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NFL Players Coalition earns big win on election night in Florida with Amendment 4

Voting Rights for felons restored for 1.4 million

Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin and other players celebrated a ballot initiative win in Florida on Tuesday

November 7, 2018

By Eric Adelson - Yahoo Sports - 

ORLANDO, Fla. — The social justice movement that began with NFL players’ on-field protests and endured years of criticism and controversy celebrated an enormous victory on election night in Florida. 

Several members of the Players Coalition, a group of athletes dedicated to criminal justice reform and racial equality through lobbying and legislation, have pushed for the restoration of voters’ rights to convicted felons who have completed all terms of their sentences, including probation and restitution, but excludes those who are convicted of murder or sex crimes. 

Amendment 4 passed Tuesday night, with more than 60 percent of the popular vote, and will restore the vote to roughly 1.4 million people. As a discrete group that would constitute one of the biggest cities in America. Florida has the highest rate of disenfranchised citizens in the nation.

One of the founders of the coalition is former NFL wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who starred in the Everglades town of Pahokee before going on to Florida State and a long pro career. Boldin helped over the weekend with voter registration in a project called “Muck to the Polls”, a nod to the “Muck City” part of the state where he grew up. The Players Coalition also assisted with transportation to the polls. 

Two weeks ago, Boldin penned a column in the Orlando Sentinel that was co-authored with former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy, former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, and former NBA player Grant Hill. All four are Florida sports luminaries and all four were public in their exhortation for change. 

“In Florida, because of one mistake that can be as simple as drug possession, we forever take away someone’s voice at the ballot box, which represents the bedrock of our constitutional system,” the four wrote in the Central Florida newspaper. 

“It is hard enough for these returning citizens to get back on their feet, find housing and employment, and reintegrate into their communities,” the column went on. “But when we also take away forever their right to vote, we take away their ability to have their voice heard, elect people who represent their interests, and be part of a democratic society. We need to recognize our returning citizens as full and meaningful contributors and give them the right to vote for people and policies that affect them and shape their communities.”

There were other Players Coalition efforts on Election Day, including Adalius Thomas, Takeo Spikes and Alge Crumpler bringing pizza and water to people in line at the polls in Georgia. In Philadelphia, Super Bowl champions Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long helped with voter transportation.

Amendment 4 is a significant achievement for a group of athletes that formed in the aftermath of Colin Kaepernick’s protests and splintered to some extent over the many months since. The fissures between the original leaders of the movement, Kaepernick and Eric Reid, and those who worked with the backing of the NFL to usher legislative change, have emerged in plain sight over the past few weeks as disagreements have become public. However the claim of critics that the protesters didn’t know what they were fighting for or didn’t do anything besides kneel during the national anthem have consistently leaked credibility. Instead, the coalition itself has now gained credibility.

“There are often times people will praise me for stepping out, but they don’t actually participate,” Jenkins told Yahoo Sports several weeks ago. “That does me no good. That benefits no one. I’m more interested in getting citizens more involved around the issues and voting, so that we are not the only voice.”

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By Anquan Boldin, Stan Van Gundy, Warrick Dunn and Grant Hill to the Orlando Sentinel

There is nothing more central to American citizenship than the ability to vote, the ability to have a voice, and the ability to participate in the shaping our country. That is why many women and some enlightened men fought for many, many years before women won the right to vote in 1920. That is why thousands of people demonstrated, at the risk of incarceration, physical injury, and even death, for civil rights and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They knew that the right to vote was worth the fight, and that only with the right to vote could they become a full part of this country’s fabric.

Many of us take the right to vote and the ability to fully participate in shaping our communities, states and nation for granted. 42 percent of Americans did not vote in the last presidential race. Approximately a million and a half of our fellow Florida citizens do not have the right to vote because they committed a felony in the past, no matter how far in the distant past. Even after they have served their sentences, completed their probation or parole, and paid any necessary restitution, for most, their ability to vote is not restored. In Florida, because of one mistake that can be as simple as drug possession, we forever take away someone’s voice at the ballot box, which represents the bedrock of our constitutional system.

We have a chance to change that on Nov. 6 by voting yes on Amendment 4. If 60 percent vote yes, we will restore the ability to vote for those who have completed all aspects of their sentences, except those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.

Basic fairness means that when people are convicted of violating the law, they serve their sentence and return to full citizenship. When the debt is paid, the debt should be considered paid. It is hard enough for these returning citizens to get back on their feet, find housing and employment, and reintegrate into their communities. But when we also take away forever their right to vote, we take away their ability to have their voice heard, elect people who represent their interests and be part of a democratic society. We need to recognize our returning citizens as full and meaningful contributors and give them the right to vote for people and policies that affect them and shape their communities.

Florida has the highest rate of disenfranchised citizens in the country. Nearly 25 percent of all people who have lost that right in this country are Floridians. In our state, even after people have completed their sentences plus probation or parole, even after they have paid restitution, they must wait five to seven years before even becoming eligible to apply to the governor and the Executive Clemency Board for the restoration of their voting rights. In reality, this group grants very few applications, and we effectively have a lifetime ban on voting.

Most of these returning citizens are non-violent offenders, or they have grown older and aged out of crime. Many have only one conviction. Many were convicted of offenses at relatively young ages when they were entirely different people. All have paid their debt to society. Do we want Florida to stand for the permanent disenfranchisement of people who make mistakes and pay their debt to society? Or do Floridians across the political spectrum and every demographic believe in second chances and the restoration of rights?

Restoring our returning citizens’ voices also makes us a safer and more productive state. A study by the Office of Offender Review showed that those who can vote are less likely to commit future crimes and those who do actually get their rights fully restored are three times less likely to re-offend. It makes sense that people who are given a stake in their communities care more about those communities. The Washington Economics Group estimates that $365 million would be added to the Florida economy if voting rights were restored to these million and a half returning citizens. That figure is based on a decline in recidivism, the savings in prison and jail costs and added productivity to our communities.

Their voices are important. Many returning citizens come from communities chronically ignored by elected officials. As a result, schools are crumbling and economic opportunities sparse. This is why many end up trapped in our system in the first place. We must ensure that they can demand better for their communities – which in the end will mean less crime, not more.

This is not a partisan issue, a racial issue or a gender issue. Current polling shows that over 60 percent of people in ALL demographic groups – white people and people of color, men and women, Republicans and Democrats, people of all sexual orientation – favor the passage of Amendment 4. Voting yes is a matter of basic fairness, who we are as Floridians and what is best for our state.

We have a million and a half returning citizens in our state who have paid their debt to society, have tremendous potential and are simply waiting for the ability to be full-fledged members of their communities. For the betterment of our state and communities, vote YES on Amendment 4.

Anquan Boldin. 

Grant Hill 

Stan Van Gundy

Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn addresses the 2016 USO Gala, Washington, D.C., Oct. 20, 2016. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill) (SFC Jim Greenhill / National Guard Bureau)

Anquan Boldin is a former FSU and NFL player and co-founder of Players Coalition. Stan Van Gundy is a former Miami Heat and Orlando Magic head coach. Warrick Dunn is a former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and FSU player. Grant Hill is a former Orlando Magic player.

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