By LARRY LAGE
The Associated Press
DETROIT — Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson cast her vote at the Detroit Pistons’ training facility. About 12 hours later, she saw metal boxes on wheels with ballots inside roll into Ford Field for double checking.
“I’m grateful for our sports partners in Detroit,” Benson said Tuesday night at the home of the Lions. “They really led the way for sports teams across the country to play a critical role in providing the resources we needed to run the election successfully this year.
“It is something that I hope will continue in the years ahead and really underscores the work that went into today, which was truly a team effort.”
The coronavirus pandemic put stresses on the general election, so professional sports teams stepped up to offer their stadiums, arenas and practice facilities as socially distant spaces to vote and conduct other election-related activities.
Twenty-plus NBA teams and half of the NFL’s 32 franchises provided a place for people to vote or assisted with the process in other ways. Meanwhile, many Major League Baseball and NHL teams also put their stadiums and arenas in play on Election Day.
“This is a shining moment to have sports teams all over the country making a commitment to help people vote because that’s the most important non-violent tool in our democracy,” Pistons Vice Chairman Arn Tellem said after he and Detroit coach Dwane Casey watched Benson put her ballot in a drop box steps from the entrance to the team’s training facility. “Sports teams bring people together from all backgrounds and at their best, inspire us and encourage us to unite.”
Before returning to Sacramento, California, on Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Gavin Newsom greeted and thanked poll workers at the Golden State Warriors’ facility in downtown Oakland.
“Three things in the world that really bring people together — music, food and sports,” Warriors guard Damion Lee said after beating Newsom in a “PIG” shooting game. “For us to use our platform, for the Warriors to open up their facility — that’s the true sense of democracy.”
For voters across the country, opening the arenas and stadiums gave them another option for casting their ballots — a quicker one at times. It also afforded an opportunity to enter some venues that have been relegated to hosting fan-free games during the pandemic, if they have been occupied at all since the spring.
“It’s a great idea,” John Schmit said outside Chicago’s United Center. “I’m a Blackhawks fan. I haven’t been here in six months.”
Outside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, home of the NBA’s Cavaliers, the line to vote wrapped around the building’s glass exterior early Tuesday. By late morning, the pace had slowed considerably, but there was a steady stream of voters stepping into stalls inside the arena’s large atriums to fill out ballots.
The building hasn’t hosted any games or concerts since mid-March due to the pandemic.
“It was nice to come here and see that it’s actually being used for something that’s worthwhile,” Cleveland resident Ian Crawford, sporting an Indians cap, said after he exited the arena.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whose district includes parts of Detroit, recently said it’s appropriate for taxpayer-funded sports facilities to play a part in the election process.
But it didn’t go off without a hitch.
At the home of the Atlanta Hawks, a pipe burst early Tuesday morning in a room where absentee ballots were being counted. That caused processing to stop for about four hours at State Farm Arena.
In Kansas City, Missouri, Chiefs coach Andy Reid voted in the same stadium where he leads the defending Super Bowl champions when they host games. Reid was among about a dozen people waiting in line to vote early Tuesday morning, shortly after the polls opened.
“I think it’s neat that they were able to do it right here at the stadium,” Reid said. “There were a lot of things that had to go right to get that done. A lot of it had to do with the players, first of all having a plan, second of all presenting it to management and ownership and then those people in ownership and management supporting it.”
Former WNBA star Tamika Catchings arrived at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers and Fever, before sunrise Tuesday. The Fever’s general manager was energized by seeing so many people come out to vote for the first time.
“I think it’s a movement,” she said.
Washington Wizards guard Ish Smith and forward Admiral Schofield, coach Scott Brooks and general manager Tommy Sheppard, along with Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins, greeted voters outside Capital One Arena.
“To be able to create change in the building we work hard in is great to see,” Schofield said. “We don’t just want to encourage voting for this year; we want to encourage voting for years to come.”