- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

When Washington Wizards forward Juwan Howard deplaned at Chicago's Midway Airport on Nov. 6, he had a number of things on his mind. Howard was home, and he no doubt wanted to see some friends. And, of course, there was also the matter of the Wizards' Election Day game against the Bulls the next day.

There was another issue as well. Howard, a registered Democrat in Chicago, needed to find some spare time to cast his ballot in this still-in-limbo presidential election.

"How can you not vote in this country?" Howard asked, a quizzical look on his face. "I'm very active when it comes to something that concerns my family and my livelihood in this nation. As people we get an opportunity to vote. A lot of people who come from my background had to fight for the right to vote. For one reason or another they didn't have the right to vote. The way I see it, you have to take advantage of the opportunity to vote."

Howard had been asked whether pro athletes, who fall into an income bracket few in this land occupy, are apathetic to the voting process. A random sampling of the Wizards revealed some voted and others seemingly don't care who becomes the next president. Howard found time to vote somewhere on Chicago's South Side last Tuesday. However, the other Wizards who voted had to use absentee ballots.

Which is exactly what backup point guard Chris Whitney did. Whitney acknowledged there is apathy among athletes when it comes to politics. But not with him.

"[Politics] comes up every now and then," Whitney said about discussions on planes and in the locker room, "but we don't dwell on it or talk about it. I voted through an absentee ballot. I don't know what anybody else did.

"But I think that in some cases we are apathetic, and in a lot of cases we aren't. As for the political scene, I think a lot of us do take a backseat and tend not to worry about it, which is wrong. For whatever reason I think a lot of us think that it doesn't concern us for various reasons."

Considering the dream world NBA players inhabit, that's understandable. The average player makes more than $2.8 million a year and does not have the same concerns as somebody making $40,000 a year.

"You take that into consideration," Whitney said. "But a lot of players keep that in mind when they cast their votes. We realize it's not always about us."

Power forward Michael Smith was born and raised in Washington, and the last time he voted it was in support of former mayor Marion Barry. Since that time, Smith has been cynical about the political process.

"Personally, I really don't care," Smith said about the outcome of the Florida vote between Al Gore and George Bush. "The situation that is going on with the votes right now, I think the whole thing is bull. To me there is something that is going on. People go to vote for one person, and they wind up voting for somebody they didn't intend to vote for. I think there is a big scam going on and it's not going to get straightened out. So I think it's bull.

"Just think about it. In all the years they've had elections this has never happened before. Then this happens, and it really makes you wonder how many times this might have happened in the past and nothing was done about it. To me it's all bull."

Said Florida-born Mitch Richmond: "It's a mess. If the count turns in favor of Gore, the Republicans are going to scream that other votes should be recounted. It's going to get ugly. Just imagine if it comes down to one judge having to determine who the next president is going to be."

Richmond, who voted Democratic in past elections, would not reveal his presidential choice.

"I agreed with some of the things that both candidates said, but I also disagreed with some of the things they had to say. We talk about it," he said.

Forward Gerard King didn't cast his vote.

"I didn't like either one of the candidates," King said. "I voted for Clinton in the last election. I thought he was the best president that we ever had. He supported a lot of things that were important to my family. I was a Clinton fan. But neither one of these guys did anything for me."

Although it is not known which candidate the players voted for, one anonymous Wizard who voted revealed a little.

"I read that 90 percent of the black vote went to the Democrats," he said, pointing out that Cherokee Parks, who is part American Indian, is the only non-black on the 15-man roster. "I would say that's a pretty good place to figure out what most of us did."

Notes Yesterday marked the first day of balloting for the NBA All-Star Game, which will be held at MCI Center on Feb. 11. Wizards on the ballot include Howard, Richmond, guard Rod Strickland and center Jahidi White. Each player was allowed to cast two votes for players on the ballot. Howard voted for Chris Webber and Kevin Garnett; Strickland voted for Richmond and himself; White voted for Patrick Ewing and himself; and Richmond voted for Kobe Bryant and Strickland.

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