I read today in the Wall Street Journal that a committee working for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was tasked with determining how Romney should spend his time watching last Sunday’s Superbowl between the New England Patriots and NY Giants. This is no small matter, mind you. Should he sit in a bar? Should he watch it from a house? Ah HA! That’s a trap! If it’s in a house, what kind of house? If it’s too cramped, it would look uncomfortable; maybe even appearing cheap or seedy. If the house were too large, it would look like he was out of touch with voters. So, the Massachusetts Governor grabbed a stool and bellied up to a St. Louis bar. Check. Next issue. The McLaughlin Hour, this ain’t….
Why is Sports so important in politics? Do presidents want to show that they are still one of the guys? As if they ever were. You know, most of the policy wonks were never the ones getting all the dates in high school. This reminds me of the saying: “D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people.” (OK, before you Washingtonians get all mad at me, I’m from D.C. and managed to escape with a sense of humor – so, there’s still hope). Or does an interest in sports make one seem healthy and, therefore, somehow especially fit for the presidency? But we know that can all be smoke-and-mirrors. The Kennedy family’s famous touch football games in Hyannisport, MA were staged to show that JFK didn’t have the well-publicized back problem that he did, indeed, have. This agonizing over appearing to be the pinnacle of health is nothing new, of course. Few pictures exist of FDR in his wheelchair. This was no accident.
Of course, an emphasis on election-year sports talk is yet another disadvantage to women on the national political stage. Before Title IX, you know, women were barred from participating in many sports at varying levels. Now, lively and engaging sports banter coming from women in power is often ill-executed and just, plain silly. (Lest you forget that Title IX wasn’t about sports: women also were not welcome into professional colleges that awarded degrees in medicine, law and science, to name a few.) There have been few women who have been able to bridge their femininity with sports and/or politics. Think of all the hullabaloo last year about Hillary Clinton’s cleavage on the campaign trail and how she talked about seeing last weekend’s Superbowl "game." Remember Ann Richards, former Texas Governor? A little Annie Oakley, herself, she once said that George Bush-the-elder was “… born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." It’s rare that a woman can pull off a sports line like that in politics and have it not seem forced. But Ann Richards forced plenty of other things.
Maybe politicians pull sports into their casual conversations because they know that politics is sometimes just so damned convoluted. Or, at least the politicians make it seem that way. Or it’s boring. Or it doesn’t make much sense. Does the best guy always win? Is it always clear? And with wealth, family connections and incumbency, much about politics appears to be a given. This in stark contrast to sports where the underdog can win — and often does — as can be seen by Sunday’s shocker. In many cases voters (if they even vote) are asleep long before the final chad falls to the ground. Yet we stay up until the wee hours watching a late-inning baseball game. Monday Night Football games that roll though midnight. Hockey games that… OK, bad example.
What does this say about Americans and the media that is supposed to serve us? Is the media wrong in producing wall-to-wall election coverage? Probably not. But sometimes I think that news organizations could air reruns of Gilligan’s Island and everyone might breathe a sigh of relief (“Whew, we don’t have to watch this stuff!”). Election coverage is not “Must See TV,” rather, it is perfect for the internet age. But threaten to not show the Superbowl? Now, that’d be deplorable. What would our politicians do on Super Sunday? The possibilities are endless.