Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Sports

When pro sports and politics cross paths

tom jones' two cents

The Republican National Convention comes to town this week at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the Lightning. So it got us thinking about how sports and politics occasionally cross paths. Here are just a few of our favorite or most memorable political/sports moments.

We are the champions

The first World Series winners to visit the White House were the Washington Senators, but it's an odd story. The Sens won the 1924 Series. But President Calvin Coolidge was not a baseball fan and had no interest in meeting the team. However, being a good politician, Coolidge learned fans in D.C. wanted the president to honor the team. So he met with the Sens after they won the 1925 American League pennant (and before they lost the Series in seven games to the Pirates).

Best pitch

While many presidents have thrown out ceremonial first pitches, there isn't a better one than George W. Bush's before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. Just a few weeks after Sept. 11 and a few miles from ground zero, Bush stood defiantly and courageously on the mound at Yankee Stadium, gave a thumbs-up to the crowd and fired a straight-down-the-middle strike to give every American watching chills.

First pitch

The first sitting president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Major League Baseball game was William Howard Taft, who tossed a ball from the stands to Senators pitching great Walter Johnson in 1910. Taft was a huge baseball fan. He is the first president to attend a major-league game outside of Washington. (He saw a game in Pittsburgh.) He attended 14 games during his presidency, including going to two games in one day in St. Louis in May 1910.

Biggest regret

Pete Rozelle might be the best commissioner in NFL history. But Rozelle, who died in 1996, never forgave himself for what he said was his worst move as the NFL's leader. President John Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. Instead of postponing games as the rival American Football League did, Rozelle decided the NFL would play just two days later. Rozelle said the league should have shut down during one of the most mournful times in American history.

Stop on by

These days, it's commonplace for sports champions to visit the White House. But do you know which team was the first to be invited to meet the president? There are varying reports, but it's believed the Brooklyn Atlantics of the National Association of Base Ball Players visited Andrew Johnson just after the Civil War ended in 1865. The Atlantics were not a professional team. The first pro team to visit the White House is believed to be the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who met Ulysses S. Grant in 1869.

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Plenty of athletes have had second careers in politics. Pro wrestler Jesse Ventura became governor of Minnesota and bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger governor of California. Two former NBA players are currently big city mayors, Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, Calif., and Dave Bing in Detroit. Many sports stars have become congressmen, including football's Steve Largent, J.C. Watts and Heath Shuler. Jim Bunning, who once threw a perfect game in the majors, was a senator from Kentucky. But our pick for the two best athlete-politicians are Jack Kemp and Bill Bradley. Kemp, the former Bills quarterback, was a longtime Republican congressman from New York and Bob Dole's running mate in 1996. Bradley, a star with the Knicks, served in the Senate for New Jersey for 18 years and made a run to become the Democrat's 2000 presidential nominee but lost to Al Gore.

 
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