The Redskins Political Debate Club
After the recent stories concerning Jim Zorn riding bikes with the president and Joe Gibbs addressing the Republican National Convention, you couldn't help but wonder whether the Redskins locker room was ideologically aligned with the GOP, West Coast offense or no West Coast offense.
"I wouldn't say that," Fred Smoot told me. "But it's a lot of Republicans in here. We have a lot of black Republicans in here, don't get it twisted."
And so I began asking a few of his teammates about the room's partisan split, without knowing that politics has become the team's hot-button issue in recent weeks.
Not in every corner of the room, of course--Carlos Rogers, for example, told me he's not paying much attention to the Presidential race. But others are very much invested in what's going on, and haven't been reluctant to discuss their opinions with teammates.
There have been passionate political debates in the weight room, conversations about personal responsibility and government aid and tax policy and upper-income tax breaks in front of the locker room stalls, and discussions about various convention speeches during warmup exercises on the practice field.
"You know, being in D.C., you're gonna talk about it a little bit," Marcus Washington said, which was actually understating the case.
"It's funny that you ask, because it's been a lot more this year than it's ever been in the past," Khary Campbell said. "A lot of what we talk about is more like values, you know what I mean? Not necessarily one candidate's point of view versus another, more into the values: what can be right, [and how] what's wrong to some might not be to others."
Campbell's corner of the locker room--which also includes Smoot and Lorenzo Alexander, among others--seems to be the center of the debates, which often draw in peripheral players.
"We've been arguing back and forth, guys that have different point of views," Alexander said. "We make a lot of money playing this game, but I think it's bigger than who's giving the biggest tax breaks. I mean, that's probably the main issue we're kind of arguing about: McCain or Obama, Republican or Democrat."
(They're not the only ones; if you haven't noticed, the comment section of the Redskins Insider has been lighting up with political arguments for weeks.)
I usually aim for flippancy, and while Randy Thomas jokingly asked if I could score him an Obama t-shirt, that wasn't the tone coming from most of the guys who spoke with me. Many were passionate about the topic but reluctant to be quoted too specifically on policy matters, explaining that they wanted to learn more and to think more before they took a definite stand. Included in that group was Smoot, who often drives the conversation, and not merely as a comedic foil.
"I don't know what his deal is right now, he's still undecided," fellow cornerback Leigh Torrence said of Smoot.
"The fact of the matter is, he makes some great points," Kedric Golston said.
Alexander and Torrence both identify themselves as independents who are supporting Obama in this campaign; "that's 'cause you went to Cal," a teammate heckled Alexander. Torrence, a Stanford grad and former intern on Capitol Hill and with the National Education Association, is leading a voter registration drive next week and hopes to enlist teammates as volunteers. He's one of the room's most vocal Obama backers, primarily for domestic policy reasons.
"You've got to speak up, especially at a time like now; I think we definitely need to see a change," he told me. "My number one issue is education, it's always been that. I know in the last four to eight years we've had a squeeze on after-school programs, No Child Left Behind not being fully funded. In some respects, that might put a bigger burden on America's tax base, but I think [they're] programs that are needed. Early childhood education, after school programs--there's no way you're going to bridge the education gap without those programs, so I'd like to see the government support them."
The room's most enthusiastic McCain backer, teammates said, was clearly ex-punter Derrick Frost, who once debated Torrence for nearly an hour in the weight room, according to a teammate.
"He was one of those guys I enjoyed talking to, but he really thought he had things figured out," said Campbell, who described Frost as a friend. "Everyone knew where Derrick Frost stood....He would sit there and try to convince you that however he interpreted [issues], however his beliefs were, is how you should be."
With Frost gone, other teammates--such as Smoot and Golston--have rhetorically tangled with Torrence and Alexander. But Smoot and Golston both said they're undecided and merely enjoy playing devil's advocate while exploring the issues.
"We have discussions, which we should," Golston said. "We have the same type of discussions as everybody does at the office. It's our job, so we talk about the same stuff anybody else talks about."
As for the locker room as a whole, "I think it's probably half and half," said Washington, who described himself as "kind of a free spirit" politically.
"Honestly, the locker room's pretty split," Torrence agreed. "It's an ongoing debate. A lot of guys haven't made their mind up yet."
"The guys that are registered to vote, that are planning on it, I think it's divided," added Campbell, who declined to discuss which way he's leaning but who has encouraged teammates to register. "I think right now it's not whether how many guys are Democrat versus Republican, it's how many guys are registered to vote. Because we can sit here and argue, and a lot of times guys are going back and forth, but they're not even registered to vote."
"You know, football guys are a little bit more than just athletes," Alexander said. "We've got other issues too."
"Just vote for what you believe in," Golston recommended. "That's all anyone should do."
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