During the telecast of SEC college football games, especially of teams playing in Alabama, Texas and Mississippi, it is difficult to miss the contrast between stadiums packed with overwhelmingly white crowds and the teams' often predominantly African-American players.
Except for when the camera zooms on a black player's family, minority faces are seldom seen among the sea of white.
The roster of Alabama's team, for example, is predominantly non-white. Yet blacks are 27 percent of the population, with other non-whites at 7.7 percent. The stadium crowd reflects the student body; just 12 percent of the students are black, three percent Hispanic, and two percent Asian. And since the school began to integrate in the 1960s, probably most of its alumni are white.
Whatever the reasons, the contrast between the spectators and the playing field prompts reflection on the disparity between the crowd's enthusiasm for the players and the efforts of its elected representatives to prevent the young players, black and white, from voting.
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Alabama — along with Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and several non-Southern states — has adopted strict voter photo-ID laws that make it more difficult for college students, and young adults generally, to vote.
The new law in Texas is one of the most severe. It requires Texans to show one of a limited number of government-issued photo IDs to vote. Those accepted include expired gun licenses from out of state, but Social Security cards and student IDs are not.
Since 2010, many Republican-controlled states have enacted laws making it more difficult to register and vote for many people: African-Americans, Hispanics, elderly poor, women whose married names differ from those on their birth certificates or other documents.
But the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010 reported that the 18-to-25 year age cohort experienced the most difficulty in registering to vote.
So the crowds in the stands exhort their young men to win for them, while their state governments are saying we prefer that you stay away from the ballot box — and that goes double for the black players.
Who can forget the Buncombe, N.C., Republican official who told The Daily Show that if the state's new restrictive voting law "hurts a bunch of lazy blacks," then "so be it."
A dissident former chair of Florida's Republican Party, on trial for corruption, in a 630-page deposition admitted party officials engaged in "a systemic effort to suppress the black vote."
Viewing those stadiums packed with overwhelmingly white spectators brings to mind how most of those who voted cast their ballots in recent presidential elections.
In 2008, Barack Obama received 10 percent of the white vote in Alabama, half of what John Kerry received in 2004. In 2012, Mississippi's percentage of whites favoring Obama was about 10 percent. Notably low white voting for Obama in other southern states where football is a religion: Louisiana 14 percent, Georgia 23 percent and Texas 26 percent.
In Florida, 37 percent of white voters chose Obama, just 2 points below his national average among whites of 39 percent (down from 43 percent in 2008).
In the 1960s, Southern whites began to abandon once-strong loyalty to the Democratic Party and have become a bedrock of the modern Republican Party.
President Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights and Voting Right acts through Congress; Republicans, moderating the fiery segregationist bombast of Alabama Gov. George Wallace, began to use coded racial language; in the 1970s, Democrats began to appeal to business-corporate interests over unions and the working class; and the religious right became a force among Southern evangelicals.
All those changes and more created what is now a solid Republican South; this story is well known. Less remarked upon are the ironic contrasts that now exist between Southern football and the politics of the white South.