Missouri football team talks politics

Tuesday, November 4, 2008 | 8:15 p.m. CST; updated 9:06 p.m. CST, Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Jaron Baston is one of the loudest talkers when it comes to politics, say several of his teammates. “Jaron, though, he’ll argue about anything,” linebacker Brock Christopher said.


COLUMBIA - Kurtis Gregory's eyes dipped to the floor quickly. A chuckle escaped. The elephant (or donkey) in the room had unexpectedly reared its head towards the Missouri football team's starting right guard.

What Tiger would make the best president?

Stryker Sulak, senior defensive end: "Tommy Saunders, because he dedicates himself to everything. You could be playing a board game or a video game with that guy and he'd be dedicating himself 100% to it."

Kurtis Gregory, junior right guard: "I don't want to sound cheesy, but Chase Daniel. He's just such a vocal leader. I'd do a lot for him, no matter what."

Sean Weatherspoon, junior linebacker: "Willy Mo for president! He's just such an easy guy to market. When a guy goes by "Willy Mo" and not even his real name, that says enough about him (William Moore) right there."

Tommy Saunders, senior wide receiver: "Probably "The General" Chase Patton. We've been calling him the general since he got here and he knows how to lead."

Justin Garrett, senior safety: "Really, Chase Daniel. But Chase Coffman would be his right hand man. That guy's always in his pocket."

Derrick Washington, sophomore running back: "Chase Patton, because he's a good guy, friendly, and he'll talk to anybody. Blaine Gabbert would be his running mate though, because he always keeps him under his wing and let's him know what's going on."

"Oh no, you're going to go political on me now, aren't you?" Gregory said.

Gregory and his teammates possess a lot. Legs that can run 40 yards in under 4.5 seconds. Arms that can bench press over 400 pounds. Brains that can comprehend the complexities of the spread offense.

But each player also possesses something that too often gets overlooked: a vote.

Don't expect to find a pair of podiums tucked in a back corner of the Missouri locker room, stored for the team's weekly debates. Make no mistake though, when it comes to politics, the team is hardly apathetic.

"(Junior punter) Jake Harry tends to read up on a lot of stuff, so he tends to think he knows a lot," said junior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. "He doesn't really have a problem expressing himself."

He's not the only one. Junior defensive tackle Jaron Baston was tagged as one of the most boisterous political mouths by several Tigers.

"Jaron, though, he'll argue about anything," linebacker Brock Christopher said.

The back-and-forth nature of the Tigers' good-spirited political exchanges often mirror those on 24-hour news channels, each voice climbing over the other until the group blends into one unintelligible wall of noise.

Of course, that confusion isn't uncommon even among the presidential candidates themselves.

"(John) McCain will say Barack Obama is raising taxes," said Gregory, an admitted Republican from rural Missouri who added that most of his political knowledge comes from his parents and grandparents. "Well, then Obama fires back and says, ‘Well, McCain's tax plan is worse than mine.' Then McCain fires back and says, ‘No, Obama's tax plan is worse than mine.' So it's like, well, who do you believe?"

Some, like defensive lineman Ziggy Hood, fell squarely in the center on Monday as one of 5 percent of Americans undecided as to who to cast their vote for.

Some just avoid the topic altogether.

"I don't talk about politics," said sophomore Jeremy Maclin. "It can get pretty controversial and raises some tempers, so I just stay away from that."

And, like most heated political arguments, the same issues make constant appearances inside and outside the locker room.

"We had a conversation once about homosexuality, and whether or not you're born homosexual or choose to be. There's definitely a lot of opinions on that," Maclin said. "Abortion is another one that comes up a lot."

That's not to say that players don't vote based on issues that affect them on more personal levels.

"I was in a really bad public school system growing up, and we didn't have too many resources," said senior safety Justin Garrett. "Improving that is a big factor for me."

Last Thursday, when Democratic candidate Obama visited the MU campus, sophomore running back Derrick Washington and several other teammates attended. Although most came away impressed, the Illinois senator has been a major point of contention among the team.

"Somebody, one time, made the comment that we don't really know what's going on ... that we're only voting for him because he's black," Washington said. "I kind of took it on myself to say you can't go assuming stuff like that.

"For me, and a lot of us on the team, this is our first time really getting into the election and stuff, and really knowing what's going on."

Granted, no one is mistaking any of the players for any of America's leading political minds.

"If there's any talk about politics, none of us are really too educated in that department anyways," said Stryker Sulak, a senior defensive lineman . "It's usually just stuff we hear on TV."

A poll conducted by MU athletic department spokesman Chad Moller had Obama collecting 22 votes among the team, with McCain racking up 13 votes along with a pair of undecided voters and a vote for independent Ralph Nader as of early Monday evening.

Moller declined to identify the player who voted for Nader.

Coach Gary Pinkel, in a typically diplomatic gesture, identified himself as only "pro-voting" on Monday.

Moller said he planned to poll as many players as possible, and Hood said the early results weren't representative of the team's actual makeup.

"Everybody's divided amongst each other, it's like half and half," he said. "But on the field it doesn't matter."

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