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Bigger than football: Indiana off for Election Day

Indiana football is preparing for arguably its biggest game in over 25 years. But Tuesday, the team did not practice. Everyone had the day off.

On Sept. 16, the NCAA announced a mandatory off day on Election Day for all Division I athletes with no practice or competition allowed. IU’s athletic department had already previously announced it would give the day off to all Hoosier student-athletes.

Tom Allen is the winningest coach in his first three seasons in Indiana football history. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Many of the players will be voting in their first presidential election. Voting can give them a voice.

“I feel it’s important just because it gives people the opportunity to express how they feel,” IU quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “Just being able to vote is giving everyone a chance to speak and voice an opinion on what is going on.”

Many Hoosier football players have already voted over the past month. The majority of IU players are from out of state and received absentee ballots that they have mailed in to their home states.

According to head coach Tom Allen a “handful” of players and coaches including himself were planning to vote on Election Day. Spearheaded by cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby and running backs coach Mike Hart, the team announced in early October they were 100% registered to vote. Allen expected that the entire team will have participated in the democratic process by the closing of polls on Tuesday.

“It’s critical, it’s a part of our democracy,” Allen said. “It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be a part of it. We want to challenge our guys to vote based on the principles they believe in.”

It will not make things easy for IU in a football sense. Instead of following routine with an off day on Sunday, the Hoosiers reviewed film and held meetings. It was a quick turnaround from a win over Rutgers and a late-night flight home from New Jersey. IU also practiced Monday night instead of Tuesday morning.

A disrupted schedule Tuesday is about more than voting. Allen views the day as an opportunity to have a discussion about issues important to the players.

On Monday night they discussed “the importance of understanding that we all have different opinions and different views,” Allen said. “And we respect that from each other.”

Allen is not just all talk. He is an active participant in rallying to support his players and the social justice movement. He marched with many of his players including wide receiver Whop Philyor at Bloomington’s “Enough is Enough” protest in early June after the death of George Floyd. A week earlier Allen had been one of the first Power 5 coaches to speak out supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Allen’s statement on Twitter on May 29 gained national attention. 

He also met with multiple players including Philyor after Floyd’s death.

Indiana receiver Whop Philyor crouches during warmups before Indiana’s game against Nebraska. (Bailey Wright/HN)

“I sat there and talked with our players, some of them 1-on-1, all different ways we’ve done it,” Allen said over the summer. “I don’t know what it feels like to be a Black male raised in this country, but at the same time I can have empathy for them. If I truly care about them, and I’m trying to learn from them, tell me about your life, what was it like and we’ve had those conversations and it’s been really good.”

Allen would later release a video connecting the Black Lives Matter movement with his program mantra LEO (Love Each Other). His actions and words received positive feedback from former and current players.

Throughout the summer IU football was intertwined with a nation in turbulence. On May 30, former player Chris Beaty was shot and killed in downtown Indianapolis during protests. On July 4, Vauxx Booker, a Black man, was assaulted on video near Lake Monroe outside Bloomington. Philyor tweeted his concern. Protests about Booker’s assault turned dangerous in Bloomington.

Now months later, IU football has a chance to make a difference at the ballot box. Furthermore, the players and coaches have a day to not worry about ending a 24-game losing streak against hated rival Michigan. They can focus on social activism and LEO, and have a civil discussion of how to solve problems in the country.

Allen preaches growing young leaders in the world beyond the football field. Amid a divided country, IU football players stepped off the field Tuesday to become those young leaders of the next generation.

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