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Volume 24 No. 156

Sports in Society

The 12 NASCAR drivers who made last season's Chase for the Sprint Cup have been invited to visit President Obama at the White House today, but four drivers will not attend due to "scheduling conflicts," according to Andrew Malcolm of the L.A. TIMES. Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards said that the invitation “came late, which is standard White House protocol.” Biffle today is “required to appear in Minneapolis” at an event for sponsor 3M. Biffle said that he “has a photo in his office of himself and Obama shaking hands, and that there's no presidential disrespect intended by blowing off the White House this time.” Stewart said that he also “would have rescheduled other events if he could, which he can't, so he won't” (, 9/6). Biffle Friday said, "I saw some comments that we rejected the invitation. To me, that's not what we did. Rejecting means, 'No, I don't want to go. I'm not going to go. You can't make me go.' That's rejecting. Having a conflict and not being able to participate is something different." Stewart said, "Trust me, if we could be there, we'd definitely be there. I've always viewed it as an honor just to get an invitation to go. I've enjoyed every trip every time I've gone there. I've learned more and more about it. And it's [a] pretty cool feeling to be with [the] most powerful man in the world. That's not an invitation we take lightly." Jimmie Johnson on Twitter wrote, "Regardless of political views, when (president of the United States) sends an invite and wants to honor you at the White House, you accept." The post was accompanied by a hash tag with the word "respect." Johnson noted that “some fans had complained about him accepting an invitation from Obama.” Jeff Burton, who is “thought to harbor future political ambitions as a Republican,” said, "I worked really hard to free up my schedule when I got the invitation because, to me, it's important for the president of the United States to invite NASCAR to come so he can honor us" (AP, 9/3).

POL POSITION: In Charlotte, Jim Utter wrote, “While I certainly think it’s to NASCAR’s benefit to have its drivers appear in such functions, forcing those to go who wish to maintain prior commitments sends an equally poor public relations message.” Utter noted although Edwards will miss today’s visit, he “actually makes at least four visits to the White House each year as a member of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.” Edwards said, “I think that’s blown a little bit out of proportion. I proudly serve on the President’s Council for Fitness Sports and Nutrition. I spend a lot of time with Secretary Sebelius and Shellie Pfohl and all the folks up there at the White House.” He added, “This is not only the busiest time of the year, this is about the busiest time of my life and the folks at the White House, I spoke with them. They understand and the NASCAR folks understand" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/4). In Orlando, George Diaz wrote, “No doubt that NASCAR has red-state roots, and President Obama isn't likely to find a lot of supporters among a small contingent of very rich guys who drive fast cars and appreciate whatever tax break they can get.” Diaz: “But as usual, there are two sides to this story. The White House didn't send out the invitations until recently. And yes, even NASCAR drivers have busy schedules. It's not as if they do nothing but eat Cheez Whiz until they get into a race car on weekends” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/5).

HOST WITH THE MOST: In Charlotte, Tim Funk noted the Bobcats and NFL Panthers may “play a role in helping Charlotte shine” when the city hosts the Democratic National Convention next year. Panthers Owner Jerry Richardson “made it clear he'd be a willing host if the president is looking for a place to give his acceptance speech.” Richardson said, "President Obama, I'm sure, will be making his speech in our stadium." Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx “offered yet another possible photo op for convention week,” suggesting a “friendly basketball game pitting Obama and former Duke basketball star Reggie Love -- a native Charlottean who's now the president's aide -- against” himself and Bobcats Owner Michael Jordan (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/4).