How Raptors, Nurse are continuing push for voter access in U.S. election

Chris Paul talks about an emotional week in the NBA and what actions the players want to see come out of their protesting.

TORONTO – As Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has repeated many times during the course of his team’s time in the NBA bubble, there are more than 650,000 U.S. citizens living in Canada and he wants to find a way to get as many of them as possible to vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3.

Earlier in July, before the seeding games began, Nurse and the Raptors issued a PSA urging prospective voters to head to to find out more information on how U.S. citizens abroad can still vote in the election.

This has been one of the key messages Nurse has brought light to while in the bubble, whether it be by speaking about it with the media or doing something as simple as wearing a hoodie that says “VOTE” on it.

Getting more people to participate and increasing voter access is also a key part of the commitments the NBA and NBPA made on Friday that are now allowing the post-season to resume.

This past week, the Milwaukee Bucks staged a boycott of Game 5 of their first-round series with the Orlando Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wis. This sparked a wave of player-driven outcry to demand greater change in the fight against racial inequality and police brutality against the Black community that saw leagues across North America postpone games on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

It took a mental toll on the Raptors this week, to the point that some questioned even coming to the Orlando bubble in the first place to play. Ultimately, the Raptors and the rest of the league decided their message for social justice would be better served by utilizing the NBA’s stage.

“…It got to this point where the play stopped and guys were saying, ‘I didn’t want to come in the first place, stuff they didn’t express to [the media] before and just kind of getting through all that,” Nurse said after the Raptors practised Saturday.

“And you guys have known that my stance on the whole thing is that I think playing these games certainly gives our guys a much better platform for social justice and any cause or how big a part they want to be in and that was kind of the conversations that I kind of had individually and I expressed to the team.

“In all reality, I mean, we only really request their attention for a couple hours a day, and the rest of the day they can do whatever they want and then they get a chance to earn a living and support their family on top of that and they have a platform to do that with, so that’s one of the basis of a lot of the conversations were.”

On Friday, the NBA and NBPA issued a joint statement announcing games would resume play beginning Saturday and, more importantly, detailed how both the league and its players will work together on three key commitments:

1. The NBA and its players have agreed to immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

2. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local elections officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. If a deadline has passed, team governors will work with local elections officials to find another election-related use for the facility, including but not limited to voter registration and ballot receiving boards.

3. The league will work with the players and our network partners to create and include advertising spots in each NBA playoff game dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.

Of this trio of commitments, the most difficult for the Toronto Raptors to actually be able to execute seems like it would be No. 2.

Due to the nature of the Raptors being a franchise based in Canada, Scotiabank Arena can’t really be converted into a voting location for the U.S. election.

Nurse, however, has a solution.

“We’re certainly in a different situation. We’re really trying hard, we’re trying hard to target the U.S. citizens living in Canada,” Nurse said. “We think there’s 650,000-plus. We know that only 30-some-thousand of them, around five per cent, voted in the last election. We know that the folks are really happy that we’re helping, they’re getting a lot of action, they’re excited to have us helping. I mean, that’s a ridiculous number, 30-some thousand out of 650,000-plus is mind-boggling. We’re trying to help with that.

“I don’t see any, as far as our arena, there’s just not any, it doesn’t really fall into the plans. However, it doesn’t stop me from trying to get some of the, at least one of the former arenas I was a D-League coach in Iowa, where I’m from, opened, making that call, and maybe some of our players maybe trying to do the same in their local areas, too. So, we’re working on it.”

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Nurse was the head coach of the Iowa Energy of the D-League – now known as the Iowa Wolves of the G League – from 2007-2011 and still maintains a good relationship with the team. Should Nurse get the Wolves to open their facility to be used as a polling location, the spot would likely be Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Sportsnet reached out to the Wolves to see if Nurse had contacted them yet, but a team staffer said a dialogue, as far as he knew, had yet to open, but that’s likely because, with it being Saturday, the team was off regular business hours. Additionally, Nurse could’ve contacted others within the organization directly.

Finding more accessible ways to vote in the United States certainly falls in line with the activism Nurse has illustrated thus far, but his main focus remains on trying to get the U.S. citizens living in Canada to vote in the election.

“We don’t have a specific goal, I think that we’re just trying to get as many as possible and hopefully at the end of this you’re going to see … this really impacted people,” said Nurse of a specific goal of U.S. citizens living in Canada registered to vote. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do and we’re doing it, I know we’re airing the second of our third PSAs on the television stations during the games tomorrow up in Canada so we have had some traction and we’re getting some platform and we’re getting some air time.”

This new PSA spot falls in line with the third commitment outlined from Friday’s NBA, NBPA joint statement, having advertisement spots to promote “greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”

Action to increase the number of voters and improve voter education is but one aspect Nurse and the Raptors are looking to in their effort to make social change, but there’s always more that can be done and, according to Nurse, that starts with aiding your own local community.

“I feel even from the start, really, even before this, I see one of my primary roles is to have these guys impact their local communities,” Nurse said. “It’s something that I’ve researched and studied and kind of continuing to research and study, the impact that these guys can have in their local communities.

“I really, really think that is important, that we can help our players understand how big an impact they can have. Help our players organize that plan of action, et cetera. That’s one of the main, main things that I’m always very cognizant of and pushing. It’s part of the reason I started my own foundation is so I can learn how to teach these guys how to do their own in their own communities. It’s one of the benefits of doing it.

“Just one other thing, too: Again, this is more in general, I think that preparing these guys for life after basketball so that they’re prepared to continue to make an impact, even if their platform shifts or diminishes a little bit, they’re still prepared to continue to work as teachers, as coaches, as mentors, as businessmen, whatever it is, that we continue to prepare them to be life-long learners and life-long impacters in their local communities.”

Another way to figure out how to do more is to simply listen more.

“I have been in quite a few meetings and I have learned a lot to be honest with you,” Nurse said. “The main one is, again, I continue to get personal stories from our players about incidents they have been through themselves with law enforcement officers, which are personal and disheartening and disappointing. That is probably what I would like to share with you there.”

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