Tackling sports president-style

With the arrival of the presidential conventions we can count on hours upon hours of speeches about why (insert candidate here) is better suited to lead our country, and we can be equally sure that neither candidate’s sporting background will come up.

George W. took a lot of slack for bringing up the need to get rid of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports in his last State of the Union Speech and has since learned his lesson.

John Kerry ended up looking clueless (see sidebar) when he tried to prove his sports knowledge over the Major League All-Star Break and will likely focus on other ways to prove he hasn’t fallen out of touch since starring in “The Munsters” in the ’60s.

“We’re at war. People are unemployed. Sports aren’t important,” the pundits will say.

I wouldn’t disagree. Presidential politics is serious stuff, sports aren’t.

That said, the differing sporting backgrounds of Kerry and Bush provide an instructive and interesting window into the two men vying to be the next president of the United States.

A recent poll on sportsillustrated.com asked visitors which candidate they thought was a better athlete and which was a bigger sports fan.

Bush won both categories in landslides that would make Michael Dukakis blush. Eighty percent thought Bush was the bigger fan and 58 percent agreed he was the better athlete.

It’s not hard to understand why Bush ran away with both votes.

Bush was a part owner of the Texas Rangers, is the first president to have played Little League, the first president to have completed a marathon, made himself “High Commissioner” of the first ever stickball league at the prestigious Phillips Academy and was the school’s head football cheerleader!

KERRY: The Extreme Athlete
Favorite sport(s): windsurfing and hockey
Sports played in college: soccer (varsity), hockey (junior varsity), lacrosse (J.V.)
Current sports: windsurfing, snowboarding, flying, boating, hockey
Claim to fame: featured on cover of Windsurfing magazine in 1998, windsurfed from Cape Cod to Nantucket three times (over 6.5 hours)
Greatest moment: scored a hat trick in a soccer victory over Harvard
Biggest blunder: angered constituents by confusing the names of home state favorites and Boston Red Sox stars Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, claiming his favorite player was “Manny Ortez” (sic)
Fun fact: windsurfed in Hood River, Ore.
Quote: “I hope America is ready for somebody who honestly appreciates doing the things that he or she does,” Kerry told The Boston Globe in 2001. “[Extreme sports] are things I love to do and have done … Obviously, if I were to be president, it would be harder to go out and do those things. I understand that.”
BUSH: The Fanager (fan + manager)
Favorite sport(s): baseball and running
Sports played in college: baseball (freshman), rugby (J.V.)
Current sports: running, tee ball, golf
Claim to fame: organized White House tee ball league, first president to run a marathon
Greatest moment: helped put together ownership group to buy Texas Rangers in 1989, turned $606,302 investment into $14.9 million
Biggest blunder: trading future star Sammy Sosa from Texas to the Chicago White Sox for an aging Harold Baines
Fun fact: has a treadmill on Air Force One for long flights
Quote: “One of my jobs as president is to set examples. I have an opportunity to send the message to the American people that I’m serious about exercising – and you should be too.” (Runner’s World, October 2002)

If that wasn’t enough to prove Bush’s athletic and fan prowess, we’ve spent four years watching him play golf, watch tee ball on the White House lawn, jog with foreign leaders and throw out ceremonial first pitches. For chrissakes, the guy is such a running nut he put a treadmill on Air Force One!

On the other hand, Kerry has done very little to dispel the common perception that he has the athletic prowess of a corpse.

The public’s only chance to see Kerry in action came when a Secret Service agent crashed into him while he was snowboarding in Idaho. Not exactly the way to make a good first impression.

But behind the deep wrinkles and mummy-like posture there may be more to the sporting Kerry.

While you’d never guess it from reading his official biography at johnkerry.com, Kerry has been and is quite the sports guy.

A lifelong hockey fan and player, Kerry played junior varsity hockey and lacrosse at Yale while playing on the varsity soccer team. Unlike Bush, who by all accounts was never much of an athlete in college despite single-year trysts on the baseball and rugby teams, Kerry’s friends remember him as a solid, not spectacular, contributor.

As a testament to his athleticism, he recently scored two goals against hockey a team comprised of hockey legends and celebrities in a hockey fundraiser and joked that he would follow Bush’s tee ball stadium on the White House lawn with a hockey rink.

While he still follows professional team sports, Kerry’s heart lies elsewhere.

“[Extreme sports] are things I love to do and have done,” he told a reporter back in 2001. Long before most people in the United States had heard of him, Kerry was the coverboy for American Windsurfing magazine. The mag featured a lengthy interview on extreme sports and politics conducted while Kerry and the interviewer windsurfed in multiple locales around the country.

In addition to windsurfing, Kerry snowboards, and is a stunt pilot and a motorcycle enthusiast.

Yet despite Kerry’s sporting past, the sportsillustrated.com poll suggests he has a long way to go if he wants to establish himself as a credible athlete and fan.

For many voters, with sports credibility comes the alpha-male status so desired in the commander in chief. Americans hate sissies and the surest way to sissydom (outside the library) is to stay on the sidelines.

With the close race and the large number of undecided voters, something as seemingly “unimportant” as a candidate’s athletic prowess could go a long way in determining the outcome of the election.