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Curtis Granderson: Athletes should voice political opinions

New York Mets' Curtis Granderson signs autographs for

New York Mets' Curtis Granderson signs autographs for fans before the start of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the New York Yankees Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: AP / Jeff Roberson

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A couple of former Yankees outfielders — Paul O’Neill and Johnny Damon — have been in the news after expressing their support for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

In some circles, the former players have been criticized for expressing their views. The same has happened to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as well as NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France, both of whom have come out in support of Trump.

Another former Yankees outfielder, Mets rightfielder Curtis Granderson, isn’t publicly backing any candidate. He said he “definitely” will vote in November, as he has in each of the last three presidential elections, but hasn’t decided for which candidate.

One thing Granderson has decided: He doesn’t understand why there is a belief that people involved in sports shouldn’t be allowed to speak out about, as he put it, “a person who’s eventually going to run this country.”

“I think it’s been something that’s been discussed over the last few years, from the early part of my career to now: ‘Stay away from it,’ ” he said in front of his locker at Tradition Field before Thursday’s spring training game against the Cardinals. “But they don’t really say why.

“I think Michael Jordan actually said something a long time ago like, ‘Don’t get involved in politics. You never win.’ But considering it’s such a big thing in our culture and shapes the way things are going to move and shake, I’m kind of confused why you can’t voice your opinion on how you feel. It’s just your opinion. You’re going to vote one way or another. You’re going to vote for this person or that person, so I don’t see anything wrong with speaking up about it.

“If I say I like apples but I don’t like oranges, you’re not going to beat me up for it. So why is it different to speak about politics?”

Some would say Trump and his controversial opinions make it different. Granderson, one of the more socially active players in baseball, did not offer an opinion on Trump as a candidate, but he said he has been watching how the New York businessman has excelled in getting himself attention.

“I have a marketing background, so I always look at everything on the marketing side of things,” said Granderson, who has a degree in business management and business marketing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Part of marketing is just to have people talk about you. Whether they’re talking good or bad about him, they’re talking about him.”

People in the sports world were talking on Tuesday night about Trump’s surprise introduction of supporter O’Neill at a nationally televised news conference in Jupiter, Florida.

The next day, Damon told the New York Daily News that he is backing Trump as well. Brady has been outspoken in his admiration of Trump, who also counts Pats coach Bill Belichick among his dinner companions.

Each Trump supporter has faced a backlash of some sort. France had to issue a statement saying that his was a personal endorsement and that he was not speaking for NASCAR.

Granderson doesn’t support any candidate at the moment. But he does support the right of sports figures to speak about the issue if they choose.

“I think there needs to be a little leeway,” he said. “I mean, everyone else discusses it at the workplace. This is still a job. I even had, at a school visit, kids asking me, ‘What would you do if you were President?’ It’s a topic of conversation for everyone. So why can’t an athlete say something?”

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