TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban and other prominent sports figures have urged U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin to support comprehensive voting rights legislation.
In a letter to the Democratic senator on Jan. 13, Saban was joined by NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, a fellow West Virginia native, ahead of the Senate's debate on the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. The bill was debated in the Senate on Tuesday, and it appeared to be doomed.
The Senate bill would make Election Day a national holiday and require access to early voting and mail-in ballots, which were extremely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Voting rights advocates across the country have warned that Republican-led states are making it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling places, requiring specific types of identification, and ordering other changes.
In the letter, the group said free and fair elections are "now under intentional and unprecedented challenge."
"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," the letter reads.
Former NFL players Oliver Luck and Darryl Talley, both West Virginia University graduates, signed the letter, as did former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The letter said lawmakers must "guarantee that all Americans have an equal voice in our democracy and that Federal elections are conducted with integrity so that the votes of all eligible voters determine the election outcomes."
Manchin says he supports the bill but he is unwilling to change Senate rules to push it through as Republicans object.