- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The first time Domonique Foxworth listened to Andrew Crummey, really listened, he thought Crummey was an idiot.
The Maryland football team rode on a bus last spring from campus to the State Capitol. Coach Ralph Friedgen is a big believer in exposing his team to the workings of government, and the Terrapins went to hear a proclamation read in their honor in the state House of Delegates.
A discussion began on the bus about institutional racism. On one side were Foxworth, an African-American junior cornerback set to graduate in three-and-a-half years with a degree in American Studies, several of his black teammates, and Friedgen's daughter Kelley, an attorney.
On the other side was Crummey, a white freshman guard from the heart of conservative Ohio.
"Crummey tried to argue that there's no racism in America," said Friedgen, an eye-rolling tone in his voice.
"Andrew has some strong opinions about the black community," Foxworth said. "How can he do that? His version of reality is skewed."
"Sometimes," Crummey said, "I say things to start an argument."
As the national political brawl enters its final fortnight, the notion of civility in the political discourse is oxymoronic. America has divided into red state and blue state, with each side shouting about the righteousness of its cause and the other side's politics of fear.
Crummey is supporting President George W. Bush. Foxworth is leaning toward Senator John Kerry. No surprise there. But that's where two young men as passionate about politics as they are about football stop being true to their stereotypes. In the heat of their differences, Crummey and Foxworth learned not to shout. They argued, but unlike their adult counterparts, they also listened.
"I've had a lot of debates with Andrew Crummey," Foxworth said one day last summer. "The fact that we're friends is kind of rare."
They are black and white, rich and poor. Here again, stereotype need not apply. Foxworth is the one, who, as he describes it, comes from "an affluent background." Crummey is a middle-class kid from small-town Ohio. His father was the town attorney, and now is a teacher. His mother is a nurse.
Foxworth is driving an Infiniti G35, a gift from his parents after his graduation. Between the time he got the car and the time he received his license plates, he was pulled over for what sounded a lot like DWB -- Driving While Black.
"The cop said they had reports of a car like it being stolen," Foxworth said. "You can argue that they would have done the same thing to a white person. It's a fact that racial profiling exists."
He is telling the story to Crummey in an attempt to explain how blacks must overcome significant disadvantages inherent in the American system. Changing the system makes Foxworth get out of bed in the morning. Last spring, he began a program called STAFF -- Students Taking Action for the Future. He brought a group of black middle-school students from Washington, D.C., to the Maryland campus for the day and had them spend the day with a football player.
Foxworth wanted the kids to understand the importance of education and understand that they can have aspirations beyond the NBA or rapping.
"When I was 14," he said, "my mom made me take a job at a camp for disabled kids. The kids couldn't do anything for themselves. I was forced to grow up quickly and understand how fortunate I am. I'm aware of what real life is like."
Crummey has political aspirations. He's a pretty good football player, too, a 6-foot-5, 278-pound guard good enough to start as a redshirt freshman. Foxworth, a three-year starter considered to be one of the best cover corners in the Atlantic Coast Conference, has so much presence that Friedgen described him this way: "Domonique graduated in three-and-a-half years and he will run for governor in three-and-a-half years."
"Coach Friedgen made a big deal about me going into politics," he said. "I really don't know if I will. I'm not really sure I can make a change doing that?.I've taken that as my responsibility as a black male who comes from an affluent background. It's my responsibility to try and give back."
He is interested in expanding STAFF to other campuses and other cities - hopefully, next year, in a city where he will be playing in the NFL.
Foxworth and Crummey watched the third presidential debate in Foxworth's apartment on the third floor of one of the campus's newer residences. Crummey, who has an exam the morning after, doesn't show up until moments before moderator Bob Schieffer appears on camera.
College life hums around them. Through the entire debate, the roar of the crowd in Madden 2005 comes out of an adjoining bedroom. The apartment door opens and closes as roommates and girlfriends come and go. Laundry is done. Cellphones go off. Foxworth and Crummey rarely take their eye off the television.
When Schieffer asks the candidates about the loss of American jobs during the Bush Administration, Foxworth and Crummey begin talking over the candidates.
"There has to be a working class," Foxworth said. "I don't know if they think that the entire United States can be white-collar workers and all the blue collar work is overseas."
"The thing is," Crummey said, "Kerry goes to Cincinnati and says, 'You lost your job under Bush. I'll get you your job back.' Candidates have been telling Ohioans that for 40 years. Ohio has been losing jobs for decades. So has Detroit. It isn't a Bush phenomenon. It's an economic phenomenon."
Kerry launched into an attack on the president on outsourcing. "When I'm president," Kerry said, "we're going to shut that loophole in a nanosecond, and we're going to use that money -- "
"He doesn't have to be president! He could do it now!" Crummey said.
As a Democrat, part of the minority in the U.S. Senate?
"It doesn't matter," Crummey said.
"It does matter," Foxworth said.
"No, it doesn't. Was Clinton not president for eight years?"
"It matters when you're a minority senator."
"I'll concede the last three-and-a-half years might have been tough for him. He's been there for 20 years. I'll guarantee he hasn't even tried," Crummey said. "If he's that serious about it, if he's running for president, he wants to make a difference, a 20-year senator has got some power."
Crummey grew up in Van Wert, a county seat in northwest Ohio. He is, according to Friedgen, the only football player in Maryland's well-regarded school of public policy.
"They say you get more liberal as you through college," Crummey said. "I was from a very conservative community. I was always more liberal than most of my friends. I consider myself a moderate."
Crummey supported General Wesley Clark in the Democratic primaries. Faced with a choice between Kerry and Bush, he jumped parties.
"I don't see the same things in Kerry that others do," Crummey said. "When it comes down to Kerry and Bush, it's Bush by default. He has the leadership skills that Kerry doesn't have. The Democrats dropped the ball when they didn't nominate anyone but Kerry.
"I'm a non-conformist. I always argued against Bush. I always found him to be crude. When it came to Kerry and Bush, I had to support Bush, which is pretty sad."
The Iraqi War, which comes up only briefly in this debate on domestic issues, also swayed Crummey.
"I agree with us in Iraq," he said. "There are many more things I don't agree with. I don't agree with his domestic agenda. But you got to pick your battles. I agree with the overall concept. I agree with what happened. If change is ever going to happen, it needs to be instituted. You can't expect the world to be more tolerant, more perfect unless someone steps up to bat and initiates it."
The debate questions concerning homosexuality and abortion, hot buttons on the domestic agenda, set off few sparks in the dorm room. Foxworth describes himself as a strong believer in the right to choose.
"It's contradictory," Foxworth said of Bush's pro-life stance. "He went on a tangent about how government should stand by its citizens and allow them to do this or that. But you can't have an abortion."
Crummey sees the issue in political terms.
"President Bush can't be against abortion," he said. "He'd lose half the Republican Party."
"Had Bush been a young man in a difficult financial situation and gotten a young lady pregnant when he was 15 or 16 years old, would he want to have the opportunity? Or say his daughter had some little boyfriend. Would he want her to have a choice, or would he want to father the child?" Foxworth said. "It's easy to say when you're wealthy."
And The Winner Is. . .
As the debate concludes on television, Foxworth and Crummey continue theirs. They circle back to Foxworth's favorite domestic issue, affirmative action.
"All the money for education is no good," Foxworth said. "You can have that money go to schools but if you're at a disadvantage from the day you were born because of race or economics, you're in trouble."
Crummey points out that of the two of him, he's the one who needs more economic assistance.
"Based on race," Foxworth said, "you're automatically at an advantage."
Crummey believes that America is a meritocracy.
"If you're ultimately a better person," he said, "you have more opportunity. It's all about opportunity and wealth."
"I don't disagree with that," Foxworth said. "I agree economics are very important. Minorities are disproportionately poor. That's a fact."
"When they first came here," Crummey began, referring to blacks.
"When they first came here?" Foxworth said. "They didn't come here." He was referring to slavery.
"C'mon. You know what I mean," Crummey said.
If they raise their voices, it is in response to the issue, not in anger at each other. By the end of the night, they switch from advocacy to analysis.
"I still think Bush already has the election," Crummey said. "He has the South. He'll win Ohio."
"We haven't had a repeat of 9/11," Foxworth said. "As vulnerable as we are, we haven't had a repeat. As vulnerable as Kerry keeps saying we are, we haven't had another incident. I think people feel safe. I still think on most of the issues, Kerry is a better candidate. Bush did a lot better job in this debate."
The Bigger Picture
Foxworth and Crummey have learned from each other. Crummey has a better understanding of race. Foxworth has a greater appreciation for the president and his convictions.
"I've gotten some of that from Andrew," Foxworth said. "That's rubbed off on me. I hope I've had that same effect on him, to examine every situation in an open and non-partisan way."
Their debate will continue long after Nov. 2. As their coach talks about them, he can't help but smile at the larger lesson their discussion imparts.
"Take a kid from Baltimore and a kid from Ohio and let them compare their experiences in life. That's education. When they were arguing on the back of the bus, that is what college should be about."
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your question/comments to Ivan at email@example.com. Your e-mail could be answered in a future Maisel E-mails.
Sometimes, a debeate on a team bus between teammates can show what student/athletes and college are all about.