Voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry. For almost all Alabama football players, it will be the first opportunity to vote in a Presidential election. And Crimson Tide players have been paying attention to the race.
It won't be the first time for Alabama Coach Mike Shula to have such an opportunity. While the campaign period is at the time of year when football coaches are putting in long days, seven days a week, that doesn't mean Shula hasn't been keeping up. And he has checked and double checked–in fact, checked four times–to make sure he is duly registered to vote in Tuscaloosa.
"After the last (Presidential) election, it really struck home with me how important a vote is," Shula said. Shula was working for the Miami Dolphins in 2000 and living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which is in Broward County. His precinct was in the news daily until the Florida vote, and the election, was finally decided in favor of Bush.
"It was like 156 votes or something," Shula said. "That really makes you think about the importance of voting. I was glad I voted and glad Shari (his wife) voted, especially the way it came out." Shula didn't say who he voted for or how he intends to vote this year.
There was no worry that Shula's vote might have been one being closely examined for a "hanging chad" or a "pregnant chad" by the well-known bug-eyed election official. "I hammered my chad home for my man," Shula said.
Shula said that in the National Football League there is much talk among players and coaches when it comes to an election. "I don't hear as much of it from the college players," Shula said.
But that doesn't mean his Alabama players aren't talking about the election.
The players we talked to generally declined to say for whom they will vote, although even those who said they are still undecided often seemed to have a good idea.
Junior linebacker DeMeco Ryans, considered by many to be the best student on the Crimson Tide team, said, "I have been following it pretty closely. I was able to watch two of the debates and I read the newspaper reports. It has been interesting. This will be my first time to vote and I'm pretty excited about it."
Ryans said, "We have players who are for Bush and players who are for Kerry. I'm still undecided. I had to do a survey for a class and had some of my teammates participate in it. Some think we need change and some think Bush is doing a good job."
Ryans said the most important issues for him are "Plans for education–No Child Left Behind–because I want my neices and nephews to get a good education; tax cuts, because I'll be out working in a couple of years; and winning the war against the terrorists."
The suggestion that Ryans sounds like a Bush voter brought the firm response, "I'm still undecided."
Junior safety Charlie Peprah is from Texas (Plano), and said, "Being from Texas, I'm more familiar with Bush and maybe leaning towards Bush. But I agree with Kerry on a lot of things, too. I'm inerested in it and was able to watch part of the debates."
Peprah said he is not yet sure how he will vote. "I'm more of a Democrat, but I am from Texas," he said.
Peprah said that wide receiver/kick return man Brandon Brooks is probably Kerry's biggest supporter on the team. "He told us all to vote for Kerry because Bush is trying to reduce Pell Grant funding, which affects a lot of us," Peprah said.
Junior wide receiver Matt Miller is not a fence-straddler. "I'm big for Bush," Miller said.
Miller admitted, "I haven't followed the race like I should have. About the only time I've talked about it is when we're (the players) are watching Monday Night Football together and the ones for Bush are getting on the Kerry guys and the Kerry guys are giving it back to the Bush guys. But it's not too serious when we're doing that."