I make a living thanks to the First Amendment.
So I am delighted to see energetic political debate and praise those who study the issues, determine which candidate suits their needs and let their voices be heard in support of their favorites.
It is wonderful, then, to hear that Washington State University football coach Mike Leach, a trained lawyer, recognizes his civic duty to study the political process.
But when Leach went to Spokane last weekend and endorsed Donald Trump at a rally, I felt like applauding his rights to express his opinion, but questioned whether it’s fully appropriate for somebody in his position.
Never miss a local story.
Leach is the highest-paid employee of Washington state ($2.75 million in 2015).
Is it wise for somebody paid so generously by the hard-working taxpayers of Washington — of all political stripes — to publicly endorse a particular candidate?
I don’t care which candidate he supports. I would write the same column if it were Washington’s Chris Peterson stumping for Hillary Clinton, or a coach from Central Washington coming out for an independent candidate.
I thought the same thing when Ohio State coach Urban Meyer endorsed Republican candidate John Kasich before the Ohio primary, and when VCU basketball coach Shaka Smart plugged Obama in 2012.
Isn’t there the risk of alienating a giant portion of the citizens who pay their salary, as well as buy tickets to see games that help fund other sports?
During his speech in Spokane, Leach cited Trump’s high energy, curiosity and confidence. He echoed Trump’s cry that it’s time to “make America great again,” and added: “I give Mr. Trump my full endorsement, and I hope you do, too.”
Leach offered the disclaimer that he was not representing the university, just endorsing a candidate he had come to know and like.
But we all know that he wasn’t just somebody pulled out of the audience to offer his thoughts.
And what makes it different from the professional athletes and celebrities and retired coaches who endorse candidates is that they’re not currently state employees paid by taxpayers.
It’s also different than when former coaches Lou Holtz and Bobby Knight stumped for Trump. They’re private citizens now.
How much good such endorsements do is fair debate. Asked by NPR’s Scott Simon about Trump’s stances on domestic issues, Knight responded: “What the hell do I know anything about domestic issues? That’s for somebody a lot smarter than I am.”
On the other hand, I guarantee Leach has studied Trump’s platform and is true to his beliefs.
I find Leach fascinating as a nonconformist, an intellectually curious individual of high order. I went over to Pullman after he got the job, and he was generous with one-on-one interview time that resulted in a conversation as interesting as almost any source I’ve covered.
WSU was at least concerned enough about the issue to crank out a press release, saying it: “… supports the right of all our faculty and staff to express their views in their personal capacities on any issue as protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Free speech is a form of diversity — diversity of opinion, and diversity is a core value of WSU.”
I wondered about raising the topic of politics to the sports page, a neighborhood that is best when it is a place where readers can go to avoid topics like this campaign season, which is otherwise omnipresent.
But I looked on a WSU message board and the topic drew more than 200 comments — all over the board.
I understand the thinking of the masses who said it’s OK what a coach does as long as he wins. I’m sure last season’s 9-4 record buys Leach more latitude from fans than did the previous three losing seasons.
Whether they deny it when it suits them, coaches are the unmistakable representative of their universities. That’s especially important to remember at state schools.
I wonder what would be the response if a university president, who makes far less than just about any head football coach, made such public advocacy of a candidate. I suspect it would stir widespread debate.
Another bothersome point from a sportswriter perspective: I’m pretty certain Leach spent more time and energy speaking at this partisan political rally than he customarily allots to answering questions after games.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440