One of the smarter moves President Barack Obama used during his campaign to lure the interest of the casual voter was to introduce his athletic side and interests into his platform discussions. It started with shooting baskets with Sports Illustrated's Scott Price, while discussing his background in and affinity for basketball. He threw out a first pitch and donned his beloved White Sox cap; he played more hoops with the University of North Carolina on another primary stop, analyzed NCAA brackets, talked BCS and hit some golf balls for fun. Meanwhile Senator Hillary Clinton looked uncomfortable talking baseball, Senator McCain, despite being an avid outdoorsman, stopped in at a NASCAR event but took his private time hunting away from the cameras, and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin regaled us as a hockey mom. None were as effective with the casual male sports fan as President Obama, and that feeling resonated with a male audience who may not have followed his campaign closely before. It made him much more "one of the guys." He shoots hoops and likes baseball and talks about it all very comfortably. Did it lure some votes? Probably. Did it detract at any point? No way.
So the election comes and goes and the President continues his sports interests ... he attends a Wizards game in a turtleneck and sits court-side, and talk of bringing a basketball court to the White House to replace the bowling alley runs rampant. Staff members are frequently seen being part of pickup games on the road. Athletes and teams make a trip to the White House a must stop during their D.C. swings, whether the President is in residence or not. Hall of Famers show up in record numbers, a new office to assist in growing Olympic sport and youth issues is announced. Talk of Opening Day for baseball and Final four predictions abound, despite all the challenges that are ongoing in the real world for the new President.
Yes there are the traditional champion's visits, but the sense of sport for this President (even with his predecessor being a former MLB owner) has never been higher. Even on the international scene, the optimism around the coming vote for the 2016 Olympics, right in the President's backyard, gives the Chicago bid a welcomed boost.
Time then moves ahead, and alas, our sporting President has moved on to bigger issues than pickup ball. Healthcare reform, the repayment of bank loans, and the war in Afghanistan rightfully dominate the agenda these days, and his most forward link to sports lately, August's trip to Copenhagen to support Chicago's Olympic bid, ended badly.
Has the President abandoned using sports as a social unifier to reach the young male who loved watching him mix it up on the court and play catch? Probably not. Using that sports platform to address the growing issue of childhood obesity in this country, will be a welcomed statement at the right time, perhaps as a part of another step in healthcare.
One prominent former athlete, (now NBC broadcaster) Tiki Barber, has made a trip or two to the White House to show his plans to use playgrounds ... the plan is called "Play Proud"... as a spot where children in inner cities can resolve conflicts and build a base for healthy play, and that could certainly factor into the administrations' plans for the future. The Office of Olympic, Paralympic and Youth Sport, announced in June, is also finding its place amongst those in DC, and could be rolled out on a larger platform as we move toward the Vancouver Olympics in February. All will find its place in time.
So has the President stopped being the "sports guy"? Nope. Will we see him dropping in on a Georgetown hoops game, or the NHL Winter Classic or the Super Bowl? Probably not soon.
Like all of us he just doesn't have time right now for catch. That's also probably a good thing.
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