Sports

South Florida athletes weigh in on presidential election

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands after the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sun., Oct. 9, 2016.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands after the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sun., Oct. 9, 2016. AP

Like many Americans, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been paying close attention to the contentious presidential election and the circus that surrounds it.

He also urged Heat players to stay informed. He asked them if they had watched the debates, and if they had not, he made video recordings available so they could watch in their free time. Curious to see how politically engaged his players were, he recently asked by a show of hands how many were registered to vote.

Spoelstra was disappointed to see only half the hands go up — one was Goran Dragic, to which Spoelstra smiled and replied: “I meant who is registered to vote here, not in Slovenia.” He discussed the importance of voting, and brought in someone to help register any player who was interested.

Justise Winslow took his boss up on the offer. Winslow is 20, so this is the first presidential election in which he is eligible to vote.

“To be honest, I always said I would get out and vote and then I turned 18 and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m not going to vote. It’s set, they already know who’s going to win,’ ” Winslow said. “But more and more I see this election, and I see the importance of even one vote. My people didn’t even have the right to vote for a long time, so it’s important.”

 
Miami Heat forward Justise Winslow. AL DIAZ / adiaz@miamiherald.com

According to a Miami Herald examination of voter registration records, about half to two-thirds of South Florida professional athletes are registered to vote, which is consistent with national statistics among all Americans.

Twenty-nine of 53 Dolphin players showed up as registered — 11 Democrats, four Republicans and 14 Independent/No Party Affiliation. The Marlins leaned more Republican with nine players registered as Republican, six Democrat, eight Independent and 12 non-U.S. citizens. The Heat had three Democrats, no Republicans and four Independent.

The rosters for the Panthers and Miami FC are dominated by non-U.S. citizens. The Panthers have five U.S.-born players (one registered Republican, one Democrat, three Independent) and 19 foreigners. Miami FC soccer club has 15 non-U.S. citizens and 10 players registered to vote — one Democrat, one Republican, eight Independents.

National numbers are similar.

ESPN the Magazine did an anonymous survey of 97 athletes from the NBA, NHL, NFL, WNBA and MLB. Asked if they plan to vote, 72.5 percent replied Yes. 27.5 percent said No.

Asked their political party, 32.6 percent replied Democrat, 28.4 percent Republican and 38.9 percent Independent. And asked who they’re voting for, 51.9 percent said Clinton, 28.6 percent said Trump and 19.5 percent said neither.

“This generation wants a voice, and the best voice they can have is to vote,” Spoelstra said. “But you have to be educated about who you want to vote for. So, we wanted to offer videotape of the debates, and also if guys weren’t registered, two weeks ago we had someone available to take them to go get registered. It doesn’t matter to me what their politics are, but they should be informed.’’

 
Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey. CHARLES TRAINOR JR. / ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Meanwhile, across town in the Miami Dolphins locker room, Mike Pouncey and recently retired Arian Foster — neither shy about their views — entertained teammates with passionate, often funny discussions about the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump election. They were especially animated the day after debates.

“Pouncey and Arian could have had their own reality TV show,’’ said Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, who became interested in politics while attending Stanford and hearing the intellectual discourse that pervaded that locker room.

“You know how they have the Walking Dead and then the Talking Dead? They could have had the debates and then have those two guys doing their thing afterward. Among the rest of the team, you may hear guys say, ‘Did you hear this? Or did you see that?’ after a debate, but otherwise, the political talk has been pretty minimal.”

Offensive lineman Sam Young, who already mailed in his absentee ballot, said the political talk in the Dolphins locker room is “probably comparable to any workplace.” There is some debate about key issues and laughter surrounding the Saturday Night Live skits.

John Denney, the Dolphins long snapper, agreed: “Pouncey and Arian Foster were vocal, arguing back and forth, and it was fun to watch. It’s been a topic of conversation, bits and pieces. This election is huge. It’s important for all of us to know the issues and make our voice heard. We can’t stand on the sidelines. We have to get in the game.”

Dolphins’ Director of Player Engagement Kaleb Thornhill encouraged players to register and vote, as did Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills.

Outside the walls of the locker room, most athletes tend to keep their political leanings to themselves. They want to appeal to the largest possible fan base, and fear that discussing politics could be polarizing and turn off potential fans and sponsors.

“I was always taught not to talk politics or religion,” Winslow said.

Michael Jordan was criticized for being apolitical during his playing career, especially in 1990, when he declined to endorse Mayor Harvey Gantt, a black Democrat, in the North Carolina Senate race against incumbent Jesse Helms, who had a history of racist behavior. Jordan reportedly told a friend, “Republicans buy sneakers, too,” a line that dogged him for years.

Jordan has since become more vocal on social issues. In July, in the wake of police violence and the killing of police officers, Jordan wrote an essay calling for racial unity that started with the words: “I can no longer stay silent.”

Heat captain Udonis Haslem, asked how much political banter takes place in the locker room, replied: “It’s not a conversation we have. We usually talk about sports, fantasy football, World Series, our families, our kids. I don’t get involved in that conversation. I have my point of views, but don’t like to impose my views.”

This election cycle, some high-profile athletes made their views known.

LeBron James wrote an op-ed piece supporting Hillary Clinton that ran in the Akron Beacon-Journal.

“Policies and ideas that divide us more are not the solution. ... We need a president who understands our community and will build on the legacy of President Obama,” James wrote. “So let’s register to vote, show up to the polls, and vote for Hillary Clinton.”

 
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. AP

Other Clinton backers from the sports world include Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alex Rodriguez, Abby Wambach, Carmelo Anthony and Mike Tomlin.

Trump’s A-list of supporters includes Jets center Nick Mangold, Bills guard Richie Incognito, retired outfielder Johnny Damon, Jack Nicklaus, Rex Ryan, John Daly, Bob Knight, Curt Schilling, Mike Tyson and Dennis Rodman.

 
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight. AP

Schilling, the former Major League Baseball player, wrote a lengthy essay on his blog about why he is voting for Trump. It read, in part:

“So rant and moan and whatever all you want, but the reasons I am voting for Mr. Trump is easy. I trust him when he says he will put this country above everything else as a priority in decision making. I trust him to create a team of military minds that will keep me safe. I trust him to destroy a corrupt and broken immigration system and remake it with one that works. I trust that at every crucial point, when a decision has to be made, he will make the decision that’s best for our nation, and not the best for votes.”

CBSSports.com polled 100 college basketball coaches and asked who they are voting for in the presidential election. Seventy-one percent said Clinton. Thirteen percent chose Trump. Three percent favored Libertarian Gary Johnson and 13 percent declined.

Panthers defenseman Steven Kampfer was a political science major at the University of Michigan and has been fascinated with this election. He has also become the go-to teammate for Canadian, Czech and Finnish Panthers players who want to understand how the American political process works. He says he mailed his absentee ballot in after the third debate.

 
Florida Panthers defenseman Steven Kampfer. CARL JUSTE / cjuste@miamiherald.com

“A lot of guys pick your brain and I’ve had guys asking questions trying to understand what’s going on because they watch the debates but I don’t think they fully understand this is impacting their lives, as well, because they’re working in the U.S., paying taxes here,” Kampfer said. “This year a lot of the younger foreign players have begun to notice the election and ask questions, even though they can’t vote. They want to know what’s in it for them.”

Kampfer laments that the presidential race has deteriorated from the days of political civility to name-calling and mud-slinging.

“I would love to see a clean election without the slander and the propaganda, but I don’t think it will ever happen again,” he said. “I wish both parties could just play it clean and we could decide who’s the best candidate instead of bringing things back into the limelight from 20 years ago. With Obama, they were talking about a birth certificate. Now, they’re talking about what was said at a Miss Universe pageant, or what was contained in old emails. It’s definitely entertaining, but not good for our country.”

They're with HER...

Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Abby Wambach, Alex Rodriguez, Carmelo Anthony, Hank Aaron, Michelle Kwan, Tony Gonzalez, Billie Jean King, Mark Cuban Mike Tomlin.

They're with HIM...

Jack Nicklaus, Nick Mangold, Richie Incognito, Johnny Damon, Dennis Rodman, John Daly, Bobby Bowden, Curt Schilling, Bob Knight, Mike Tyson, Clay Buchholz, Tito Ortiz, Rex Ryan, Shawne Merriman.

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