Hawks staying ‘True to Atlanta’ through the 2020 election

Illustration by Roe Gassett | The Signal

The 2020 General Election is here, and Georgia, and subsequently Atlanta, play prominent roles. Many believe the state will be a toss-up after thousands have already cast their ballots with the Atlanta Hawks’ help. 

Unlike other professional sports franchises during these trying times, the Hawks decided not to just “stick to basketball” or “shut up and dribble.” Not only have the franchise’s players and coaches participated in civil rights protests, but the team made Juneteenth a paid holiday and, most importantly, opened up State Farm Arena as a voting center.

When protests erupted following the death of George Floyd, Hawks coaches and players alike marched with protesters demanding an end to police brutality. Head coach Lloyd Pierce announced to the crowd that the Hawks were to open the arena as a voting area.

Since the 2018 midterm, accusations of voter fraud and suppression plagued elections. In the 2018 Governor’s race, hour-long lines and inoperable voting machines ran rampant in polling locations.  

The Atlanta Hawks took action and, in a stunning move, made State Farm Arena one of the largest voting centers in the state. They showed that the Hawks are committed to Atlanta, and the community praised them for it. Even during past elections, no professional team offered up their own building as a voting station, making the Hawks pioneers. 

The move to make the arena a voting center inspired many other teams to follow suit. Shortly after the Hawks announced that their stadium had voting stations, the Los Angeles Rams, Carolina Panthers and New York Knicks, among others, announced that they would use their stadiums as voting stations for the election. 

Like other franchises, the Hawks have always done community service, but opening up the stadium is groundbreaking. The franchise recently announced they made a significant increase from 100 to 300 machines to meet demand. The Hawks have done their best to give Fulton County voters a chance to use their voice and ensure a safe voting process. 

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin saw the voting station as not just a public relations stunt but also critical to the city.

“Let your voices be heard … Get out and vote,” Koonin said. “We look forward to welcoming Fulton County voters to State Farm Arena.”

When protests erupted following the death of George Floyd, Hawks coaches and players alike marched with protesters demanding an end to police brutality. Head coach Lloyd Pierce announced to the crowd that the Hawks were to open the arena as a voting area.

Longtime Atlanta Hawks broadcaster Bob Rathbun saw the players voicing their opinions as significant to future change and using their platform for good. 

“These guys know how much weight their voices carry,” Rathbun said. “Their voices carry a lot more weight than a regular joe, and [they] use it to enact change.”

The move to make a State Farm Arena a voting station couldn’t have come at a better time. With the pivotal election fast approaching, Atlanta votes matter more than ever. For the first time since the 1992 election, Georgia is a swing state, and the Hawks will play a significant role in the results. Georgia also has two senate seats up for grabs, and those seats and could be historic for the state as well if the state turns blue.

While the election looms large over the state, each voice has the right to be heard. With Georgia’s checkered past regarding voting, assisting their local community is a significant step in the relationship between team and city. All Fulton County voters now have a widely accessible voting center that more people can access. 

“[State Farm Arena] really shows the commitment the Hawks have to this city,” Rathbun said. “Now, you’re seeing other teams in cities following the Hawks’ example.”

Voter turnout in Georgia, while it has grown since 2016, has been marred by controversy. Allegations of voter suppression and fraud became the staple of elections in the Peach State. Significant allegations like these discourage people from voting, but the Hawks have sought to fix this issue by providing a smooth voting process. 

State Farm Arena not only has the capacity for large amounts of voters, but it also offers both influenza and COVID-19 tests for those who come to vote. Additionally, the arena sanitized all pens when signing forms and required masks at all times. Those who did not have a mask received one.

The arena has benefited not just Hawks basketball but also the community, and the stadium has already had a pivotal impact on the election. 

With mail-in ballots and early in-person voting numbers smashing state and national records, State Farm Arena’s imminent effect could make a difference for in-person voters. As a whole, Georgia is experiencing massive early-voting turnout, and the election could take a drastic turn. Even with early voting ending, the Hawks will still open their doors to voters until the polls close at 7 p.m. 

State Farm Arena also serves as the largest voting center in Fulton County, giving a new meaning to the motto “True to Atlanta.” The Hawks are playing a critical role in arguably the most crucial election in this state’s history. 

“The Hawks have always shown their commitment to the city; opening up the stadium for voters only further shows how much they care,” Rathbun said.

Unlike many other teams, the Atlanta Hawks are staying true to their city and helping the community. Rathbun sees the Hawks being active in the community as a model for other teams to follow in their cities. 

“Teams should play a significant role in their communities,” Rathbun said. “The Hawks are making sure people of Atlanta have their voices heard.”

Regardless of today’s results, the Hawks have proven vital in making sure the people’s voices get heard. With today’s election, the Hawks’ significant contributions to the community will not go unnoticed.

Some people cannot afford not to have their votes wasted. The marred 2016 election kept some people remaining idle, not allowing them to cast their votes. The Hawks have gone above and beyond to reach out and encourage all to be heard for the country’s future.