- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008

At its most basic, the Maryland football locker room is a lot like a typical workplace.

More than 100 men from various backgrounds inhabit it. More than two dozen of them will commence a serious job search within the year, their occupational needs varying from helmets and shoulder pads to suits and ties.

So it’s little surprise that politics - and Tuesday’s presidential election pitting Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama - have been a popular topic in recent weeks.

“Like everybody else, I want some kind of change,” said linebacker Dave Philistin, who voted for Obama by absentee ballot in his home state of New Hampshire. “The economy’s not good, [and] people are looking for jobs. It’s just not good. People aren’t die-hard about it, even though people in D.C. are. We’re usually brothers down there, so we don’t try to get on each other.”

Of course, “try” doesn’t mean there isn’t disagreement - whether it’s contrived or genuine. Playing the role of instigator is Dean Muhtadi, a garrulous defensive lineman enrolled in Maryland’s business school. He also admits he is part of an ever-shrinking pool: the undecided voter.

A classic Muhtadi strategy: Hang around just long enough to incite a debate, then skedaddle and watch things unfold from afar.

“I usually back McCain just to annoy my teammates because they’re so hard-core for Obama,” Muhtadi said in a busy hallway in the Gossett team house. “I definitely do it to bother everybody. I try to drive them nuts.”

Just then, quarterback Chris Turner - wearing a Los Angeles Dodgers hat, a reminder of his West Coast, blue-state roots - walked past. Ah, an outside-the-locker-room opportunity for Muhtadi to create mischief, one he wouldn’t pass up.

“Turner’s definitely one of them,” Muhtadi said.

“What?” Turner replied.

“A McCain fan,” Muhtadi goaded.

“Big time,” Turner said sarcastically as he walked away.

Finding a true McCain supporter isn’t the easiest task. Senior Danny Oquendo, who estimated 95 percent of the team is in favor of Obama, said he and fellow wideout Isaiah Williams take turns arguing with quarterback Jordan Steffy. So too does Turner, a government and politics major.

“It’s like me and [defensive end Jared] Harrell versus the white kids,” Turner said. “Me and Harrell talk every day. Jordan’s a McCain guy, so we bicker a lot. There’s a handful of McCain guys - not a lot.”

The divide of political preference comes as no surprise to coach Ralph Friedgen, though neither does the interest throughout the team. It’s not substantially different than the last election cycle. Friedgen remembers a 2004 bus trip to the state house in Annapolis after Maryland’s Gator Bowl victory, when former Terps Dominique Foxworth and Andrew Crummey loudly disagreed on the prevalence of racism in society.

“My wife said to me, ‘Are you going to go back there and stop that?’ And I said, ‘Stop what?’” Friedgen recalled. “She says, ‘The argument.’ I said, ‘It’s not an argument; it’s education. They’re discussing views. I did that all the time when I was in college.’”

Muhtadi, who lists the economy as his greatest concern, admitted he has changed his mind several times during the election season. He also has a reason for his rhetorical support of McCain - his hope that teammates base their choice on issues, not less substantive reasons.

Muhtadi, like many teammates who grew up locally, said he plans to return to his neighborhood in Alexandria and vote Tuesday. Harrell, who grew up in Massachusetts, had a playful barb for his fellow defensive lineman but also appreciated Muhtadi’s emphasis of substance over style.

”Virginia is a red state; they’re still defending their turf,” Harrell said. “But it’s good. The thing I always say when people start to argue is, ‘Whoever’s policies you believe in, vote for that person.’”

It’s an eloquent position and reflects the curiosity of the Terps, most of whom are eligible to participate in a presidential election this year for the first time.

“It’s fun for people to see that it’s not just football that we talk about all day and all night,” said Oquendo, who sent his absentee ballot to New Jersey weeks ago. “The political realm is a big thing.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide