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?'''


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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Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

Associated Press

Redskins still absorbing rule changes involving kickoffs, contact with helmet

The NFL has passed two major on-field rule changes in the last two months. One, the rule that prohibits players from lowering their helmets to initiate contact with another player. That one passed during the spring meetings in March but it was just recently clarified. The other one changes how kickoffs are executed. 

Both rules, designed to make the game safer for the players, could have a major impact on the game. And the Redskins are still a little unclear about how to handle them. 

Safety D.J. Swearinger is one of the Redskins’ hardest hitters. After saying that the helmet-lowering rule, which is outlined in some detail in this video from the NFL, would not affect him because he hits low, he wondered why he was even wearing a hard hat at work. 

“I’ve got a helmet on, but I can’t use it or hit nobody with it, might as well take the helmet off if you ask me,” said Swearinger following the Redskins’ OTA practice on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday afternoon, coach Jay Gruden had not yet been filled in on the details of the helmet-lowering rule. He said that the team will sort it out over the three and a half months between now and the start of the regular season. 

“The lowering of the helmet, I don’t know which ones they decided to go with, so we’ll see,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about bull rushes and they’re trying to obviously protect the players, but we’ve just got to be careful.”

Gruden said that special teams coach Ben Kotwica went to meetings to help hash out the kickoff rule. What they ended up with looks a lot like another special teams play according to the player who will be executing the kickoffs. 

“It looks like they’re trying to make it more like a punt,” said kicker Dustin Hopkins. Among the similarities are that the kicking team will not be able to get a running start as the kicker approaches the ball. They will have to be stationary a yard away from the line where the ball is until it is kicked. 

The league probably will be happy if the play does more closely resemble a punt. The injury rate on punt plays is much lower than it is on kickoffs. 

Some believe that this change will lead to longer kickoff returns. Gruden didn’t disagree, but he said that he needs more information. 

“I think without the guys getting a running start, number one, it could be,” he said. “I think it’s just something I have to see it before I can really make any judgments on it.”

The new rule prohibits wedge blocking meaning that you are unlikely to see any offensive linemen on kickoffs as they were used primarily to create or break wedges. 

“I think for the most part, you’re going to see more speed guys,” said Gruden.

The Redskins will start to wrap their heads around the new rule during the next three weeks, when they have their final two weeks of OTAs and then minicamp before the break for training camp. Gruden said that they will continue to work on it in Richmond. He said that the joint practices with the Jets and the four preseason game will be important for sorting out just how the team will implement kickoffs. 

The best way to handle it might be to just let Hopkins pound the ball into the end zone every time. Last year 72.5 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. He could have had more touchbacks, but he occasionally was told to kick it high to force a return with the hope of getting better field position. But if the rules lead to longer returns it may not be worth the risk. 

More 2018 Redskins

- 53-man roster: Player one-liners, offense
- Tandler’s Take: Best- and worst-case scenarios for 2018
- OTAs: Practice report: Smith sharp
- Injuries: Kouandjio out for the season

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


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How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship


How the Caps upset the Lightning to win the conference championship

It wasn't supposed to happen.

The Capitals celebrated too hard after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Tampa Bay Lightning had been here before. Tampa Bay's roster was deeper. Their goalie was hotter. They had home ice advantage. They had easily won their first two series. Nicklas Backstrom was still injured. Washington wouldn't be able to stop the Lightning's power play.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

For all of those reasons, many did not even give the Caps a chance. Washington overcame every obstacle in their way and was, for the most part, the better team through seven games defeating Tampa Bay to win the Eastern Conference for just the second time in franchise history.

The Capitals showed in their second-round win over the Penguins that these weren't the "same old Caps." They continued to prove that in the conference final when they stunned the Lightning to win Game 1 and Game 2 both on the road.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.

When Washington lost the next three, many thought that meant the real Lightning had awoken, but it was the Caps who rose to the occasion in Game 6 and Game 7 where they face elimination as they completely dominated Tampa Bay by a combined score of 7-0.

The Caps now advance to take on the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final. The Knights have lost only three games this entire postseason and will hope to carry that momentum with them into Game 1.

If there is one thing this Washington team has proven, however, it's that you should never count them out.

Here's how the Capitals were able to shock the hockey world and upset the Lightning.