Alabama coach Nick Saban joined a number of other well-known sports figures from West Virginia urging West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, to support passage of the Freedom to Vote Act.
However, Saban later added that he was not in favor of ending the Senate filibuster rule, which Republicans are expected to use to block the Democrats’ proposed voting legislation.
The letter, which was made public on Monday, also was signed by NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West, former West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, also a Democrat, have so far refused to support making a filibuster exception for the voting rights bill. Without the 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, proposed legislation can be kept off the Senate floor indefinitely.
The letter said: "We strongly support urgently needed legislation that will protect both the rights of voters and the integrity of outcomes in all Federal elections. The Freedom to Vote Act, which you sponsored with Committee Chair Senator [Amy] Klobuchar and other colleagues, effectively addressed these goals. Now we also support your leadership in shaping legislation to secure our democracy by protecting election integrity, principled Presidential transitions and our national security during transitions.
"We come from some of our nation's most popular sports leagues, conferences and teams. 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. 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."
A footnote to the letter, which was added after its public release, addressed Saban’s stance on the filibuster.
"He believes this will destroy the checks and balances we must have in our Democracy," the footnote reads. "The others signing this letter take no position on this aspect of Senate policies."
The text of the letter can be seen here.
Saban, who was born in Fairmont, West Virginia, has avoided making political stances for much of his career. He told reporters in 2020, "I've never endorsed a candidate, nor will I ever endorse a candidate or get involved in politics in any way, shape or form. I don't think that's my place."
However, Saban is a long-time friend and supporter of Manchin.
West Virginia University professor of political science John Kilwein told USA Today “I think it's the personal history. Joe Manchin and Nick Saban go back to school days. ... They're close friends.
"Politically, that's worked out in that Nick Saban has supported Joe Manchin's re-election bids throughout the years, has appeared in ads. And Nick Saban's a pretty popular character (in West Virginia), even though he's in Alabama. He's a hometown guy."
The letter to Manchin also said that election administration and the process of vote certification "must be nonpartisan, professional and transparent."
The House passed a combination of the "Freedom To Vote Act" bill and another called the "John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act." But Republicans will block debate via the filibuster unless Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, back off their stances of filibuster protection. Democrats could change the filibuster with complete unity, however, Senate rules, as currently constructed, require 60 votes for debate to end.