By the end of his disastrous tenure as Cincinnati’s football coach, when it was obvious Tommy Tuberville had checked out on pretty much all aspects of the actual job he was hired to do, the joke around the football building was that you’d be more likely to catch him in his office watching Fox News than film of the next opponent.
While it certainly didn’t help Tuberville avoid becoming the only Cincinnati coach since 2003 to be fired, it was apparently great preparation for his next job as U.S. Senator from Alabama, whose tenure so far has included botching the three branches of government (“You know, the House, the State, and the executive), misrepresenting the history of World War II (“my dad fought 76 years ago in Europe to free Europe of socialism”) and falsely stating that Al Gore was president-elect for 30 days after the 2000 election.
To be generous, Tuberville is, shall we say, learning some things on the fly about the U.S. government. And so it was quite the ironic note to strike Thursday morning when TMZ released video of an interview with Tuberville near the U.S. Capitol building in which he suggested that athletes who will be drafted into the NFL Thursday night shouldn’t wade into politics because they don’t know what they’re talking about.
Tommy Tuberville is in his first year as a U.S. Senator from Alabama. (Photo: LEIGH VOGEL, POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
“I think people should downplay politics more, be more involved in what they do,” Tuberville said. “Everybody wants to make an opinion and that’s fine, but especially for young people to get involved in something they might not understand as much, I think they need to let people, whatever they do for a living, justify it.”
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Of the little that can actually be discerned from that incoherent belch of an answer, it’s the condescension that really makes it sing. “Shut up and dribble,” or in this case “shut up and tackle” hits a little bit different when the reason Tuberville became a Senator is that he did exactly the opposite.
To be fair to Tuberville, getting approached out of the blue by TMZ can knock anyone off their game. They ask oddball questions for the purpose of getting a soundbite that will blow up on social media, and Tuberville absolutely walked straight into the trap.
But the very notion that those words could come out of his mouth reveals a man whose self-awareness left him so long ago he wouldn't even know where he could find it again.
Think about what he actually said when asked if he’d tell players they should be quiet on social issues.
“I think people should downplay politics more, be more involved in what they do.”
Had Tuberville followed his own advice on that one, he might have done better than take Cincinnati from the top of the American Athletic Conference to 1-7 in the league by his fourth season. Who knows, he might still be coaching somewhere.
But here’s the real kicker.
“Everybody wants to make an opinion and that’s fine but especially for young people to get involved in something they might not understand as much I think they need to let people, whatever they do for a living, justify it.”
Over his 21 years at Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas Tech and Cincinnati, Tuberville coached thousands of players and recruited thousands more. Does he really think that voicing an opinion about what’s going on in the world or in an election is beyond their intellectual grasp? That they should literally stick to football?
Based on the evidence Tuberville has handed us on a silver platter during his time as a Senator, there’s probably a great number of college football players who understand at least as much about the U.S. government as he does.
When asked by TMZ whether he’d advise players to not make their views known if they’re being looked at by NFL teams, Tuberville said: “Not be quiet, just be careful. Talk about what you know about and be gentle with your speech and also treat people with humility. I think that’s big. … Nobody’s’ looking for an outspoken person. We’re too divided as it is.”
It isn’t just offensive that someone who supposedly led young men for 20 years on the college football field thinks so little of them, it’s actually pretty sad.
Talk about what you know? Stay in your lane? Don’t get involved in politics and focus on football? Tuberville didn’t do any of those things, and he wound up in the U.S. Senate.
To offer that kind of advice to young people shows Tuberville doesn’t just misunderstand the job he has now, but the one he used to have as well.
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