It's a sun-baked midsummer afternoon outside Maryland's Gossett Team House when the discourse begins. "Fahrenheit 9/11." Bill O'Reilly. The war in Iraq.
A variety of hot-button subjects are broached in a typical mildly heated, nuanced debate between Domonique Foxworth and Andrew Crummey, two Terrapin football players. And the word "football" isn't uttered during the 35-minute conversation.
The two -- Crummey an offensive lineman, Foxworth a cornerback -- play on opposite sides of the field and sit on opposing sides of the political fence. Foxworth is a liberal; Crummey is a backup left guard who leans right.
They are the two most politically savvy players on a team that competes on the lip of the nation's capital, players who spice up team gatherings, bus rides, whatever, with frequent point-counterpoint banter. They are ideal political rivals. And in an age of the coming NCAA academic reform package, which will punish programs with low graduation rates, the two seem to defy perceptions that the term student-athlete is an oxymoron.
"It's like a wrestling match," wide receiver Rich Parson said. "It's fun to watch."
Neither Foxworth nor Crummey imposes his political fascination on nonvoters.
"There definitely is somewhat of an apathy [among people], but sometimes it is warranted," Foxworth said. "With the parties moving closer together you don't really know what you're voting for and what you're not. And there's not really a choice out there."
Added Crummey: "I respect anyone who tells me, when I ask them to vote, if they say no. They say they don't know anything about it. I respect that. If you don't know, if you don't care, leave it to people who do care. That's not the mainstream message that is out there."
Foxworth knows Crummey cares, which is why he seeks him out when looking to be challenged on a topic. Crummey, a white 19-year-old redshirt freshman, hails from a middle-class upbringing in northwest Ohio -- a battleground state, he noted. Foxworth, a black 21-year-old who earned his American studies degree in 3 1/2 years, hails from an upper-middle-class background in Randallstown, Md.
Consider this exchange, the topic: Are standardized tests racially biased? Foxworth contends they are.
Crummey: "Of course, I disagree."
Foxworth: "But if you live in the middle of the city you're not going to know what, like, caviar is to party as . . . a kid from a poor neighborhood is not going to be able to pronounce caviar."
Crummey: "[In Ohio there] are some poor white communities around the rivers. The exact same thing is true, but across the board, not just minorities."
The two first became engaged on issues during a bus ride to Annapolis, where the team was to be honored at the State House after the 2003 season. Coach Ralph Friedgen brought his seniors and Crummey, who chose to attend Maryland because of its proximity to Washington and who aims to be a politician.
The debate, which centered on institutionalized racism, made Friedgen, sitting up front, think of his college days at Maryland during the Vietnam War, when one could stroll into the Student Union and immediately engage in discussion. There were riots on Route 1. Tear gas. Jane Fonda on campus. Students wanting to burn down the administration building.
"When I look back on my education, I think that was a pretty valuable thing because you got to exchange ideas, whether you agreed with somebody or not, you got to see different viewpoints," Friedgen said. " . . . I think that's healthy. Domonique gets an idea of Crummey's culture and Crummey gets an idea of Domonique's culture. As long as we're talking, we've got a chance."
Who won the initial Foxworth-Crummey debate?
"He destroyed me . . . " Crummey said. "I was making the argument from a book that I read and I didn't make it well. I went back and checked my source and came at him again and then expanded the argument to economics."
Foxworth is a formidable opponent. At 14, he worked as a camp counselor for those with disabilities. This year, he formed his own mentoring program, STAFF (Students Taking Action For the Future), which matched Maryland players with about 10 inner-city children. And now, about four or five times a week, he listens to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, "the exact opposite of me," he said, to gain a broad perspective of ideas.
"Domonique could run for governor someday and he could win," Friedgen said.
Crummey is surer of a career in politics than Foxworth. Crummey's favorite high school class was debate and, in a recruiting pitch, Friedgen told him, "If you want to be a politician, this is a no-brainer."
When Crummey was introduced to the House of Representatives at the State House earlier this year as a potential future politician some jokingly booed him, Friedgen said.
Afterward Friedgen told him, "I think they are worried about you taking their job."
The two players, standing outside the Gossett Team House, continue back and forth, sweating but seemingly immune to the heat. Crummey contends poor whites often are overlooked in discussions about institutionalized racism. True, Foxworth counters, but the "problem to me is that the poor people are disproportionate to minorities."
"The argument was fascinating, and he even used the word 'invisible man,' " Crummey said. "And then about four weeks [after he first said that] I took a summer course Political Philosophy and read the book 'Invisible Man.' The perspective was that the character was black so he was invisible, and you can just extend it. . . . [The discussions] are an evolving thing. Every time we talk there is a new aspect that we bring to it."