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Fay: Want a respite from election talk? Try hiding out in an NFL locker room

Politics not a hot topic there
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Posted at 9:00 AM, Oct 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-21 09:00:07-04

CINCINNATI -- Sports and politics have been linked in this election cycle ever since Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump explained away what he said to Billy Bush on that infamous tape as "locker room talk."

But politics rarely surface in real professional locker rooms.

"Politics and religion are two things we try to keep out of the locker room," said Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap. "Everybody has different beliefs. Here, we all believe we're going to win a football game."

As someone who has spent an inordinate amount of time in locker rooms, I'd agree. In 20 years of covering baseball between spring training and the regular season, I spent a couple of hours a day 170 days a year standing around the Reds clubhouse waiting to talk to players. You'd rarely hear politics mentioned. I can't recall one heated discussion between players about politics.

But heated discussions about fantasy football? Those are daily occurrence in the Great American Ball Park clubhouse once the NFL season begins.

Locker rooms can be a rough place to be. The jocularity is something you don't see in a normal work environment. Political correctness is not practiced.

As far as Trump's dismissal of what he said to Bush in the "Access Hollywood" tape, you do hear the words he used all the time, and coarser language than that. But I have never heard anyone say anything remotely close to what he said about grabbing women.

But back to politics.

Pro athletes generally steer clear of political discussions. Tom Brady, the most famous face in the NFL, walked out of his press conference when asked about Trump's locker room talk explanation. Brady calls Trump a friend. He later explained on his radio show why he didn't want to answer the Trump question.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a friend of Donald Trump, walked out of a postgame press conference recently to avoid mixing politics and football.

"The thing I've always thought is I don't want to be a distraction for the team," Brady said. "That's what my goal is. Not that there are things I've said and done that haven't been (a distraction), but you try not to be. It's just hard enough to win and prepare without the distractions, so when you start having the distractions, it's even harder to prepare."

LeBron James, one of the few athletes more famous than Brady, has endorsed Hillary Clinton.

Bengals players Tyler Eifert and AJ McCarron attended a Trump rally here recently. Trump has spoken of the NFL at other rallies. He praised Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at a Pennsylvania rally. (Perhaps this was not the best choice for a man accused of mistreating women.)

Trump also has criticized the new NFL concussion rules, calling them "softer."

My experience with the Reds tells me that the baseball locker room skews conservative. In 2008, I did an anonymous straw poll on the election for Sports Illustrated. John McCain won easily.

Political discussions are not strictly off limits at the Bengals complex. They just don't happen much.

"There's very little (political talk). Some," linebacker Karlos Dansby said.

"In this locker room? Here and there. Guys talk about it," safety George Iloka said. "I give input. I say what I've got to say."

The televisions in the locker room proper at Paul Brown Stadium display that day's schedule and inspirational football messages. But TVs elsewhere have news cable networks on at times.

"It's on in the training room or the lunch room," Iloka said. "I don't think it's intentional. The news happens to be on. If the news is on, they're covering the election."

Iloka and Dansby, two of the Bengals' go-to players for quotes, share the same political view of the election: They're not endorsing either candidate.

"Give me somebody else to vote for," Dansby said. "Give me someone else to vote for and I'll vote for them. That's how I look at it. There's a lot going on on both sides. As a world, we've got to do a better job of policing ourselves and having more discipline. We don't have a lot of discipline right now. There's too much going on."

Said Iloka: "I don't support either one. That's as far as I'm going to go into it. I'm not sold on either one. I don't think those are two of the better candidates we've put out in our recent history. That's who we're left to pick from. The country will decide. That will be that."

Well, after Wednesday's debate, that may not exactly be true. Trump says he'll take a wait-and-see approach on accepting the results if he loses.

That was probably the water-cooler talk in most offices in the country Thursday morning, but probably not in many locker rooms.