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Paul Turner: Mike Leach is preparing Cougar fans for politics at the Thanksgiving table

WSU football coach Mike Leach takes a drink of water before endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during rally at the Spokane Convention Center on May 7, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
WSU football coach Mike Leach takes a drink of water before endorsing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during rally at the Spokane Convention Center on May 7, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s fall, so maybe it’s not too early to begin speculating about the political donnybrook sometimes known as Thanksgiving with your relatives.

This year’s holiday could be one for the books.

If you thought things got tense with Uncle Bob in the past, can you imagine how it will go this year?

But here’s the thing. We in the Inland Northwest have had a dress rehearsal already, thanks to Washington State University football.

As anyone around here with even the slightest interest in sports knows, the head coach of the Cougars is a supporter of President Trump. That is, of course, absolutely his right. No question.

So is saying what he thinks when asked a question.

But it poses something of a dilemma for those WSU fans who, to put it mildly, do not hold the president in high esteem.

Can they root for a team led by an unabashed Trump backer? Or do they find themselves with no choice but to cheer for, God help us all, Southern Cal?

Oh sure, it’s easy to say society needs to keep sports and politics separate. But if you have been following current events, you know that horse is already out of the barn.

So here’s the question. Can you root for the team you love if it is led by an irascible man aligned with an inescapable politician you abhor?

This brings us back to Thanksgiving. Many of us are familiar with the idea that you don’t stop loving a relative just because he or she holds political views you find repugnant.

At least you try not to. Though no one said it’s easy.

Same with the WSU situation.

For fans who really, really care about the Cougars and really, really loathe the president of the United States (and, by extension, his proxies), the options are limited.

You can say “I root for the team, not the coach.”

But is that realistic? Their fortunes are intertwined, after all.

Or you can simply declare that you do not care about a coach’s political persuasion. You know, in much the same way you might try to separate your feelings about an entertainer with an unappealing personal life from your appreciation of his artistry.

Of course, for WSU fans who voted for the president and still believe in him, it’s a nonissue. In fact, it’s a win-win.

Let’s not kid ourselves. If we are going to start evaluating personalities in athletics on the basis of their opinions on nonsports matters, we’re apt to find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope. A very slippery slope.

In any event, wrestling with these matters in September is excellent preparation for Thanksgiving.

It certainly puts us – well, at least some of us – ahead of the rest of the nation when it comes to discussing some of what’s happened since last fall’s election.

If you are a WSU fan who despises the U.S. president – no need for a show of hands – figuring out how you feel about the Cougs under their current leadership should prepare you for your Trump-loving brother-in-law’s dinner table rant about the need to make America great again.

Once you have made peace with your feelings about this era’s crimson and gray, you might be able to face a potentially volatile holiday with grace and equanimity.

You might turn to your brother-in-law, wipe his spittle from your face and smile.

Then softly say, “Go Cougs.”

Or not, depending on how you decide to play it.

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