Political gameplan


Throughout U.S. history, sports have provided a way for politicians to connect with people.

During his presidency, George W. Bush has attended important sporting events the nation watched. This summer Bush made sure the U.S. presence was felt at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush threw out the first pitch during the World Series, saying America must continue to do the things that make us American.

“Sports can have a tremendous unifying effect on people,” UNF President and former Jacksonville mayor, John Delaney said. “During the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, people of vast political backgrounds huddled around New York City. During the World Series that year everyone seemed to become a Yankees fan.”

Politicians and coaches have often taken phrases from each other to better express their opinion.

“One of my favorite sports metaphors is the blitz,” Delaney said. “The word blitz is taken from the German battlefield term the blitzkrieg. Phrases like these help to establish a common understanding amongst the masses.”

During the race to the White House, candidates, fellow politicians and political analysts use sports phrases such as jockeying, playing field and team to convey their message.

“Sports are one thing most people can relate to and understand,” said Katelin Swift, UNF women’s soccer forward and Student Government senator. “It’s a good way to get people into what you are saying.”

A lot of what Americans value can be found in sports, Delaney said.

“Americans are inherently competitive and entrepreneurial, which are foundations of both sports and politics,” Delaney said. “Most Americans like to think of themselves as underdogs. That’s why we root for Cinderella teams and love movies like ‘Rocky.’”

President Delaney played several sports in his youth and was an Allstar catcher in Little League.  Delaney was also one of the people that helped bring the Jacksonville Jaguars into existense.

“Sports taught me the importance of teams,” Delaney said. “You can’t always win with one superstar; you have to work together as a team to accomplish your goals.”

Swift noticed politics and sports require similar preparation.

“In soccer, we have to practice to learn our plan, while also studying the other team’s plan,” Swift said. “It’s the same way in politics. Both [politics and sports] thrive on a competitive nature and the passion to do your job the best that you can.”

In terms of former athletes in American politics, the Republican party  is notorious for supporting more athletes as candidates, according to a 2006 article in Sports Ilustrated.

Today, athletes on the Republican side of the aisle range from Jim Ryun, the legendary distance runner and former member of Congress to Tom Osborne, the former coach of Nebraska football, who is also a congressman. So too was Oklahoma football star J.C. Watts. Michigan football star Gerald Ford also went on to the White House. High school wrestling and football coach Denny Hastert was former Speaker of the House, according to an article by the Hall of Fame Network.

But there have only been a few athletes on the left side of politics.  Former New York Knick Bill Bradley is the most notable after running for president in 2000.

President Nixon said, “I don’t know anything that builds the will to win better than
competitive sports.”

E-mail John Weidner at [email protected]