By Ken Reed
Barack Obama was often called our “sports president,” due to his love of basketball, golf and other sports. He welcomed more athletes to the White House than any other president and filled out his NCAA basketball tournament brackets on national TV.
Along the way, he was often criticized for his interest in sports. Critics say sports are insignificant and that the president shouldn’t spend any time on them. Their belief is that sports are a frivolous pastime, especially for the commander-in-chief.
In his closing days in office, while hosting the world champion Chicago Cubs in the White House, Obama addressed those critics and spoke about what sports can be at their best.
“It is worth remembering — because sometimes people wonder, ‘Well, why are you spending time on sports? There’s other stuff going on’ — throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together, even when the country is divided,” Obama said.
“Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were. It is a game, and it is celebration, but there’s a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here.”
Later in his closing words, he said:
“And I was in my home town of Chicago on Tuesday for my farewell address, and I said, ‘Sometimes, it’s not enough just to change laws. You’ve got to change hearts.’ And sports has a way, sometimes, of changing hearts in a way that politics or business doesn’t. And sometimes it’s just a matter of us being able to escape and relax from the difficulties of our days, but sometimes it also speaks to something better in us.”
And that’s why those of us who love sports, and the positives they can create, must continue to work to enhance the positives and mitigate the negatives in SportsWorld. Like so many courageous sports reformers before us — including Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson — we must continually fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports.
Thank you President Obama for reminding us that sports are not only fun but important.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.