SBD/Issue 85/Sports & Society

Obama Inauguration Part I: Sports World Cherishes The Moment

Muhammad Ali And Wife Lonnie Attended
Thursday's Inauguration In DC
President Barack Obama has "once again made it politically correct for athletes to talk politics," according to Arash Markazi of Obama's run for the presidency, culminating with yesterday's inauguration, "saw more sports stars get involved in politics for the first time since Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar joined forces and publicly spoke against Vietnam and the draft" in '67. Today's athletes "not only supported Obama but they openly campaigned for him." While they "may not be as willing to publicly criticize the president or go against their orders," supporting a candidate is "certainly a step in the right direction" (, 1/21). ESPN's Jeremy Schaap said, “In terms of the sports world, there has been such an outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement about the election of Barack Obama, now the inauguration of Barack Obama, that’s unprecedented” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 1/20). Ali and Magic Johnson yesterday had "prime seats at the Capitol" for the inauguration, and across the country, "coaches rescheduled practices, and even the Super Bowl had to take a back seat." Cavaliers F LeBron James, who watched Obama's swearing-in at a hotel in L.A., said, "This day will last forever. It will be in the books. It will be in schools. It will be in classes. It will be on test questions. It means a lot not only on this day, but for the rest of the days to come and the years to come." Steelers coach Mike Tomlin postponed his first pre-Super Bowl XLIII press conference about an hour so that it would not conflict with the inauguration. Tomlin: "What we're doing here today pales with what's going on in our nation's capital" (AP, 1/20). 

(l to r) Magic Johnson, Gavin Newsom, Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Kevin Johnson At Inauguration
A NEW ROLE MODEL: USA TODAY's Drew Sharp writes of Obama, "The most influential man of color in America is not LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods. As of noon Tuesday, the man who holds that honor plays basketball and golf, but only recreationally. Now that's dramatic change" (USA TODAY, 1/21). In Minneapolis, Jim Souhan writes in "most American sports and now in American politics, race no longer seems to matter so much." In Obama, "we finally have our political Jackie Robinson" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/21). In New Jersey, Ian O'Connor writes the "walls came tumbling down in sports before they did in most segments of society." Through the "public nature of their craft, black athletes and coaches helped educate the portion of the white public in dire need of a broader social mind." Obama "never gets to the goal line of the free world Tuesday without them clearing the way" (Bergen RECORD, 1/21).

SPEAKING OUT: In Chicago, Rick Telander writes "most of the star athletes in this country are African-American, and now their president is giving them a clarion call to act right, to be anti-Charles Barkleys. To be role models." Obama is a "fresh role model of epic proportions." It is "not too late for an outdated hero" such as Michael Jordan, and "all the other high-profile black athletes in this country -- white ones, too -- to join him" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/21). Author John Feinstein said of Tiger Woods, who spoke at a pre-inauguration rally for Obama, “Woods showing interest in politics on either side of the aisle is a good thing, an important thing, because his potential to make an impact in the world goes well beyond his extraordinary ability to play golf. Very few athletes become more important after their playing careers are over than they were at the peak of the skills.” Feinstein: “Unfortunately, until now he’s chosen Michael Jordan as his role model rather than” Bill Bradley or Arthur Ashe (“Golf Central,” Golf Channel, 1/20).

PAVING A NEW PATH:  Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said of the inauguration, "I can understand much about what Jackie went through. He went through all of what he did for President Obama and myself, so we could accomplish things in life that we wouldn't have been able to. ... I never though I'd live this long to see this happen" (TORONTO STAR, 1/21). Knicks G Chris Duhon said of Obama, "He has a vision, just like Dr. King had a vision for us; and just as (Dr. King's) dream is starting to unfold before our very eyes, I know Barack is going to do the same thing for us." Knicks F Malik Rose said, "President Obama instills such hope that you can achieve anything" (N.Y. POST, 1/21). Johnson said, "Just to see than an African-American could win the presidency of the United States, even today, still blows my mind" ("NBA Coast-to-Coast, ESPN, 1/20). WNBA Sparks C Lisa Leslie, in a special to the L.A. TIMES, writes, "As an African American woman, it feels liberating to see Barack Obama as the president. African Americans have often times felt like a distant cousin in America. Now we feel like immediate family with a seat at the table" (L.A. TIMES, 1/21). Univ. of Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar: "As I was watching, I was a little overwhelmed. Having grown up in Compton, Calif., battling through racism ... you get a feeling from a lot of people around you that we can only go so far" (SEATTLE TIMES, 1/21). But the STAR TRIBUNE's Souhan writes despite Obama's inauguration, "much of the sports world lags," as we now have "almost as many black American presidents as we do high-profile black college" football coaches. Souhan: "That is disgraceful" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/21).

Rooney Received Criticism
For Giving Obama Jersey
STEEL RESOLVE: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell in a sports-section cover story notes Steelers Chair Dan Rooney, who has "struck up quite a connection" with Obama, Monday was a "guest of Obama's for a bipartisan, black-tie banquet that Obama hosted" for U.S. Sen John McCain (R-AZ). Rooney, a "life-long Republican," last year vocalized his support for Obama's presidential campaign, and Monday presented Obama with a game ball from the Steelers' AFC Championship victory over the Ravens last Sunday. Bell notes Rooney was the only NFL owner wearing an Obama pin at recent league meetings. Mixing sports and politics "has its risks," and in the past there were "attempts to keep Rooney's political action separate from the Steelers." But that was "nearly impossible, given that for all of his civic contributions, Rooney is first and foremost identified as the head of the football team." Rooney in October presented Obama with a Steelers jersey in a gathering at Mellon Arena, and Rooney said, "There was some backlash. ... They were mad about me giving him a jersey. But Hillary (Clinton) got a jersey. McCain got a jersey" (USA TODAY, 1/21).

TAKING A TIMEOUT: USA TODAY's Sharp notes the NBA "pretty much stopped" during the inauguration yesterday, as "many practices were either delayed or interrupted so players and coaches could witness the swearing-in and the new president's first address" (USA TODAY, 1/21). Hawks players watched the inauguration ceremony on the Jumbotron at the United Center after a shootaround practice before last night's game against the Bulls (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 1/21). Thunder players and coaches "gathered in the team's film room at the practice facility and watched the ceremony." Thunder F Jeff Green: "It was a great thing to watch." Thunder G Earl Watson: "Just seeing how many people attended that, it gave me chills" (DAILY OKLAHOMAN, 1/21). Nets coach Lawrence Frank yesterday "scheduled an early practice so that his players could watch Obama be sworn in and hear the President's inaugural speech." Frank: "I think it's a historical event, it's important. It's the first time in history and I wanted to give the guys an opportunity to watch it." Nets G Keyon Dooling: "It's an exciting time, not just for me, but for all of us" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/21). George Mason Univ. men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga pulled his team off court after just 27 minutes of practice and "took them to the locker room to watch the swearing-in and Obama's speech" (AP, 1/20). In L.A., David Haugh notes every TV in the NFL's HQs in N.Y. was tuned to the inauguration. Haugh: "It was all inauguration, all the time. Obama-vision indeed" (L.A. TIMES, 1/21).

LeBron James Took In Tuesday's Inauguration
With His Two Sons From Hotel Room In L.A.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Celtics Managing Partner Steve Pagliuca and G Ray Allen attended yesterday's swearing-in ceremony, and Pagliuca said, "We were right in the middle, about 150 yards away. We could see everything. It was a very emotional moment for Ray, and for myself as well. ... Both Ray and I at times were choking up during the ceremony" (BOSTON HERALD, 1/21). Rockets F Shane Battier, who was listening to the swearing-in ceremony while driving to the team's practice, said that he "was so moved he had to pull over to gather himself." Battier: "It gave me chills. It was mind-blowing" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/21). T'Wolves players wore suit jackets and ties for the bus ride to their game against the Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena last night, and T'Wolves G Randy Foye said, "Just show a little bit of unity within the team and show some respect for Obama being elected" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 1/21). Mavericks G Jason Terry said of the ceremony, "Just watching on TV was something that you wanted to be there and be a part of. It was crazy. I've never witnessed anything like that in my life. I feel like I'm a part of history" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/21). Flames RW Jarome Iginla said, "It's pretty amazing. It's a special day in history to see how many people came out and how many people are excited" (CALGARY SUN, 1/21).

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