Football coaches face a tough choice anytime they’re asked to play politics: Do so, and they risk alienating their fan base for a reason other than play-calling or defensive schemes. Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh took the plunge Saturday, when he agreed with Donald Trump’s idea to build a border fence to keep out illegal immigrants coming from Mexico.
At an otherwise boring press conference Saturday afternoon, Harbaugh, who has won a Super Bowl and is no stranger to dealing with the media, was asked a question about officiating during the ongoing NFL preseason. Somehow, his answer drifted into politics, with Harbaugh referencing the 2016 GOP presidential front-runner.
“I’m going Trump here,” Harbaugh told reporters after the Saturday practice, according to the Baltimore Sun. “Build the wall. If you don’t have a border, you don’t have a country. You’re not a country without a border, right?”
He continued: “At the same time, you’ve got 12 to 15 million hardworking people here. Give them a shot. Give them a chance to become a citizen so they’re paying taxes. All of us know that it’s not that complicated, but this side doesn’t want to solve it, neither does [the other] side. Neither one of them want to solve the problem. Solve the problem.”
The coach’s comments are more proof that Trump’s campaign, once thought to be a sideshow to a more serious race between conventional candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is now firmly in the mainstream of U.S. presidential politics. The real estate mogul continues to surge in the polls, holding a large lead over the rest of the field; a recent Fox News poll shows 25 percent of likely GOP voters back him. His closest rival is surgeon Ben Carson, another outsider candidate. Apparently Harbaugh, who is busy preparing for the upcoming season, has taken notice.
The coach’s comments have the potential to alienate him from Hispanics; Harbaugh has associated himself with a candidate that has described some Mexican immigrants as rapists who bring guns and crime into the United States. At the same time, the Ravens coach laid out a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a position at odds with that of every GOP candidate, including Trump. Whether that’s enough for the coach’s comments to fade from public memory before the league’s annual Hispanic Heritage Month, or if they put off the Raven’s Latino fan base, remains to be seen.
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