Sports, politics remain tangled 


Obama’s inauguration continues athletic trendBy Daniel Bohm

The Stanford Daily


In honor of Tuesday’s inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, I think it’s time to take a look at Obama in the context of the sports world.

Obama’s election has a layered relationship to sports, whether it is through his much publicized love for basketball, his disdain for the BCS or his continuation of the dream of equal rights championed by great athletes past and present.

As the first black president, Obama has further bridged the racial divide in the United States, a gap that athletes and sports had previously helped to narrow. Whether through Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics in front of a Nazi audience or Jackie Robinson braving bigotry to break baseball’s color barrier in 1947, sports have continually been a means to achieving the type of equality that has eventually allowed for the election of Barack Obama as president.

Before separate but equal was deemed unequal by the Supreme Court, white and black athletes participated together on the same fields and courts. White youths were introduced to black athletes on the radio, in the newspaper and through the love of competition, as black athletes themselves eventually came to be seen as players, and not black players.

While sports are not, by any means, the reason for Obama’s presidency, they are undoubtedly a contributing factor to the continuing civil rights movement seen in the NCAA, the NFL and other organizations.

Obama is a man of sport. He played basketball at Punahou High School in Hawaii and, despite being a gifted athlete, was relegated to the bench.

To this day he continues to play basketball regularly, even on Election Day with members of his staff. Obama also made a visit to the University of North Carolina, where he played a little with the Tar Heels basketball team on the campaign trail last year.

Sports have also made their way into Obama’s policy discussions. He has publicly called for a college football playoff system. His idea would be a three-round, eight-team playoff to replace the Bowl Championship Series. At one point in his campaign, Obama said that changing the BCS was something he aimed to do as president.

He has since tempered that discussion, stating that there are more pressing issues facing the country — details, really, like fighting two wars and the worst economic crisis in years. But try telling that to fans at Utah, Texas and Southern Cal.

Obama is not the first president to take an interest in or to try to have an impact upon sports. In fact, there is a long tradition of sports-related presidencies.

Teddy Roosevelt saw the importance of sports in American culture. “Only aggressive sports can create the brawn, the spirit, the self-confidence and quickness of men essential for the existence of a strong nation,” Roosevelt said.

His successor, William Taft, forever left his mark on the sports world by creating — accidentally, mind you — the seventh inning stretch in baseball. Taft was a big guy, and when he attended baseball games, which he did regularly, he had to stand and stretch during the game. Out of respect for the president, everyone else in the stadium would stand with him.

Later, President Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports in order to ensure that American students were exposed to physical education classes as children. Hopefully Obama will continue this legacy, as physical education classes are struggling to receive ample funding nationwide.

Both President George W. Bush and his father have sports connections. George H.W. Bush captained the Yale baseball team to two College World Series appearances, and his son is a former owner of the Texas Rangers.

Maybe it is the competitive nature of sports and politics, or maybe it is just dumb luck, but sports and politics will forever be intertwined. Maybe more than ever this time around.