News & Opinion

Hornets Leaders Discuss What’s Next as Voting Begins at Spectrum Center

Refusing to shut up and dribble

Last month, we spoke with Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield and Betsy Mack, executive director of the Hornets’ Swarm to Serve foundation, about the organization’s Swarm the Polls initiative, working to get out the vote in Charlotte through different plans that include using the Spectrum Center for early voting beginning today, Oct. 15, and lasting through Oct. 31. 

The Spectrum Center will offer free parking for voters in the Center City Green parking deck, which has entrances on 5th and 6th streets. Voters will line up along the 5th Street side of Spectrum Center with most of the line socially distanced outside to limit the number of people and time spent in the building. The Spectrum Center will house 38 polling stations, serving as the largest voting site in Mecklenburg County. Of course, it’s not the only early voting site. You can find a full list of early voting sites in your county here

Early voting will be open to Mecklenburg County residents Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m-3 p.m., and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. 

During the first half of our September discussion, we also talked to Whitfield and Mack about the Hornets organization’s broader involvement in social justice, beyond voting at the Spectrum Center. In the second half of our conversation, we spoke more in-depth about the team will move forward with its Corporate Social Responsibility Foundation after Nov. 3. 

Queen City Nerve: Swarm the Polls is just the first piece of a larger social justice platform being implemented by Hornets Sports and Entertainment as well as the Charlotte Hornets Foundation. What details can you share about it at this time? 

Betsy Mack: We are continuing to look at how we can have events and activation. After the voting, we’re going to start looking into our economic mobility portion of the social justice platform … We’re looking at mentoring and how we can provide people with an equitable opportunity for our community members and individuals in our state and in our city. 

[In 2014], Charlotte was ranked 50th out of 50 [of the country’s largest cities] for social mobility. We did have a night a couple of years ago at the Spectrum Center where we discussed what that meant for Charlotte and individuals here and how we can get out of being 50 out of 50 in social economic mobility. As the election winds down, that’s going to be our next focus area. 

Betsy Mack. (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hornets)

We’re already looking at our racial equity space as well, which is one of our other target areas. One of the initiatives we supported earlier was #CLTGivesBlack. We are looking at how we can expand organizations and individuals’ social capital, and how individuals can move up and thrive, and how can we use our social capital in that way so we are providing opportunities. 

[In August], we worked with our local Black-owned restaurants, promoting these restaurants and informing our community about those establishments and encouraging people to attend those. Our racial focus area is to continue to promote individuals and organizations in our communities of color and to make sure we’re providing equitable and equal opportunities.

We’re also looking at justice reform, which will probably start in January or February. We’re looking at our justice system and how we can help with individuals who are reacclimating into the community after serving their time. We have also worked with FITTS, which is Former Inmates Teaching Today’s Students. They’re getting together with students who are going down the path of being incarcerated, and by having those tough conversations, we are hoping (to get them off that path.) 

We’ve heard a lot of debate around the “Shut up and dribble” dialog this year, especially involving the NBA, hence the use of dribble in the expressions. Do you think sports franchises today owe their fans more than just entertainment in the field of play? 

Fred Whitfield: I think all sports franchises should be heavily involved in their respective communities. They can have the players and coaches involved in giving back and addressing areas of need. It’s something that we take a lot of pride in through our community service efforts and through our whole foundation and I think all organizations should certainly look to be a catalyst for positive change in their respective communities. 

Fred Whitfield (Photo courtesy of Charlotte Hornets)

Team owner Michael Jordan and the rest of the organization acted quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in canceling events but in helping Spectrum Center employees. What measures were carried out in that regard?

Whitfield: Yes, I’m extremely proud of our organization and [Michael Jordan’s] perspective on this. What he agreed to do was, even though our arena operation shut down on March 11, he agreed to pay all of our part-time workers through the end of our regular season for the time they were scheduled to work, which was through mid-April, and then also agreed to pay our part-time workers that were scheduled to work concerts and family shows that were already scheduled into late April.

In addition, we have not laid off or furloughed any of our full-time staff. In fact, they’ve all been working very closely together via Zoom. We’ve made sure we have stayed connected with our season ticket holders, with our sponsors, and with our community. We’ve really worked hard as an organization to stay connected internally and with our constituents.

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