Voting, activism replace practice, games in US sports world

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

People vote at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the NBA Jazz, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

WASHINGTON – Just past noon on Election Day, after casting her vote where the NBA’s Wizards and NHL’s Capitals play, Mary Pittman exited through one of the arena’s glass doors. Perched on the 77-year-old retiree’s walker: a stars-and-stripes hat touting the basketball team, autographed on the brim in fresh black ink.

“No line,” Pittman said about Tuesday's balloting. “No waiting. No confusion. No fuss.”

At a time when athletes are embracing activism like never before, refusing to heed the unfounded admonition framed two years ago by one TV talking head as “shut up and dribble,” there was vivid symbolism in the wide use of team arenas and stadiums as voter registration and polling sites.

If the United States' fields of play once were walled off from politics — Colin Kaepernick, whose 33rd birthday happened to be Tuesday, saw his sideline kneeling to call attention to police brutality and systemic racism contribute to his status as a “former NFL quarterback” — they have become fertile ground for those sorts of statements in 2020.

“Athletes, like anyone, are entitled to their opinion,” Pittman said. “But I don’t have to agree with it.”

And that’s absolutely fine, said Ish Smith, the Wizards guard who signed Pittman’s cap.

“I’ve loved and respected how we have ... been able to speak out on certain things that was, in the past, uncomfortable. It says a lot. Says how far we came as athletes. And we’re going to keep growing, keep evolving,” Smith said.

“Sports and politics — usually people keep to one side,” he said. “Now they’re intertwining.”