University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and basketball Hall-of-Famer Jerry West are among five prominent members of the sports world who signed a letter urging Sen. Joe Manchin and the Senate to pass voting rights legislation.
In the letter, Saban and West urge "Congress to exercise its Constitutional responsibility to enact laws that set national standards for the conduct of Federal elections and for decisions that determine election outcomes."
"Some of us have roots and shaped our lives in West Virginia, others followed very different paths and some of us have been rivals in sports or business," the letter said. "But 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."
Saban, a seven-time national champion, is widely considered to be one of the greatest college coaches of all time. He was born and raised in West Virginia.
West was a 14-time all-star with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1960s and 70s. He later served in the Lakers' front office and built six championship teams between 1980 and 2000. He was born in East Bank, West Virginia and played collegiately for the West Virginia Mountaineers.
USA Today reports that Saban and West are longtime friends.
Saban and West were joined in signing the letter by College Football Hall-of-Famers Oliver Luck and Darryl Talley (both of whom are West Virginia grads), and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The letter comes as the Senate debates two voting rights bills that have already passed the House of Representatives: The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act.
Both bills would need 60 votes to pass as the rules are currently constructed. Democrats currently hold control in 50-50 Senate, but only thanks to a tie-break vote by Vice President Kamala Harris. With no Republicans supporting the bill, the White House has advocated changing the Senate rules to bypass the filibuster and get the bills passed with a simple majority.
However, Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, has signaled that he is hesitant to bypass the filibuster. He is joined in his opposition by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a fellow moderate Democrat from Arizona.
Without support from Manchin and Sinema, the legislation will die on the Senate floor.
Democrats say the bills are necessary because recent Supreme Court decisions have weakened some of the protections provided in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed to eliminate racial discrimination in voting laws. In addition, Republicans in several states have passed laws that make it more difficult to cast a vote — and analysts say those state laws will have a greater impact on communities of color.