Georgia Tech’s Reveno is voter participation’s unlikely activist

Georgia Tech assistant coach Eric Reveno with Yellow Jackets center James Banks during a Feb. 25, 2020 game at McCamish Pavilion.

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics/Clyde Clik

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics/Clyde Clik

Georgia Tech assistant coach Eric Reveno with Yellow Jackets center James Banks during a Feb. 25, 2020 game at McCamish Pavilion.

Day after day this summer, Eric Reveno sat on the front porch of his family’s home in Atlanta’s Morningside neighborhood and shared his vision with all who cared to hear.

“He would sit there on the front porch and he’d be tweeting and texting and on the phone,” said Amanda Reveno, the wife of the Georgia Tech assistant basketball coach. “I’m sure the neighbors got so tired of hearing his schpiel. It was sort of one person, one group at a time.”

The coach’s incessant networking had little to do with recruiting, at least of the basketball kind. Reveno focused his aim at a project possibly more unlikely than luring a five-star prospect to commit to the Yellow Jackets – introducing and passing NCAA legislation in a matter of months.

As the nation goes to the polls Tuesday on a most critical election day, athletes at every Division I school will be unfettered by practices, games or team meetings to join them, thanks to the “All Vote, No Play” legislation that the NCAA passed in September that gives all Division I athletes the day off from required athletic activities every election day.

“It’s very satisfying, but at the same time, it’s balanced by the fact that I wish I’d done it sooner,” he said.

Reveno, 54, hatched the idea after a virtual team meeting in the wake of the protests over the death of George Floyd and saw it through until its passage. A collaborator – Holy Cross assistant coach Joe Kennedy – said that “100%” the plan would have never made its way into the NCAA rulebook if not for Reveno.

“He’s brought unbelievable passion and energy to keeping the momentum going from springtime to the election,” said Kennedy, son of former Florida State coach Pat Kennedy (and not a part of the Kennedy political family).

While the idea was first communicated by a tweet that he sent out June 2, spurred by a comment from walk-on guard Malachi Rice about the importance of voting and Reveno’s own embarrassment that he and his generation hadn’t done more in the realm of social justice, he has also done the harder work of carrying it out, as his neighbors might attest.

He was not the most likely candidate to carry the banner for enhancing voter participation among college athletes. Before May, Reveno’s community support included participating in Coaches vs. Cancer, children’s hospital visits, food banks, charity auctions and golf tournaments and the like.

All worthy causes, certainly, but this summer’s social unrest led him to realize that, while he had encouraged players in areas of their lives such as nutrition, financial responsibility and community service, he had done nothing to help them understand their responsibility to take part in elections.

“It’s funny,” he said. “We give kids the right to vote, but we don’t teach them how.”

His wife called him Norma Rae, after the lead character in the 1979 movie of the same name, about a textile worker who becomes an unlikely union leader to reform working conditions.

“It seemed like he was kind of an accidental activist, if you will,” Amanda Reveno said. “It was fun to watch him. He was just very devoted. He saw the pain that his players were in, which was very, very heartbreaking for him.”

Beyond heavy tweeting and retweeting, Reveno reached out to his coaching colleagues to get their buy-in. He worked with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), leading that group to call on all men’s basketball teams to free their players on election day, a big step in helping his idea gain traction.

When it became clear that the best path towards introducing and pushing the idea through the NCAA’s legislative process was the Division I student-athlete advisory committee (SAAC), he worked that channel, starting with Tech’s SAAC, which is headed up by Yellow Jackets pitcher Hugh Chapman.

“I was like, I love it and I think Georgia Tech can do a really good job leading the way in the conference and the country,” Chapman said.

He sold his vision to colleagues at the Pac-12 and West Coast Conference, his former stomping grounds (he was previously a Stanford assistant and then head coach at the University of Portland). He did media interviews, went on podcasts and spoke on panels.

Particularly in June and July, he was spending hours a day on it apart from his responsibilities with the basketball team. After Chapman helped Reveno in selling the plan to the Division I SAAC, Reveno got to work communicating with its members via text messages and Instagram direct message. Colleagues at Tech like basketball coaches Josh Pastner and Nell Fortner and football coach Geoff Collins threw their weight behind it, as well.

“We know it’s not all about basketball when you’re a head coach at a college,” Fortner said last week. “It’s about teaching young people about a lot of things.”

Assistant coach Eric Reveno - Georgia Tech vs. Pittsburgh, March 4, 2020, McCamish Pavilion, Atlanta, Ga. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

icon to expand image

Credit: Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Reveno estimates he communicated between 100 and 200 people as he pitched and networked. There was little resistance to the idea or legislation, but it did need someone to push it along through the process and as it gained more breadth, such as connecting the NABC with a nonpartisan agency (All In Campus Democracy Challenge) devoted to increasing voter participation among college students to help coaches engage their players on the matter.

“He’s just been a tremendous driving force in keeping that energy and passion going and also being a driving force in this not just being a social push, this is not just about a hashtag,” said Kennedy, the Holy Cross assistant. “It’s got to be something that’s much more meaningful, deeper and can have a lasting impact past the 2020 election.”

“He chips away at stuff," Amanda Reveno said. "People love the overnight flashy success, but I think that’s always been his superpower, that he is a grinder.”

At Tech, Reveno and basketball strength and conditioning coach Dan Taylor helped their players register to vote, as coaches and players on other teams did likewise. (Reveno said that before this year, three or four were registered, but now all the U.S. citizens on the team have registered and have voted or will vote Tuesday.)

Among Tech athletes who are also U.S. citizens, the percentage that are registered is in the 90′s, Chapman said. The basketball team received a tutorial from a Tech professor on voting, such as how to study candidates and sign up for absentee voting. The athletic department held a presentation from Vote by Design, a non-partisan digital curriculum that promotes civic engagement and action.

While the day off has a symbolic element, as athletes can vote early or by absentee ballot, Reveno shared how a female athlete at Tech told him that she was flying home to Florida to vote because her absentee ballot didn’t arrive and how a football player was using his day off from practice to drive two hours to his hometown to vote in person.

Tuesday, Reveno will rise early to pick up a to-go order of Waffle House breakfasts to bring to Tech students who are volunteering at the polling site at McCamish Pavilion. He plans to spend the rest of the day helping out with a number of Tech coaches and athletes who are volunteering by helping with parking, directions and greeting voters. And perhaps he’ll think of the future, one that his actions have helped shape.

“That’s more of how I feel, just excited that, ‘Look at this. We were able to do this,’” he said. “'Imagine what it’s going to look like in 10 years when we do this for 10 years.'”