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NFL players talk politics, look ahead to election

NFL players talk politics, look ahead to election

WASHINGTON (AP) 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 the Fox network's NFL pregame show. 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 matter.

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 talk about.''

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 political preference.

``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?'''

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AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Englewood, Colo., and AP Sports Writers Steven Wine in Davie, Fla., and Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this report.

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Rebounding issues arise again in Wizards' season opening loss to the Miami Heat

Realistically, the Miami Heat had no business even being in position to win on Thursday night in the Wizards' 2018-19 regular season opener.

They shot just 39.2 percent from the field, compared to 46.9 percent for the Wizards, and had 19 turnovers. 

The Heat were on the second night of a back-to-back, having lost a tough one to the Magic the night before. They were missing a host of rotation players, including two of their regular starters.

Yet, the Heat pulled out a victory to stun the Opening Night crowd at Capital One Arena simply because they out-hustled the Wizards. They out-rebounded the Wizards 55-40, including a 22-7 margin in offensive boards. Those 22 offensive rebounds were tied for the most allowed by the Wizards since 2012.

"Rebounding the ball is really why we lost the game," Wizards guard John Wall said. "That's really where they killed us."

Miami's advantage on the glass allowed them to put up a whopping 16 more shots. That led to 27 second chance points compared to just 10 for Washington.

It was the central theme of the game, so naturally it played a role in how it was decided. After Wall forced a miss by Dwyane Wade on a fadeaway attempt in the closing seconds, Heat big man Kelly Olynyk was right there to catch the ball and scoop it in for two.

That score proved to be the go-ahead points as just 0.2 seconds remained on the clock. All night, the Wizards made plays on defense, only to have the Heat save themselves with second looks.

The Wizards had no better explanation postgame other than Miami simply tried harder.

"They out-hustled us," forward Jeff Green said.

"Rebounds come down to whoever wants it the most and tonight they wanted it more than we did," forward Otto Porter Jr. said.

It sounds simple, and perhaps it was indeed that easy to explain. But there were other factors at play, some in their control and some not.

For one, the Wizards were missing their best rebounder, Dwight Howard, who sat out with a strained piriformis muscle. Even at 32, Howard remains one of the best rebounders in basketball and would have made a significant difference. 

It would have been nice to have him, a 280-pound giant in the paint to match up with Hassan Whiteside, one of the most physically imposing centers in the league.

With Howard out of the mix, the Wizards turned to Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, but they each stumbled into early foul trouble. Head coach Scott Brooks had no other option than to go small with guys like Green and Markieff Morris at the five-spot.

Brooks wants to employ that strategy more often anyways, but not by necessity. And sure enough, it was Green and Morris on the floor when Olynyk broke loose for the final deciding play.

"The last rebound, we definitely need to put most of the ownership on me and Jeff because we were the biggest guys," Morris said. "I think that might have been the easiest layup of the game right there."

"I was surprised I was open," Olynyk admitted afterwards. "It kinda just popped open and I was kinda just standing right there."

Though many factors were at play, the Wizards' struggles rebounding the ball came down to the simple fundamentals of boxing out their opponent. As they learned last year, it's tough to be consistent when you can't take care of the little things that separate wins and losses. 

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After his buzzer beater, Kelly Olynyk is becoming one of D.C.'s top sports villains

After his buzzer beater, Kelly Olynyk is becoming one of D.C.'s top sports villains

Kelly Olynyk has done it once again to the Washington Wizards. 

The Miami Heat center ripped the heart of the Wizards just when it looked like it was going to be a new chapter for the team.

After leading a team to victory over the Wizards once again, he is starting to become one of the biggest sports villains in Washington D.C.

Olynyk hit a go-ahead layup with 0.2. second left to sink the Wizards in their 2018 season opener. Dwyane Wade had the first chance to win it for the Heat. He missed, but Olynyk was there for the rebound and uncontested layup.

For those that need a reminder this is not the first time Olynyk has torched the Wizards. 

Back in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Semifinals, Olynyk, then the Boston Celtics backup center, went off for 26 points, 14 coming in a tense fourth quarter. The loss ended the Wizards chance to get to the Conference Finals that year. If would have been the first time they reach that mark in the John Wall-era of the franchise.

Olynyk was also guilty of getting under the skin of Kelly Oubre Jr. The Wizards forward was sent to the floor following a big screen set by Olynyk. Oubre sprang to his feet and shoved Olynyk, leading to a minor scuffle. Oubre was ejected from the game and suspended for the following game.

With a reputation like that, Olynyk is starting to etch his name down on the wrong side of D.C. sports lore.

Who does Olynyk join among the ranks of most disliked athletes inside the D.M.V.? Here's our list:

Sidney Crosby

To the vast majority of Washington, D.C. sports fans, no one will ever be a bigger villain than Sidney Crosby. His rivalry with Alex Ovechkin is a major part of this, but being on the winning side more often than the Washington Capitals plays just as big a part. Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Capitals in three different Eastern Conference Semifinal series before Washington finally broke through last season.

Also it's Crosby. His incessant whinning and cockiness are overwhelming. 

Jaroslav Halak

At the time he was just an average goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, but by the end of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Jaroslav Halak was public enemy No. 1 in the nation's capital.

Against a Capitals team that won the Presidents Trophy, Halak stood on his head as the No. 8 seed Canadiens faced elimination with the Caps up 3-1 in the series. He had 37 saves in Game 5, an incredible 53 saves in Game 6, and clinched the series with 41 saves in Game 7. He allowed just three goals in those three games, and sent the Capitals packing earlier than expected.

Had it not been for Halak, the first Washington Capitals championship might have happened well before June 2018.

Jerry Jones

He owns the Dallas Cowboys. Need we say more? 

Jonathan Papelbon

For years Jonathan Papelbon was on the Philadelphia Phillies. That alone would be enough to be on the bad side of D.C. sports fans.

Then he came to Washington, as a member of the Nationals, and tried to choke-out Bryce Harper

An insider job? We think so. 

Albert Haynesworth

Albert Haynesworth drew a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins. He ended up playing less than two seasons. 

He was so bad that NFL.com has listed him as one of the worst free agents signings in league history.

There are two things Albert Haynesworth is remembered for in Washington, D.C.
1: Taking a lot of money from the Redskins
2: This video 

Pete Kozma

Only on this list because some believe that Pete Kozma is the sole reason the Washington Nationals did not win a championship in 2012.

Aside from a three-run home run and then the game-winning runs in Game 5 of the NLDS, there has not been another chapter in the Kozma vs. Washington D.C. rivalry.

The real villain in all of this should be the Nats' pitcher, Drew Storen. He had a two-run lead before coming into the ninth in a winner-take-all Game 5. He gave the Cardinals four runs.

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So now that I've gone and despressed your day away, re-living terrible D.C. sports nightmares, just know that Olynyk is squarely on this list and just re-affirmed that with his latest buzzer-beater. 

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