SBD/March 1, 2012/Sports in Society

President Obama Talks About Being A Sports Fan In The White House With ESPN's Simmons

Obama said "SportsCenter" is the one thing his wife allows him to control
Grantland.com this morning posted an interview that site Founder Bill Simmons recently conducted with President Obama at the White House that touches on various sports issues. Simmons asked, “How do you have time to follow sports when you have the busiest job on the planet?” Obama: “I don’t watch network news or cable news, so in the morning when I’m working out with Michelle, it’s on ‘SportsCenter.’ This is the one thing she allows me to control is ‘SportsCenter.’” Obama said he tends to stay up until midnight or so “reading stuff, and every once in awhile I’ll sneak in a ballgame as I’m reading my briefings.” Obama noted he has “NBA League Pass” on his iPad, but “I’ve got to pay for it myself.”

LOOKING AT THE LOCKOUT: Simmons asked Obama how close he came to "interceding” during the NBA lockout. The president said, “I just had to assume that at some point they’d work it out. My whole theory, it’s the same way with the NFL lockout. If you've got billionaires on one side and millionaires on another, you guys can figure out how to divide some money up, and ultimately they did. And it was the right thing to do." He added, "What’s been encouraging is to see how fast the sport has bounced back. With Jeremy Lin and the Heat and all the unbelievable young players that are out here right now, I think this sport is as popular as it’s ever been. But I think it’s real important for professional athletes and sports owners to just remember you got a whole bunch of folks out here -- all across the country -- who invest so much in their teams, and they don’t begrudge these guys making millions of dollars, or the owners making gazillions of dollars. Most of them very rarely can they afford to buy a ticket to go to an actual game. All they ask is don’t be so selfish about it that you’re not looking out for your fans and if folks involved in professional sports remember that, that the reason they’re making money is because some hardworking guy out there is rooting for them and paying attention to them, then usually we should be able to sort these things out.”

A REAL FINE PLACE TO START: Obama has long expressed his desire for a playoff system in college football, and he said, "I hear there’s talk that they’re going to at least start maybe with a four-team playoff." Obama: "I’d rather see it eight teams, but four is a good place to start. I think that gets us on the right trend. Nothing’s more frustrating than at the end of the season, nobody knows who won. And what, there’s some poll? Coaches make a decision? Nobody knows what that means because part of what makes sports great … is every once in awhile something happens during the playoffs that shows the character of a team.”

SWEET HOME CHICAGO: Obama is an acknowledged fan of most Chicago pro teams, and Simmons asked, “Over the last five years, how many times have you envisioned welcoming the world champion Chicago Bulls to the White House?” Obama: “Every year, and it hasn’t happened yet, but it will happen.” Simmons replied, “It will happen? You’re like Joe Namath: You’re guaranteeing it.” Obama said casually, “Well, I’ve got another five years here.” Laughing, Simmons said, “You’re guaranteeing that, too?” Obama: “Somewhere along the line my Bulls are going to come through here.” Simmons said, “I think you’ve set the record already for most championship teams that have been welcomed into the White House, or you’re approaching the record. What was your favorite anecdote from when these championship teams come?” Obama said his favorite moment came when the '85 Bears, who won Super Bowl XX, visited, as they had "never gotten acknowledged." The team's appearance was scheduled for the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded in '86, and it was never rescheduled. Obama: “To see how much they appreciated it, how much they had wanted that acknowledgment, it was a lot of fun. And Ditka couldn’t have been more gracious. Everybody just had a great time, and we had a whole bunch of Bears fans here. That was probably as good as it gets.”

TAKING THE MOUND: Simmons asked about throwing out the first pitch at MLB games, and Obama said the experience is “completely stressful.” Obama: “You’ve got to wear this bulky vest, and what happens is they just hand you the ball. They say, ‘Here,’ and you walk up. If you had three tries, you’d be fine. You’d throw a fast strike somewhere in there. But if it’s that first ball, each time I go up there my thinking is, ‘Alright, I’m just going to blaze this thing in,’ and then I’m thinking, ‘Man, if I throw a grounder that’s going to be a problem.’ So then I end up kind of lofting it up a little bit.” Simmons said, “I do feel like it’s a weirdly important thing to have your president be able to come out and throw a half-decent first pitch.” Obama said, “The mythology of sports, it's deeply embedded in us. ... For all our differences politically, regionally, economically, most folks understand sports, partly because it’s one of the few places where it’s a true meritocracy. There’s not a lot of BS. Ultimately, who’s winning, who’s losing, who’s performing, who’s not. It’s all laid out there” ("The B.S. Report," ESPN.com, 3/1).

TWITTER REAX: The National Post's Bruce Arthur wrote on his Twitter account, "It's actually a really good interview. And Obama doesn't come off like a guy pretending to know about sports." SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote, "Thought Simmons did a nice job here. And POTUS clearly loves sports." Fox Sports contributor Scott Sawitz wrote, "Loved the interviews with the President ... might be the best I've heard. No b.s, no pandering, just discussion." Bleacher Report's Dan Levy wrote, "So Simmons talked to Obama about teams coming to the White House and Tim Thomas' name never came up? A Boston guy? That's where I check out."
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