Tristen Vance isn't shy to speak his voice on issues that matter.
The sixth-year Northern Arizona football player started a podcast called "The Social" with teammate Brandon Lawless to talk about those issues, and to have a space to educate others on social issues that are intertwined with society.
Although a successful athlete, and a recognizable one in the Valley having played at Arizona high school football powerhouse Hamilton in his high school days, he's always known he has a platform to do more.
So, when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came his way he couldn't back down.
Vance was the focus of a 30-second video ad in support of Joe Biden's presidential campaign. The video was posted on the campaign's YouTube page last Sunday, and hit airwaves not long after being played during Monday's Arizona Cardinals Monday Night Football game against the Dallas Cowboys.
The ad, which coincided with others by the campaign, centers around the loss of sports during the COVID-19 pandemic -- blaming President Donald Trump and his mishandling of the pandemic.
“Trump’s failure of leadership is why we can’t play right now,” Vance said during the ad. “We need a leader who’s going to look out for all of us, to be constructive and build. I trust Joe Biden to do that. ... I don’t blame President Trump for the virus, but I 100% blame him for the response to the virus."
It's a bit surprising to see a Lumberjacks football player in the spotlight of a heated election. An FCS school without a ton of name recognition other than a dominant cross country program, Northern Arizona isn't exactly the hotbed for recognizable athletes.
But Vance said he thinks the story that ran in the Arizona Daily Sun in late August about his and Lawless' podcast got the Biden campaign's attention all the way in Washington D.C.
He thought it was a scam at first when a representative from the campaign reach out to himself and Lawless.
"I didn't believe it," Vance said Friday in a Zoom interview with the Daily Sun. "It's that time of year when a lot of people get a lot of political calls and messages and things of that nature and thought it was maybe a type of scam or something like that. ... I was just surprised someone of her magnitude, working on his campaign and such a heightened responsibility, her team took notice of someone across the country -- smaller town, smaller school. I didn't believe it at first, but once I knew it was real I was shocked, honored and was proud that it was possible to do what I did."
Vance relished the chance to continue to show he is more than an athlete -- a common message he and Lawless share on their podcast and on their own personal Twitter accounts.
"I believe they we're trying to appeal to a variety of people," Vance said. "Whether they are an athlete, someone who is a sports fan in Arizona or Flagstaff -- a liberal community in a conservative state. That balance, that combination of all those things attracted them."
In the lead-up to the ad, Vance said, he kept it quiet. He never told anyone, not even his mom, after going through some rigorous filming and a three-hour long interview that was condensed into a 30-second video.
Once Vance got hard confirmation that it was going to be aired, that's when he eventually shared it publicly.
"I caught flack from my mom like, 'Oh, my god, how could you not tell me,'" Vance said.
Vance, who also helped start an group called Athletes for Social Alliance, which offers professional support for Northern Arizona's athletic community, from career fairs to financial advising.
As a Black student-athlete, Vance said he feels he has a responsibility to the group he represents to speak up and made his voice heard and help educate others about communities they might not be educated on.
Going into it Vance knew he'd get some mixed reactions.
Many have been supportive, from people within Northern Arizona Athletics -- which Vance noted has supported him fully in this -- to national podcasts.
"The Press Box," a podcast by The Ringer, addressed Vance's appearance in the ad during a recent episode. The hosts, David Shoemaker and Bryan Curtis, go into about the ways the presidential ads have gone, noting how negative ads are less effective than ads that actually talk about issues -- using the ad that Vance appeared in as an example for that point.
While there has been plenty of good, Vance said he has gotten plenty of negative comments. From "trolls" or bot accounts on Twitter to people he knows, it's been a bit all over the place.
Despite that, Vance knew what to expect going into it all.
"Most of it is just in DMs on Twitter in secret, things of that nature," Vance said. " ... At the end of the day, I knew what it would come with. I accepted it without fear 'cause I knew someone would have to step up and represent the population that I represent and am of. It's fine 'cause the love I receive and the support and the backing from my friends, family, the Flagstaff community, the Phoenix community was far greater than any of the hostility received."
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