Pol­i­tics en­ters Leafs’ and Rap­tors’ locker rooms,

Toronto Star - - FRONT PAGE - Dave Feschuk

“I don’t think I’m vot­ing. I haven’t re­ally looked into it too much.” LEAF AUS­TON MATTHEWS WHO DRESSED AS DE­BATE QUES­TIONER KEN BONE FOR HAL­LOWEEN

As the marathon U.S. pres­i­den­tial cam­paign snaked its way to its Tues­day fin­ish, more than a few gi­ants of the sports world at­tempted to ex­ert some in­flu­ence on the race.

LeBron James spent part of Sunday stump­ing for Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton in Ohio, a state where Repub­li­can nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump could cite the loy­alty of an­other born-and-bred icon — golf great Jack Nick­laus. In a di­vided United States, many jocks aren’t shy about choos­ing sides. Clin­ton counts among her ath­letic sup­port­ers NBA sharp­shooter Steph Curry, ten­nis leg­end Martina Navratilova and Dal­las Mav­er­icks owner Mark Cuban. Trump’s camp in­cludes ex-boxer Mike Tyson, for­mer NBA ec­cen­tric Dennis Rod­man and two-time golf ma­jor win­ner John Daly.

But if you’ve spent any time talk­ing pol­i­tics in the Maple Leafs dress­ing room, you’ll know the po­lit­i­cal lean­ings of the res­i­dent Americans are far less overt — at least for the record. One day last month Con­nor Car­rick, the de­fence­man from Chicago’s south­ern sub­urbs, said he planned on casting a vote for pres­i­dent via ab­sen­tee bal­lot. But it was im­por­tant to him it be a se­cret bal­lot.

“It’s a hard thing for guys to talk about — it’s one ques­tion that leads to an­other,” Car­rick ex­plained. “It’s just eas­ier not to say any­thing.”

At which point Ro­man Po­lak, Car­rick’s dress­ing-room neigh­bour from the Czech Repub­lic, in­ter­rupted a re­porter’s ques­tions with loudly spo­ken de­mands.

“Have some balls,” Po­lak said to Car­rick. “Who’d you vote for? Say it.” Car­rick shook his head: “No.” Po­lak per­sisted: “Say it.” Car­rick smiled and shook his head: “No. I’d rather not.”

That’s not to say the dis­cus­sion hasn’t con­tin­ued in earnest among the hock­ey­ists. Given that pro ath­letes are granted vast swaths of free time, more than a few Toronto puck pur­suers have used their off hours to be­come ded­i­cated fol­low­ers of the elec­tion saga. Mor­gan Rielly, the de­fence­man and ac­com­plished gen­eral-in­ter­est con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist from Van­cou­ver, has an­nounced him­self the ful­crum of the en­su­ing dis­cus­sion.

“I’m a big CNN guy,” said Rielly. “Whether you’re Amer­i­can or Cana­dian, this elec­tion is a big deal. You can’t help but take in­ter­est. At least, I can’t, any­way.”

Some of Leafland’s U.S. cit­i­zens, the likes of New Jersey’s James van Riems­dyk and Michi­gan’s Matt Hun­wick, said they’ve made it a pri­or­ity in the past few weeks to print out the req­ui­site forms and send in their bal­lots. Oth­ers have been less in­volved. Aus­ton Matthews, the 19-year-old rookie from Scotts­dale, Ariz., ar­rived at the team’s Hal­loween party dressed as Ken Bone, the red-sweatered in­ter­net sen­sa­tion who rose to brief fame at one of last month’s de­bates. But the cos­tume, an idea floated to Matthews by team­mate Con­nor Brown, turned out to be the height of Matthews’s po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment.

“I don’t think I’m vot­ing. I haven’t re­ally looked into it too much,” Matthews said a while back.

Matthews added that he’s “not re­ally” a po­lit­i­cal per­son, and hasn’t been in­clined to be­come one given the tone of this par­tic­u­lar race.

“It’s a lit­tle wacky,” Matthews said. “Very wacky.”

Matthews wouldn’t be the first ath­lete to shy away from pol­i­tics. Most do. Even when L.A. Dodgers slug­ger Adrian Gon­za­lez re­fused to stay with his road-trip­ping team­mates at Chicago’s Trump International Ho­tel and Tower ear­lier this sea­son — this pre­sum­ably to protest Trump’s deroga­tory ref­er­ences to Mex­i­can im­mi­grants — Gon­za­lez, who like Matthews is an Amer­i­can with Mex­i­can her­itage, chose not to pub­licly elab­o­rate on his rea­sons.

“We’re here to play base­ball, not talk pol­i­tics,” Gon­za­lez has said.

The Maple Leafs, as much as they’re clearly com­mit­ted to play­ing the most promis­ing brand of hockey this city has seen in years, aren’t averse to the oc­ca­sional dis­cus­sion about pro­jected elec­toral-col­lege maps.

“We look stupid, but we’re not that stupid,” said Po­lak, 30. “We talk pol­i­tics a lit­tle bit. We know what’s go­ing on. Guys are ed­u­cated on that matter. So I think we’re pretty good at it.

Trump found him­self in a me­dia firestorm last month for dis­miss­ing video­taped boasts about forcibly kiss­ing and grop­ing women as “locker-room talk,” a sports tie-in that didn’t sit well with many ath­letes. Po­lak in­sisted the po­lit­i­cal back-and-forth around these par­tic­u­lar stalls “is more se­ri­ous than fun.”

“We’re just dis­cussing what’s hap­pen­ing in the de­bates. What’s funny, what’s not, what’s im­por­tant, what’s not,” Po­lak said. “Just like the reg­u­lar peo­ple. We’re peo­ple, too, you know?”

Van Riems­dyk, for one, said he sees it as his duty as a ci­ti­zen to be in­formed on civic is­sues, even if the 2016 cam­paign will go down as an un­prece­dented “cir­cus.” But van Riems­dyk, like ev­ery other Amer­i­can Leaf polled, de­clined to say if he planned to side with LeBron or the Golden Bear, Clin­ton or Trump or other­wise.

“It’s al­ways chang­ing for me, so I don’t like to de­clare one way or the other,” said van Riems­dyk, 27. “Your views evolve as you get older. I just try to stay open-minded. I think that’s the best thing you can be is open-minded. Be­cause once you think you know ev­ery­thing is usu­ally when you’re screwed.”

Po­lak, per­haps tir­ing a lit­tle of the reg­u­lar elec­tion dis­cus­sion these past few weeks, re­cently lam­basted a re­porter for “digging” for par­ti­san opin­ions from team­mates who clearly pre­ferred to keep such ideas pri­vate.

“It’s a per­sonal matter,” Po­lak said. “You’re not go­ing to get any­thing from us.”

Then the Czech de­fence­man smiled as he put a hand on a re­porter’s shoul­der: “Now, off the record …”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.