Don’t be a benchwarmer: Cal lacrosse players lead voter registration initiative

Photo of Lacrosse #10 Lizabanks Campagna
Kelley Cox/KLC Fotos/Courtesy

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With the cancellation of collegiate sports, student-athletes are grappling to redefine their purpose within the void that was once filled with practice, conditioning and competition. Players have more time to cultivate their outside passions and develop a sense of identity separate from their identity as an athlete.

Cal athletes — with leadership skills, strong work ethic and hardened convictions forged through hours on the field — are not taking a timeout. Many of them are using this quiet time to speak out for social and political causes. Three lacrosse players — junior Catherine Roxas and seniors LizaBanks Campagna and Kamryn Lanier — are doing just that.

The three political science majors worked together to organize a voter registration initiative called “Go Bears, Go Vote.” Their goal: register every student-athlete at Cal to vote before the 2020 election.

“It’s been really easy to feel hopeless,” Campagna said. “I have definitely been struggling since March when my season got canceled, being like, ‘What am I doing? What is my purpose at Cal?’ … It’s been one thing I can do and focus on that makes my community better that, like, benefits the people around me. (It) repurposed my role as an athlete.”

The initiative to get athletes involved in the electoral process was initially started by former Cal lacrosse player Madison Roberts during the 2018 midterm election season. She employed creative tactics to get students registered to vote, which included athletes running voter registration booths at Cal athletic events. Roberts ran this one-woman operation during her final year as a student-athlete at Cal, and she may have not realized the extent to which her political activism inspired her younger teammates.

Campagna, Lanier and Roxas have obviously reworked Roberts’ initial framework to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. No longer able to run registration booths in person, the women have been presenting at team Zoom meetings, with the goal of having every Cal team accounted for before the 2020 election. The content of these presentations has been shaped by the pandemic, and the 2020 election necessitates unprecedented discussions.

The presentations have placed a strong emphasis on the importance of local elections, especially in light of the number of important decisions surrounding the pandemic made at the local level. As COVID-19 continues to spread through communities everywhere, there exists unprecedented importance of staying engaged with local politics. Additionally, they have urged everyone to remember that despite what they may hear in the news, voting by mail is allowed and encouraged.

Campagna recognizes the platform that she and her teammates have. As student-athletes, they have connections with important figures within the Cal athletic program. She said she also realizes that as a senior lacrosse player, her platform is not a permanent fixture in her life. Given the seemingly fleeting nature of this opportunity, Campagna said she feels a personal responsibility to make a change.

Additionally, as she can’t see other student-athletes around the training room, Campagna is glad that the initiative gives her an opportunity to communicate with other Cal athletes over Zoom. But despite the friendships the women have with various athletes, when it comes to voter registration, they mean business.

Relating politics to athletics, Campagna compares being indifferent toward voting to being a benchwarmer: “Are you OK with being a benchwarmer?” she asked. “That sounds like somebody who doesn’t want to play, doesn’t want to participate, doesn’t want to learn or get better.”

Experiences both on and off the field have prepared the players for the initiative they are leading. Roxas’ recent internship with the Center for Election Innovation and Research, where she conducted analyses of voter registration and mail-in voting, aptly prepared her to step into this new leadership role in the Cal community.

But Roxas, Campagna and Lanier have also carried the lessons they’ve learned on the lacrosse field into this new arena. Campagna equates political activism with her role on the team as a defender: Being a defender, much like registering students to vote, is often an underappreciated and thankless job. But it is work that needs to be done nonetheless.

“Being a defender, … you don’t really get a lot of credit,” Campagna said. “I don’t really need the credit. … It’s about something bigger.”

Hearing Campagna talk like this about her dynamic role at Cal, you might not be able to tell if she is talking about her vital role as a defender on the lacrosse team or her role leading a voter initiative. It could be either — and that’s what makes her role as a lacrosse player so special. Her team spirit persists on and off the field.

Players up and down the roster have been called off the courts in light of the pandemic. Without falter, they have charged into a new arena, repurposing their leadership skills and work ethic for a cause of extreme importance. While we continue to mourn the loss of collegiate sports, a  silver lining emerges. Freed from grueling practices and weekend tournaments, athletes are channeling their energy into the sphere of political and social activism. Although the future is uncertain, Campagna, Lanier and Roxas are among those working to make it better.

Sarah Siegel covers women’s gymnastics. Contact her at [email protected].