11/29/2010 08:16 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Diagnosis: Off His Game

The scrappy "O 'bomber" as he was known, has been shooting hoops for decades. He's known around town as a quick, self-confident, left-handed jumper who talks a little smack when he scores. Called a "rat-baller" in high school, he's sought basketball as refuge from the trials of life.

So what happened to that cool-under-pressure player during Friday's pick-up game that left him with 12 stitches to the lip and most likely a pretty bruised ego? I mean his Harvard University team played in prison against inmates who had cigarettes riding on the outcome for Pete's sake. No fat lip there.

Sit down in most any shrink's office in the country and they'll tell you. I'll translate. Cognitive function (the ability to think) is impacted by stress (we all know that one) as studies indicate that higher levels of cortisol (steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland) are associated with decreased cognitive performance including processing speed and eye-hand coordination. Layman's analogy: emotional stress equals physical foul-ups.

For the eye-rollers who say that sometimes an errant elbow is just an errant elbow, have you ever had so much emotional turmoil that you get sick or have a hard time recovering? In Washington, where success is measured by how many Ambien you have to take to get to sleep at night, the physical manifestations of emotional stress are largely ignored in order to get the job done. And unlike New York City where if you aren't in therapy you're an anomaly, the nation's capital eschews weakness of any kind. That doesn't mean therapists here don't earn a pretty penny. It just means hardly anyone in power talks about lying on the couch -- um, being analyzed.

Raise your hand if you think the president has been under stress lately. From his midterm "shellacking" that made him "feel bad" and produced the biggest losses suffered for Democrats in midterms since 1938, to nearly 10% unemployment and an economy in the tank, the professorial peacemaker has his hands full.

Flash back to July 2008 when then Senator Obama was riding high in the polls and popped in to visit the troops in Kuwait. On a court with hundreds of soldiers watching, he sank a three-point basketball shot on his first try to thunderous applause. He immediately followed it by saying, "I think that's all I should do. It's going to go downhill from there." Little did he know.

He's not alone when it comes to physical prowess signaling political strength. A quick flip through the Presidential history files during popular periods finds JFK playing touch football; Reagan clearing brush; Bush 41 racing a cigarette boat; and W playing golf. As his approval rating declined, he stopped playing out of what he cites was respect for Iraqi troops.

Studies show it's not just physical performance, but executive functioning, verbal memory and learning, and visual memory that are affected by emotional stress. While most Republicans would argue that it's bad policies, not stress, that are affecting the president's functioning, the first hoopster-in-chief may just benefit from a little bit of pop psychology.