NFL players talk politics, election
In a rare show of unity, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt
Romney took turns praising Washington Redskins rookie quarterback
Robert Griffin III a couple of weeks ago for a video that aired on FOX
NFL Sunday. They uttered polished, rote lines such as Romney's ''RG3
hasn't been in Washington very long, but he's already created change''
and Obama's ''You're welcome at my house for a pickup game anytime.''
Politics injecting itself into sports, a ploy as old as the forward
pass. Whether the sportsmen are actually paying attention is another
Four years ago, it was hard to avoid political talk in some NFL locker
rooms during the buildup to the Obama-McCain election. Players were
leading voter registration drives. Teammates with adjacent lockers
debated taxes. It got to the point that Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel declared any discussion about the election at the team facility
off-limits because he feared it would interfere with game preparations.
In 2012, it's just not the same.
''This year is more quiet,'' said Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. ''Not to say that we weren't more focused on football back
then, but we are really focused on football. But politics, it's kind of
quiet. Nobody's said anything about it. You pretty much can tell how
guys feel about the election, but nobody's really talking about it.''
And, of course, it doesn't take a political science major to figure out
why 2008 was a hotter topic.
''That was the first time an African-American had made it that far -
and then a female vice-presidential candidate,'' Redskins defensive
tackle Barry Cofield said. ''There were a lot more bullet points to
That's not to say that the NFL players are living in a political vacuum
this time around. Cofield said there's been some election talk in the
Redskins weight room after every Obama-Romney debate, and teammates
Stephen Bowen, Santana Moss and Trent Williams recently talked politics
while sitting on the sofa outside the locker room.
''Everybody's tuned in to see what points Barack and Romney are making
on different topics,'' Bowen said. ''I'm very interested.''
It's the political die-hards who are hooked by this election, players
said, not the casual player-voter.
''Last time it seemed to be a little bit more popular in the
mainstream,'' said Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano, who
supported McCain in 2008 and plans to vote for Romney on Tuesday. ''And
people with public images were speaking out a little more than I think
they have this election. Our profession - and throughout the sports
world and the entertainment world - I think everyone came together and
put more effort into their support for whoever in 2008.''
That doesn't stop the candidates from trying to win their support,
although it helps to do some homework ahead of time. Romney's running
mate, Paul Ryan, visited a Browns practice earlier this month and
mistakenly confused backup quarterback Colt McCoy for starter Brandon Weeden while speaking to a team huddle, hardly the kind of mistake one
wants to make in a competitive state like Ohio.
''I think he saw the red jerseys and got us mixed up,'' Weeden said.
''But he's got more important things on his mind right now than me and
Colt. It was a good laugh.''
No matter the election cycle, the conversations among the players often
turn to a voting dilemma familiar to athletes in all of the major
professional sports: Many come from working-class backgrounds, but now
earn hefty salaries.
''Most of us aren't that far removed from not being well-paid, from
being in that 47 percent that Romney spoke about. That's the way I look
at it,'' Cofield said. I still remember being in that spot, so that's
why I lean Democrat. But our paychecks scream Republican.''
Beyond the locker room, the growth of social media has given the more
politically savvy athletes new avenues for making their support known.
Three NFL players - Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears, Maurice Jones-Drew
of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Antoine Bethea of the Indianapolis Colts - touted their support for Obama in a YouTube video titled ''NFL
Players Gotta Vote.''
Then there's Twitter, which gives players an unfiltered forum to opine
about the state of the election and the country in general. Among the
more insightful is Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, a Romney
supporter who has offered his play-by-play of the campaign - 140
characters at a time.
''I liked Romney's answers on his tax plan and energy independence.
Obama had a much better answer on women's equality on business,'' Feely
tweeted while watching the second debate.
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush no doubt spoke for many when he
tweeted: ''When President Obama and Mitt Romney go back and forth
saying the other one is lying. How do you know who to believe? Lol!''
The Redskins naturally get drawn into the political discussion more
than most teams, given that they play only a few miles from the White
House. Those who crunch numbers love to point out that Washington has
made the playoffs only once under a Democratic administration since
1945, or that the team's performance in its final home game before the
election correlated flawlessly with the incumbent party's performance
from 1936 to 2000, a quirky streak that was broken when the Redskins
lost and President George W. Bush won re-election in 2004.
Staying above the fray is the player that united Obama and Romney in
the FOX promo. Although Griffin is encouraging fans to vote, has met
Obama and hopes at some point to take up the president's invitation for
a pick-up basketball game, the 22-year-old star declined to state his
''There's three things you don't talk about: race, religion and
politics. ... It only starts arguments,'' Griffin said.
Griffin said he didn't watch the debates and said he wasn't aware of
any election talk in the locker room. Told of the conversation on the
sofa that included Williams, Griffin said he has other things to
discuss with the left tackle, who is responsible for protecting the
quarterback's blind side.
''I don't talk to them about that,'' Griffin said. ''It's not, 'Hey
Trent, what did you think about that debate last night?' It's 'Hey,
Trent, are you going to block that defensive end this week?'''