TV superiority to promote worthwhile causes, too. They advertise their PLAY 60 initiative, “a campaign to encourage kids to be active for 60 minutes a day in order to help reverse the trend of childhood obesity.” And every fan of the NFL knows about the controversial “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” and the nationalistic “Salute to Service.” Both of these programs are promoted in order to, essentially, create awareness and solemnity around their respective topics. Oh, and they also happen to sell copious amounts of pink and camouflage merchandise!

But why should the NFL only assist these causes? As the #1 de facto TV program in America, the NFL has the unique opportunity to push other deeply patriotic and non-partisan initiatives. In fact, I’d argue the NFL still has the chance to embrace another extremely important cause:

The NFL should promote voting awareness in order to address our nation’s exceptionally low voter turnout.  

They could call it something like, “Vote for America,” and label it as a program which sought to create awareness around the most sacred and noble right given to US citizens: voting. You can almost hear Al Michaels saying, “And as a part of the NFL’s campaign, Vote for America, we urge all American citizens, domestic and abroad, to participate in our nation’s next election. Remember, you have a voice and it matters. If you are not registered to vote in your state, please visit our website at nfl.com/voteforamerica.” Hell, like their other awareness programs, they can even start selling merchandise that’s red, white, and with a bolded tick saying, “I voted!”

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of coward_lion at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why wouldn’t they want to galvanize the nation to get out and vote? It’s a righteous cause which makes their organization look mature and sanctimonious (a look that has unfortunately evaded the NFL in recent years).

Maybe they wouldn’t want to wade into the highly partisan nature of our current politics. Fair enough – it is a subject that is dividing our nation. However, that same logic could easily apply to the NFL’s “Salute to Service” program, and as I mentioned earlier, any successful voting awareness program would have to be aggressively non-partisan in tone and messaging.

So why else would they be against this idea?

I fear that the NFL and its owners would be against such an initiative because a vast majority of NFL owners are (almost) all rich, white dudes that (almost) exclusively support the Republican party. Don’t believe me? Read this:

 So far in 2015, NFL team owners have donated $2,827,804 in support of presidential candidates. The vast majority of the money came from two GOP mega donors and went to a handful of Republican super PACs…

Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans…has donated more than $2 million to the presidential hopefuls…hedging his bets by writing $500,000 checks to super PACS supporting four Republicans: former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkerSen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)

The second largest contributor, New York Jets owner Robert “Woody” Johnson…has donated more than half a million dollars combined to Jeb 2016 and his Right to Rise super PAC. He also serves as the national finance chairman for the Bush campaign and has held fundraisers for Gov. Bush at his homes in the Hamptons and New York City.”

So herein lies a big reason why the NFL may not want to promote voting awareness: low voter turn-out is usually good news for Republicans and by proxy, their financial backers.

Indeed, this current state of low voter turnout has been a major reason why the modern-day GOP has done so well during midterm elections (though, to be fair, it is not the only reason). Just 36.4 percent of the voting-eligible population cast a vote in 2014. In 2010, the number was only slightly better at 37.8 percent. Both of these elections cycles were very favorable to Republicans. In 2008 and 2012, where voter turn out was 56.8 percent and 53.6 percent respectively, the outcomes were decidedly less favorable to the GOP. A similar outcome should be expected in 2016.

So it makes sense that a program like “Vote for America” would struggle to garner support within the NFL. But this is a real shame, because the NFL (more than any other organization in America) has a unique opportunity to remind hundreds of millions of Americans about their most sacred civic obligation. If they can annually remind people to thank the troops for their commitment to keeping us free, they should also consider promoting the civic obligations that come along with living in a free country.

At a time when our nation’s people feel so disconnected to the inner machinations of government, the NFL could offer a bridge to help Americans engage with their politics. Nonetheless, for the time being a voting awareness program supported by the NFL seems like nothing more than a Hail Mary.

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Nick Cassella
Nick Cassella graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2014. After graduating, he worked on the Initiative 594 campaign before joining Civic Ventures, where he now manages Civic Skunk Works' social media presence.