University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban and other prominent sports figures with ties to West Virginia have penned a letter to Sen. Joe Manchin, urging the West Virginia Democrat to help his party pass voting rights legislation.
NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, ex-NFL player and former West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck and ex-NFL and former West Virginia football player Darryl Talley joined Saban in voicing their support for what they called “urgently needed legislation that will protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all Federal elections.” The letter was also signed by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has no known ties to West Virginia.
Democracy, they wrote, “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, who grew up in West Virginia with Manchin, included a footnote in the version he signed adding that he does not support eliminating the filibuster, a source familiar told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins.
“Coach Saban is not in favor of getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate. He believes this will destroy the checks and balances we must have in our Democracy. The others signing this letter take no position on this aspect of Senate policies,” the footnote read.
That echoes a similar position taken by Manchin, who has said he supports congressional action on federal voting rights legislation but wants it to be bipartisan and does not support eliminating the filibuster.
The letter, which was dated January 13 and released on Tuesday, comes as the Senate began debate on the House-backed voting legislation that couples key elements of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. As it stands, Democrats do not have the votes to pass the legislation and, due to intraparty opposition from Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, they also lack the votes to get rid of the filibuster, which sets a 60-vote threshold for most legislation to pass.
Manchin reiterated his commitment to protecting the filibuster in a news release last week, saying that “allowing one party to exert complete control in the Senate with only a simple majority will only pour fuel onto the fire of political whiplash and dysfunction that is tearing this nation apart – especially when one party controls both Congress and the White House.”
The letter signees voiced support for in-person, early and absentee voting options and called for non-partisan election administration and vote certification.
“Motivated by the unanticipated outcomes of recent close elections conducted with integrity, these state laws seek to secure partisan advantage by eliminating reliable practices with proven safeguards and substituting practices ripe for manipulation,” the letter states, citing the flurry of restrictive voting laws passed in 2021 by Republican-led state legislatures.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday acknowledged the hurdles Democrats face in passing the voting legislation, but added that “when this chamber confronts a question this important, one so vital to our country, so vital to our ideals, so vital to the future of our democracy, you don’t slide it off the table and say, never mind.”
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Manu Raju contributed to this report.