Sunday, February 17, 2019

On Presidents Day: The American Presidency and Athletics

Presidents Day is an American holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. My students thought the U.S. just decided to "split the difference" between Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and George Washington's on February 22. Not true! According to the History Channel, Presidents Day was "originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington. 

The holiday became popularly known as Presidents Day after it was moved as part of 1971’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. While several states still have individual holidays honoring the birthdays of Washington, Abraham Lincoln and other figures, Presidents Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents, past and present." 

Though I have yet to see many Presidents Day celebrations or participate in such traditions, the website did note that, "A number of states also require that their public schools spend the days leading up to Presidents Day teaching students about the accomplishments of the presidents, often with a focus on the lives of Washington and Lincoln." I decided to join in the fun—in a way that speaks to Sports and Spirituality. Here's what I taught. I hope you enjoy.
At the George W. Bush Presidential museum in Dallas, TX
I learned 43's bicycle is known as Peloton One
Americans love sports. Make no mistake about it. We are a people that watch, play, monetize, import and export sports like no other. In "Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games," the late MLB commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote "It has long been my conviction that we can learn far more about the conditions, and values, of a society by contemplating how is chooses to play, to use its free time, to take its leisure, than by examining how it goes about its work." Such a belief led me to think about not the work of our Presidents—their politics and policies, political party or provisions—but rather about the sports they chose to play. How did these men use their free time and take leisure before, during and after their tenure at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. This is what I have learned!
There are a number of good websites that chronicle this topic! Here are but three of them

Oval Office Athletes: Presidents and the Sports They Played: In what is another History Channel resource, Patrick Kiger provides an excellent overview of the topic, replete with numerous links and images (in gallery). Ultimately it profiles eleven presidents and the sports that helped define them.

USA Today's The 10 most athletic presidents of all time ranks how each Commander in Chief (might) fare against the others. Though 44 played a different sport than 43, and in spite of the fact some might not consider bowlers great athletes, the competitive skill and success of each President is described! 
It's no secret that a number of Presidents are golfers and have strong ties to the game. The namesake of George H. W. Bush and the great-grandfather of George W. Bush was George Herbert Walker, who served as president of the United States Golf Association. The prestigious Walker Cup is named in his honor. Our current US President, Donald Trump owns 17 courses, the most famous of which is Trump Turnberry or Trump National in West Palm Beach. He has been criticized for the number of rounds he has played in office—a complaint that was extended to his predecessor, Barack Obama. Golf Digest suggests both grievances are warranted. Americans should know that George W. Bush did not play any golf after the events of 9/11. "I didn't like the message that would send to the American people," he told David Feherty, on his show. 

With such ties to golf, Golf Digest got in on the fun and wrote Which presidents were the best athletes? You might be surprised. I'd love to know who had the lowest handicap.
To compliment what I learned, I shared the videos interspersed in this posting with my students. I actually teared up when I revisited the clip 41 and 43 at the Ballpark in Arlington. It is hard for me to see how much change can take place in nine years time. The Saturday Night Sketch of Bill Clinton—the everyday jogger—had my students laughing so hard, they actually clapped at the end of Phil Hartman's impression. They loved Barack Obama's sense of humor and oratorical skills...and like so many of them, his love for the NBA.
I hope on this national holiday that you have the time to engage in sport, whether as a participant or a fan. It is a great day to give thanks for our freedoms, a great one which is the freedom to play and recreate. I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about the Presidency and Athletics. BTW: The White House has a tennis court, putting green, swimming pool, bowling alley and basketball hoop. Some good sports! God Bless America.

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