Saints’ Benjamin Watson, Demario Davis Campaign to Give Ex-Felons the Right to Vote

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Getty Images/Gerald Herbert

New Orleans Saints players Demario Davis and Ben Watson are fighting hard for criminal justice reform, and they’re making some progress.

Starting March 1, 2019, thanks to the recent passage of HB 265 in Louisiana, ex-felons, on probation or parole, will be able to vote. They lost that right due to 1970’s legislation.

A big reason this passed was the lobbying of Davis and Watson.

The pair wrote an op-ed, reached out to politicians and appeared on radio pushing the bill. The hard work of this duo helped get the bill passed.

With election day coming up, NFL.com columnist Jim Trotter spoke to Watson and Davis this week about getting HB 265 passed and some of their other criminal justice reform initiatives.

“As someone who believes in justice, and in forgiveness, and in the idea that when you pay your debt you should be grafted back into society and receive your full rights back — this was an atrocity to me,” Watson told Trotter.

“I just think you can’t help but be moved by it,” said Davis. “People who don’t know about these issues should look deeper and not just take what they read in a headline or just be so quick to say somebody is a criminal so just be done with them. These are human beings that are being affected. When you look deep and get the depth of the story, you see that the system is broken.”

For the story, Trotter interviewed Kenneth Johnston, a Vietnam veteran, who served 22 years in prison for manslaughter and will now be allowed to vote starting March 1. He’s been on parole since 1993.

“It’s the day before my birthday, so I think about it a lot,” Johnston told NFL.com. “It’s going to be a wonderful birthday present: my right to vote. I’ve had so many birthdays, but this one is special. It’s going to be a magnificent day because it’s not like I won my right to vote; we won our right to vote. It’s going to be a wonderful feeling because we’re trying to make a difference.”

But Watson and Davis feel there’s a still a lot of work on criminal justice reform.

“As significant as the passage of HB 265 was, those involved will tell you it’s one step in a long journey,” wrote Trotter.

On October 10, Watson went to the White House to meet Presidential adviser Jared Kushner, whose spearheading a prison-reform bill called “The First Step Act,” which focuses on rehabilitating prisoners.

Davis, a Mississippi-native, who previously played for the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets, feels it’s important to “help people who can’t help themselves.”

“I just think [standing up is] part of what it means to be a human being — having compassion, having empathy and being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Davis said.

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