The cell phone call that Jordan Kohout placed to his good friend Peter Konz earlier this year wasn’t out of the ordinary, but the place where the University of Wisconsin football teammates hooked up definitely was.
On a cold February day, they met outside the State Capitol and milled about with thousands of protesters who had gathered to make their feelings known toward Gov. Scott Walker and his budget proposal to eliminate most collective bargaining rights for public employees.
Kohout, a sophomore defensive tackle from Waupun, and Konz, a junior center from Neenah, got together not so much to take a stand, but to be enlightened about an endeavor they both found fascinating.
“Me and Peter are pretty much the same person,” Kohout explained as Konz, standing nearby, nodded with a smile. “He’s an offensive guy and I’m a defensive guy, but that’s kind of where the differences end.”
In the process of wading into that political tumult, Kohout and Konz strengthened my belief that great chemistry in the locker room will be an asset for the Badgers this season as much as it was a year ago. Although we won’t get a precise measure of it until genuine adversity hits, the protests gave us a way to measure how seventh-ranked UW might be able to endure.
You should know that Kohout and Konz prefer forums that have nothing to do with football. Both are into philosophy and the mysteries of our society and the behaviors within. Both are sincere, well-spoken guys. Both like to solicit discussion because it can be the smoothest pathway to understanding an entire issue, not just one or two sides.
That helps explain why Kohout, who majors in sociology, and Konz, who majors in communication arts, showed up at the Capitol, asking questions of both sides and listening intently to views that were different from their own.
“We just like to think about these things,” Konz said. “It seems so real. Football, it’s a game. Every Sunday, every Saturday, every Friday there’s a game. This is real stuff to a lot of people. This is people’s livelihoods.”
If Kohout and Konz are having a political discussion, sophomore linebacker Chris Borland is usually a part of it and is known to bring a dissenting view. But unlike so many exchanges elsewhere in our red state/blue state world, Konz said the tone is always “very respectful.”
“I don’t want anybody to hate me — especially in the Madison area — but Chris is more on the liberal side and I’m more on the conservative side,” Konz said.
“I was more of a spectator (at the protests). I was asking people (with) opposing views as mine, ‘What is this about for you?’ I mean, it really comes down to perspective. It doesn’t come down to liberal-conservative or Democrat-Republican because people are fighting for their interests.
“I saw so many sides to it. In the end, I never actually came up with who was right or wrong. Basically, you just fight for your family and what you believe in.”
That’s what Borland did. He said he walked with relatives from Kenosha and Oshkosh — teachers who felt victimized by the legislation — and carried a “Recall Walker” sign even though he’s from Kettering, Ohio.
“I felt it was the right thing to do,” Borland said. “I think he went too far.”
When you operate amid this kind of mutual respect, understanding and passion, it’s much easier to embrace a celebrated transfer quarterback and the pressure of repeating as Big Ten Conference champions.
It’s much easier to overcome.