The tweet scrolled across Channel 3’s coverage of President Obama’s visit to the Scenic City on Tuesday.
Sent by “WhitesiderZ12,” it read: “Great to have a visit from the POTUS … only thing better is if he has a UT Vols tie on.”
And that would have been better for a portion of the Tennessee Valley, we suppose. But this being a border town, it might also have risked alienating all those Georgia and Alabama fans in the area, as well as UT-Chattanooga’s Mocs Nation, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
So even though he made it clear “I’ve run my last campaign,” Obama hasn’t quit running the country or quit needing the country’s support to push through his vision for its future. Hence a neutral power-blue tie to focus his audience on his rolled-up white sleeves and snappy rhetoric as he outlined his “better bargain” for the middle class before 2,000 or more at the Amazon distribution center.
To show the seriousness of that address, the subject of sports never came up, which is fine, even welcome in today’s big picture, because for all of sports’ problems these days — PEDs, unncessary violence on and off the football field, NCAA unrest and the near-instant collapse of Roger Federer (a personal concern) — sports still should take a seat on the back of a very long bus when it comes to presidential priorities.
Still, this is a sports column, at least most of the time, and at some point down the road, Obama could find the time to reacquaint himself with sports.
And we’re not talking about his annual foray into March Madness, where he reveals his bracket to ESPN’s Andy Katz. His impact on Congress may be sketchy, but he’s already built some clout with college football. Remember his early interest in a major college playoff? That’s now a year away. Enough said.
Then there was his quote about wondering if he’d want a son to play football if he had a son because of the risk of head injury. That second concern was mentioned by SEC head of officials Steve Shaw at the league’s media days earlier this month as getting a least a few folks’ attention on the need to clean up the cheap shots.
But if he’s so inclined, the President shouldn’t stop there. Beginning with PEDS, he should weigh in on both the Baseball Hall of Fame and the NFL, if only because he can and because as a former political leader in Chicago, he has NFL and MLB interests as a fan.
First, when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs and the Hall of Fame, why not simply build a PEDs wing at Cooperstown? You get in the wing with or without admitting to doping. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Sammy Sosa. If you would have voted them in on their accomplishments alone, they’re in the PEDs wing. As for the main Hall, ask that their admission or denial be based on this simple question: Would their pre-PEDs work have earned them admission? In the case of Bonds and Clemens — who’s never tested positive for anything, it must be noted — the answer is YES! Regarding the others, perhaps not so much.
But at some point far into the future, if a new set of voters wishes to release the cheaters from their private wing to the main hall, hey, more power to them. And if you noticed the above paragraphs made no mention of Mark McGwire, well, that’s because I don’t believe he would have reached the Hall without the help of PEDs.
Beyond that, without that magical, medicine-marred summer of 1998 — when baseball badly needed the McGwire-Sosa duel at any cost to its integrity — I’m not sure anyone ever would have seriously considered him.
But should Obama desire to involve himself with sports at a later time, PEDs in the NFL is where he could do the most good. One quick stroll through any locker room or practice facility will convince you that something’s not normal with these guys. Too big, too strong, too fast. It’s not natural. Strongly enforce strict testing backed by severe fines and suspensions and you’d have not only a safer game but a far healthier retired player.
The NCAA also needs help, though with all respect, Mr. President, if you can’t get 535 elected officials to do what’s best for the country, it’s impossible to see you convincing 1,066 NCAA member institutions of similarly vastly different constituencies to agree to anything.
What is clear from your visit is that our divisions have become as strong and as deep as our common ground. Though former 3rd District Republican Congressman Zach Wamp’s presence at Amazon was welcome — if only to show there was always mutual respect on the Congressional basketball court between the two — it was embarrassing that no other state Republican star could place respect for the office of the presidency over personal disagreements with the man who currently occupies that office.
When Alabama coach Nick Saban spoke at Orange-addicted Athens, Tenn., in June, plenty of Tennessee Vols fans respectfully sat in the crowd. Would it have been so tough for Republican leadership to do the same Tuesday?
As he began his talk, marveling at the 300 orders Amazon ships every second at the height of the Christmas shopping season, Obama joked, “This is the North Pole of the South.” Then again, when you look at the problems we face on all fronts these days, including the sports world, Santa Claus might be the only guy skilled enough to fix this mess.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...