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Commentary: Nick Saban’s world should include more than college football

Alabama v Tennessee
Alabama Coach Nick Saban coaches the Crimson Tide against Tennessee on Oct. 15.
(Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

You may have missed Nick Saban’s unusual take on the presidential election.

The Alabama football coach was asked at a news conference for his opinion on one of the most startling, troubling, energizing and enthralling chapters in American politics.

And he pleaded ignorance.

“It was so important to me that I didn’t even know it was happening,” Saban told reporters Wednesday evening. “We’re focused on other things here.”

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It’s hard to count how many things are wrong with that statement, but let’s try.

As a U.S. citizen, Saban had a duty to be aware of, and involved in, the vote. Unless he was fighting a war overseas or saving lives in an operating room somewhere, there wasn’t much excuse for sitting this one out.

We all know college football is an intense, big-money, high-pressure undertaking. Certainly, Saban ranks among the best at his job. Known for his laser focus, he once again has the Crimson Tide undefeated and sitting atop the polls.

But the “higher education” part of the equation demands at least some intellectual vigor, even among coaches who must devote a large chunk of their time to deciphering the inside zone blitz.

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And Saban’s prominence in the game means that his actions and words hold sway over not only the young men who play for him but countless fans — including kids — who follow his team.

So it didn’t quite wash when he insisted, not once but twice, that he was unaware of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in one of the most divisive political campaigns in memory. Or when he said: “I want what’s best for our country. I’m not sure I can figure that out.”

Compare that with the outpouring of opinions and sentiments from other parts of the sports world.

On the cooler-headed side, UFC President Dana White and golfer John Daly cheered Trump’s win while Clippers Coach Doc Rivers and Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James voiced their disappointment in measured terms.

Seattle Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, active in his community, wasn’t happy but stayed optimistic.

“It’s an opportunity for us as individuals to educate ourselves more, to take the opportunity to join together more and to have the conversations, the difficult conversations,” he told ESPN.

The reaction was more emotional from Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta — jabbing at Hollywood’s support of Clinton — and Detroit Pistons Coach Stan Van Gundy, who noticed his players were unusually quiet the day after the vote.

Van Gundy assumed a recent loss was still bugging them. They let him know otherwise — it was Trump’s victory. Later, at the arena, the coach went on a rant.

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“I don’t care what anybody says — I’m sure they have other reasons and maybe good reasons for voting for Donald Trump,” Van Gundy told the Detroit Free Press. “But I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynist and ethnocentric … we have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus.”

Here’s guessing — or hoping — that Saban actually did know there was a vote on Tuesday. He probably even heard about the result.

The coach may simply have wanted to avoid any sort of public controversy.

“I don’t really make political comments,” he said. “So if I say I like one person that means everybody that voted for the other person doesn’t like me, so why would I do that?”

Fair enough. Saban isn’t compelled to discuss his politics with the rest of the world. Nobody is.

Just don’t use sports — especially college sports — as justification for ignoring what truly matters.

david.wharton@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter

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