Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard at a march in Portland in June. 

As the election draws nearer with each absurdly news-driven day, the push to get folks actively involved in the democratic process of voting is in high gear—even in the sports world. The Portland Thorns recently released new “VOTE” T-shirts, and across the country several NBA arenas will be used as voting centers, early voting sites, and ballot drop-off locations.

Here in Oregon, where vote-by-mail is the standard mechanism for voting, there is less of a need for flipping sleeping-giant arenas like the Moda Center into in-person voting sites. Instead, the Trail Blazers are using the arena for its Rip City Votes Fan Kit Pickup happening October 8–9, where fans (who have RSVPed online) can pick up custom Trail Blazers Vote 2020 swag, including a yard sign, sticker, button, and educational materials. It’s all part of the new Trail Blazers Voting Initiative, an effort to promote fans to register to vote, vote, and take the 2020 census. 

“Our fanbase has told us loud and clear that they want us to do these types of community-oriented efforts,” says Blazers president and CEO Chris McGowan. “We are fortunate to have a good platform to get the word out. The presidential election is obviously super important to participate in and vote, but it’s not only that. There are a lot of voting opportunities throughout the year that are just as important in our community.”

Players were given the option of choosing from 29 messages, including “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Justice,” and more. 

Through its voting initiative, the Blazers are partnering with non-partisan nonprofits and state and county agencies, providing fans with a webpage housing important civic engagement resources and a calendar of events, plus creating a weekly series to share relevant content leading up the national election. As the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus and a racial reckoning in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, we’ve seen players, coaches, and teams using their platform to help bring social and political issues to the fore. Earlier in the year, CJ McCollum took part in a PSA with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to help kids wash their hands and practice social distancing. Dame Lillard stood arm-in-arm with protesters as they marched across the Morrison Bridge in June. NBA players have been wearing customized jerseys during the Bubble League with the words “Black Lives Matter,” “Equality,” and “How Many More?” written on their backs.  

“Our players and a vast majority of our fans want us to have a perspective on these types of things, all with the goal of making our community and the country a better place,” McGowan says. “As a community in Portland, it’s kind of part of the DNA of everyone here as well. So these types of activities really do resonate with a majority of our fans.”

Perhaps not everyone, though. And for those fans who just want to watch a game without messages of a social or political nature, McGowan says he respects their opinion.

“I think that’s one of the problems in this day and age is that people don’t respect contrary viewpoints, and as an organization, we try to,” he says. “The vast majority of the people we speak with view our players as more than just athletes and are encouraged by the fact that they care about the community and want to participate in important community initiatives and change and trying to make this a better place to live.”

With the election about a month away, McGowan says this initiative isn't necessarily a new idea, but it’s the first time it’s been as comprehensive as this. “This is going to be something that we’re talking about as an organization going forward, not just for November.”

Rip City Vote Kit Pickups

The Rip City Votes Kit is full of custom Trail Blazers Vote 2020 items including: a yard sign, sticker and button; RSVPs are first come first served; October 8—9

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