Voter registration, activism and Election Day: what Gophers’ women’s basketball has been up to off-court

Jasmine Powell, Gace Cumming and head coach Lindsay Whalen discuss their team’s efforts to be campus leaders and their fight for social justice.

Gophers+Forward+Jasmine+Powell+approaches+defenders+in+Williams+Arena+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+10.+The+Gophers+suffered+a+defeat+against+Michigan+52-77.

Liam Armstrong

Gophers Forward Jasmine Powell approaches defenders in Williams Arena on Sunday, Feb. 10. The Gophers suffered a defeat against Michigan 52-77.

Julianna Landis, Sports Reporter

As the presidential election draws nearer, reminders to vote are everywhere: lawn signs, commercials and pop-ups on Instagram. But for many, being able to take time off work to make sure their vote is counted just isn’t feasible, and the possibility of standing in line for hours is even less appealing than usual due to the pandemic.

Wanting to ensure their athletes and staff had the full day to get their votes in, the athletics department cleared their schedules for Nov. 3. A coordinated social media post declared that the Gophers’ teams “only had one drill to run” on Election Day.

Basketball took it one step further, registering every team member on both the men’s and women’s teams to vote. Women’s head coach Lindsay Whalen said that her team had been working to get all athletes and staff registered to vote throughout the summer, noting that assistant coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis worked with the athletes and members of the staff directly to get their registration paperwork set up correctly.

“We wanted to be the first on campus to have our whole team registered to vote, obviously the men’s team is as well. We’re in sports so we’re competitive, I’m not sure who was exactly first but it doesn’t matter at this point,” Whalen said. “What matters is that everybody’s registered and will be able to go and vote that day.”

The Van Cleve Park Recreation Center stands vacant on Wednesday, Sep. 30. The location will function as a polling place for the upcoming presidential election. The University recently announced that they are clearing the schedule for student athletes on Election Day in hopes of increasing voter turnout. The Recreation Center is the closest polling place to Athletes Village. (Parker Johnson)

Grace Cumming, a redshirt freshman on the women’s basketball team, appreciated that the athletics department cleared schedules for Election Day to make it as easy as possible for them to vote, as a regular schedule that day would have made it much more challenging,

“I know that athletic programs want to be leaders in their communities, and I think that’s a great way to start, to make voting really easy for student-athletes … A regular day — especially in early November — for a basketball player is crazy busy,” Cumming said.

As a first-time voter in a presidential election, Cumming has noticed a lot of enthusiasm for voting among her teammates and peers, saying that voting and being more politically aware is much more commonplace in young people, and that politics are something that are more openly discussed and normalized.

For sophomore guard Jasmine Powell, there is a direct correlation between voting and larger-scale social justice movements.

“It’s not just our team, but our community that’s not very happy with what’s going on. This election in particular, we’re voting not just for social change, but equity. We have a Black woman as candidate for vice president. That’s huge,” Powell said.

“And we want someone in office who will help with these matters, because at the end of the day, who we vote in and who we’re expecting to help during times like this, like the George Floyd’s and the Breonna Taylor’s, it depends who is in office.”

Having Whalen leading the team through this had been impactful as well. When Philando Castille was shot and killed by Falcon Heights police in 2016, Whalen was, at the time, a captain of the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.

Seeking change after the deaths of Castille as well as Alton Sterling, they wore shirts displaying their names and the statement “Black Lives Matter” in pregame warmups. Minneapolis Police Department officers who were staffing the game as security were offended by the action and walked off their posts.

“That was huge,” Powell said of Whalen’s protest. “She was one of the only, you could say, white players who were really voicing their opinion on that, and just really stuck by her teammates.”

“And that’s what she’s been preaching to us, to always be there for your teammate no matter whether you understand or not. And that’s been great, to not just hear that but to see that from her. That’s exactly what she was doing [as a player], and she’s still doing it for us.”