For his entire life — even before he was old enough to cast a ballot — Trey Flowers has understood the importance of voting. Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, it was always explained to the Detroit Lions‘ defensive end, both in practice and from examples through his family.
It was often told through the premise of the March 1965 Selma to Montgomery march, in which his grandfather and uncle participated.
“Just the stories from my dad telling us and how much family, personally, sacrificed to go out there and march — and then my grandmother on my mom’s side, she was pregnant at the time, but she was going out there giving them water, helping in that way,” Flowers said Tuesday during a virtual town hall on voting rights put on by the Lions. “Just, you know, just a shaky, scary moment, I guess.
“She kind of passed through and was delivering the water, and there was a white lady behind her that they actually killed. They were going out there trying to stop the protests, and they actually killed that lady. It kind of hit kind of close to home, knowing that grandmama and my granduncles, they were that close to being sacrificed and putting their life on the line for voting.
“And so, I think, just grown-ups or adults knowing the sacrifice that people here in the Deep South and all over the world has put toward the right to vote and just that experience right there encouraged me to make sure I registered to vote.”
After Flowers left Alabama for college in Arkansas and moved to play professionally with the New England Patriots and the Lions, he said he made sure to cast absentee ballots so he could vote and make use of the rights for which his family members protested.
“That’s why it was so important to me,” Flowers said. “I was taught on it growing up and taught the importance of it, and I think just knowing how much, how far we came as a country, as a whole, to get the right to vote, get people the right to vote and how important it is to let your voice be heard.”
Flowers was one of three Detroit players — along with quarterback Matthew Stafford and defensive back Duron Harmon — to spend part of an hour in the voting rights town hall meeting and explain why they believe it is important to register to vote and to vote.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson also participated in the town hall, and she explained how to register to vote. The Lions worked on the event with RISE, the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, a group whose mission is defined on its website as “creating a nation unified through sports committed to racial equity and social justice.”
Flowers, Harmon and Stafford all looked to education and leadership as ways to emphasize the importance of voting.
“Everybody on this call can be a leader in their own community just by, shoot, sharing the story Trey just told,” Stafford said. “That’s going to inspire people. That’s going to get people out there and get them off their butt to go out there and do what’s right — and that’s using their voice for change.
“Just because you are in a certain place in your life doesn’t mean you can’t lead people.”
Stafford mentioned the 2018 passed ballot measure in Michigan allowing any registered voter to request and cast an absentee ballot for any reason as a measure of doing what’s right and pushing for change. The measure, Stafford said, has unexpected benefit in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of people need to stay safe and stay home but need to get their voice heard, too,” Stafford said. “And that was a leadership without seeing the end, doing what was right at the time. And look at what an opportunity that gives all of us, all the people of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the ability to make change from their couch.
“And that’s an empowering thing, and those people were leading us without even knowing it. So don’t ever think your voice doesn’t count or what you say to somebody doesn’t matter because it can make a difference in the long run.”
Stafford also discussed what is done at the SAY Detroit Play Center, where he volunteers. Sports at the facility are used as a “carrot” to make sure education comes first. At the center, which is geared toward middle school- and high school-aged children, kids can’t play sports until their homework is finished and they have read for 30 minutes.
He sees education — an issue he’s passionate about — as a way to help build communities and help future generations in inner-city Detroit, where the center is located.
Stafford, Harmon and Flowers believe that growing educational opportunities in inner cities can help close the education gap between the cities and the suburbs. That is something Harmon said he’s looking at when it comes to candidates.
“When we’re looking at who we’re voting for, we have to look at who is prioritizing education, who is trying to close that gap so that the brown and Black kids and the kids in the inner city of Detroit are having that opportunity to go to college,” Harmon said. “To educate themselves and to give themselves more opportunities so that they can change the world and create less poverty and create less drug-infested communities so that we can create change.
“Because that’s where the change starts. It starts with the children. Put them in great positions and empowering them so that they can break the cycles that have been there for generations after generations, and enable them to empower themselves to empower their communities.”