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New Orleans Saints players Demario Davis, Ben Watson endorse voting rights bill

HB 265 proposes the return of voting rights to people with past felony convictions, and currently on probation or parole.

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Demario Davis, a New Orleans Saints linebacker who spent time with the Jets, has written a letter endorsing Louisiana House Bill 265. Davis sent it to the state Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson, the chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party and also the chair of the state’s Senate and Government Affairs committee. As of this afternoon, Ben Watson, a Saints tight end, has also supported this initiative.

HB 265 is legislation proposing the return of voting rights to thousands of people with past felony convictions, along with those on parole or probation, according to the Advancement Project — a national, multi-racial civil rights organization. The original grassroots push came from Voice of the Experienced (VOTE) to get Louisiana residents to push for this reform.

This is the latest news in a pattern of renewed athlete activism. Other members of the Player’s Coalition have also endorsed or given word-of-mouth support of legislation recently. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin addressed the Washington State legislation in February regarding Initiative 940, aimed at improving police training in the state. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins has supported Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act which has been moving steadily through state legislature. Jenkins, retired player Donte Stallworth, retired receiver Anquan Boldin, and Texans cornerback Johnson Bademosi have visited Congress to discuss and support federal, bipartisan legislation.

SB Nation has obtained the letter from Davis — a member of the Player’s Coalition — and Watson in its entirety, and it is presented below.

To: Louisiana State Legislature

Senate & Government Affairs Committee

RE: HB265 Voting Rights May 15, 2018

Dear Chairwoman Carter-Peterson and Members of the Committee,

We, Benjamin Watson and Demario Davis, both live and work in Louisiana, home to both the greatest football team but also to the world’s highest incarceration rate. We have both spent the last several years learning about the criminal justice system and advocating for reform. We have sat in courts, met with police, met with impacted communities and advocated in legislatures and with prosecutors for change. As in so many other states, what we have seen in Louisiana has been more than concerning.

As athletes and community activists, we have been particularly struck by the way our system continues punishing people long after they have served their time – sometimes through extensive supervision, but here, in Louisiana, through felon disenfranchisement. People can return to their community, own businesses, become faith leaders, but they cannot exercise the most fundamental right: the right to express political will at the ballot box. This right is fundamental to personhood and to democracy. It is how we hold elected officials accountable to all of the community, not just a select few. We should not take it away after someone has already paid their debt to society.

We therefore write to extend our deepest support for a bill (HB 265) that will restore the most fundamental right of democracy to thousands of people in Louisiana. Voting is essential to individual citizenship, human dignity, and collective democracy. The legislature should pass this bill with all speed.

As Americans and Christians, we believe in justice, forgiveness, and restoration. We are also students and devotees of the long legacy of Civil Rights struggle. That is why we are working on issues of mass incarceration and reentry, and are determined to work on these issues in our home of Louisiana. Felon disenfranchisement is part of our country’s ugly racist legacy, a sinister law that harkens back to a time where this country did all it could to keep Americans of African descent from expressing a fundamental freedom. Louisiana need not have this stain on its conscience.

The criminal justice system’s goal is to hold people accountable, but it is not to deliver what for some is a lifetime of disenfranchisement. The criminal justice system, in other words, should not keep voices from democratic participation.

As professional athletes, we are blessed to have a platform that allows us to yield our loud voices for change. We choose to use this platform now to request that you restore the right tovote to those who also live, work, and make change daily in our community. Keeping this most fundamental right from those because of one mistake is undemocratic, unfair, and inhumane.

Thank you.

Benjamin Watson Demario Davis

The bill was passed in the Louisiana House of Representatives last week, and is expected to go to a vote in the state Senate tomorrow.