By Harry Allison

It is always dangerous when sports figures engage in politics, as Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes, the late, great Joe Paterno and Charles Barkley can attest.

Hayes was a reflexive conservative, mirroring his rural Ohio background; Penn State’s JoePa remarked four years after President Nixon declared Texas the 1969 national champion even though the Nits were also undefeated:

“It has always amazed me that Nixon could know so much about college football in 1969 and so little about Watergate in 1973.”

And Charles is, well, Charles!

Now we have Seattle Seahawks’ coach Pete Carroll (above with Eagles’ coach Chip Kelly), who has doubted that that terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, was not an inside job.

In other words, Pete Carroll is a conspiracy theorist, at least that is how the conspiracy theory goes. And it is one that has gained the Seattle Seahawks coach an unlikely following from the “9/11 Truth” movement in the lead-up to his attempt to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

Two years ago, Carroll met with former Army chief of staff and four-star general Peter Chiarelli and, according to Deadspin citing “sources,” brought up many popular conspiracy theories concerned with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center and quizzed Chiarelli about their veracity.

When asked by USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday about the “9/11 Truth” movement and supporters who back him, Carroll made no attempt to deny his interest.

“Any notoriety is good I guess,” Carroll said, when told by USA TODAY Sports how he had become a favorite among Truth activists. “I will always be interested in the truth, yeah.”

The 9/11 conspiracy movement is polarizing, so having even the implied support of a high-profile and successful figure such as Carroll has been a welcome boost.

“He kind of became an instant celebrity in the 9/11 Truth movement,” said Danny Torgersen, a member of the 9/11 Studies and Outreach group at Arizona State. “He’s won the Super Bowl once, he might win it again. That’s lots of credibility and popularity.”

Carroll is an intriguing man with strong views. Last year, he told the Seattle Times his feelings on how the Iraq conflict could have been handled differently in an impassioned interview.

“Let’s say, after all the stuff that we heard about what was going on in Iraq, we sent 10,000 people to Iraq as peacefully as we could go,” Carroll said. “And we walked wherever they would let us go, and we just talked to people and listened to what their issues were.

“And then we tried to figure out the best way we could support them and change things, as opposed to bombing (expletive) thousands of people with shock and awe. It might’ve taken us longer to influence change, but nobody would’ve died.”

Those comments further emboldened some in the Truth community, feeling a sense of connection with Carroll as someone who did not automatically agree with the actions and statements of the U.S. government.

“What Pete Carroll is essentially doing is throwing the challenge flag on the official story that we’ve heard so far,” said Steven Cohn, a member of the same Arizona State group as Torgersen.

This Super Bowl has had plentiful theories of the football variety, thanks to the oddball tale of Deflategate, and whether the New England Patriots took advantage of underinflated footballs during the AFC Championship game.

Issues surrounding footballs, Brady and Belichick have dominated the news media agenda this past week and got the nation’s sports fans talking, while frustrating 9/11 skeptics who struggle to be taken seriously.

“The 9-11 conspiracy theory, if you talk about the science of what happened and the way the towers fell, and the 2,300 architects and engineers that are calling into question the official findings, you’re labeled a conspiracy theorist,” Cohn said.

“But if you accuse an entire team of deflating footballs or spying on the other team, then that’s just being a sports fan.”

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