Op Ed

West Virginia Sports Legends Press Senator Manchin on Voting Rights; Time to Do So on Climate


A group of West Virginia sports luminaries, led by NBA legend Jerry West and Alabama football coach Nick Saban, recently penned a public appeal to that state’s senior U.S. Senator, Joe Manchin, urging him to support federal voting rights legislation. Unfortunately, that effort failed and voting rights legislation supporters need to go back to the drawing board — and fast.

Still, it was heartening to see these two icons, who rarely speak out politically, support something so important to the future of American democracy.

But their work is not done.

West, Saban and Company, need to ask Senator Manchin to sign on to the potentially game-changing climate provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill.

GSB will make it easy for them today by writing the letter.

University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West have three things in common. Both are:

  1. The best of the best of their sports — Saban has won seven national championships[1] and West was such a legend that the NBA decided to use his image in its logo[2]
  2. From the state of West Virginia
  3. Signatories[3] to a letter that was sent to that state’s senior U.S. Senator Joe Manchin earlier this month, in support of the Freedom to Vote Act that was being debated by the ‘world’s most deliberative body’.

Alabama coach Nick Saban celebrates his sixth national championship with the Crimson Tide in January 2021. Alabama defeated Ohio State to claim the title (Photo credit: Alabama Football)

The bill aimed to expand voter registration and voting access while limiting the removal of voters from voter rolls. It would also have established Election Day as a federal holiday.

“We strongly support urgently needed legislation that will protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all Federal elections,” the letter to Manchin asserted. “The Freedom to Vote Act, which you sponsored with Committee Chair Senator [Amy] Klobuchar (D-MN) and other colleagues, effectively addressed these goals. Now we also support your leadership in shaping legislation to secure our democracy by protecting election integrity, principled Presidential transitions, and our national security during transitions.

“We come from some of our nation’s most popular sports leagues, conferences and teams. Some of us have roots and shaped our lives in West Virginia. Others followed very different paths and some of us have been rivals in sports or business. But we are all certain that democracy is best when voting is open to everyone on a level playing field; the referees are neutral; and at the end of the game the final score is respected and accepted.”

Despite having authored the ‘Freedom to Vote Act’, Manchin voted against the rules change that would have allowed the bill to pass with a simple majority instead of with a 60-vote super majority as is currently required in the Senate. Arizona Democrat Kirsten Sinema also voted no, as did all 50 Republicans.

This doomed the bill and sent the Democrats back to the drawing board to try to find other ways to protect the right to vote from a series of restrictive laws that have been passed since the 2020 election or are being considered in 19 states and counting.

Hopefully, in the best tradition of sports, Saban, West, and Company will launch a comeback (adding West Virginia sports legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss might help jumpstart things) and make another push to move Senator Manchin. It is not hyperbole to say that our democracy depends on it.

And while they’re at it, the West Virginia sports legends should broaden the scope of their ask by requesting that Senator Manchin join the #ClimateComeback by supporting the climate provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better bill. That legislation is currently on the shelf thanks to opposition from, you guessed it, Senator Manchin.

GSB is happy to offer this note, free of charge, to the Mountaineer State icons, to send on to Senator Manchin.

Not only is American democracy at risk, but so too is another crucial aspect of our way of life, and that is having a hospitable climate for all. As you well know, everyone in West Virginia, across the country and around the world, is feeling the impacts of human-caused climate change due to the burning of fossil fuels.

Extreme weather, from massive floods to years-long droughts to life-threatening heat waves to wildfires, has risen dramatically during our lifetimes. One-hundred-year weather events now occur every five years or so. Climate change is often seen as a problem for our grandchildren or their grandchildren, but the human and economic costs are staggering now, including in West Virginia. Sports, like almost every other human endeavor is not immune to climate change. From Alabama football to playground basketball in Cabin Creek, Jerry West’s hometown, sports are now more dangerous to play and watch.

Jerry West during his heyday with the Los Angeles Lakers (Photo credit: Long Photography)

The climate clock is against us but there is good climate news.

Real solutions are available now, from clean, renewable energy to energy efficiency to electric vehicles to reforestation, and more. We need massive investments to scale these solutions while protecting fossil fuel industry workers, including many of our friends in West Virginia, during the transition to cleaner energy. And thankfully, those investments and protections are contained in the climate provisions of President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ bill.

We know that you said you oppose the legislation in its current form because of its cost. But the costs of inaction on climate will be much greater than the investments in the bill.

We know that you, a big sports fan, realize that we are behind in the “Climate Game” and that we desperately need to launch the #ClimateComeback…yesterday.

That is why we urge your support of the climate provisions in ‘Build Back Better’, either in a reimagined omnibus bill or as a stand-alone piece of legislation.

Securing American democracy and ensuring a more livable climate.

Everyone in West Virginia and the rest of the country would benefit.

And your legacy as one of the most influential senators in U.S. history would be cemented for generations to come. 

[1] Saban has six titles with Alabama and one with LSU

[2] West is commonly known as “The Logo”

[3] Other signatories include former West Virginia University and Buffalo Bills linebacker Darryl Talley, ex-WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, and retired NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue

Photo at top: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV (Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

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