Presidential connections in sports

Commentary

News of the passing of George H.W. Bush at the age of 94 has filled the newspapers and airwaves in recent days, with political pundits and world leaders remembering the 41stPresident of the United States for his admirable character and incredible accomplishments throughout a lifetime of service.

Among the many loves in his life was the sport of baseball. He captained the Yale University team to an appearance in the first College World Series in 1947. And according to Baseball Almanac threw out the first pitch at a major league game eight times during his presidency, including the distinctions of being the first President to do so in Canada, and the first to do it from the pitcher’s mound.

When asked once by an Associated Press reporter why he loved the sport, President Bush’s answer was simple: “It’s just got everything.”

It should be no surprise that the President described by so many in recent days as a consummate gentleman, with words like fairness and integrity, spent so much of his youth on a baseball field, and so much of his life loving the gentleman’s game.

It’s also no surprise that many presidents have participated in athletics, and some at a very high level:

President George W. Bush, formerly part of the ownership of the Texas Rangers, played baseball at Yale like his father; he’s also an avid cyclist who hosts an annual mountain bike ride for members of the armed forces wounded in the war on terror.

President Kennedy was a swimmer and sailing champion at Harvard whose family famously played football on the lawn at the White House during his time in office.

President Ford played on two national championship football teams at Michigan and reportedly turned down NFL contracts to pursue a career in politics.

President Eisenhower played football at West Point, and even took part in a game against Carlisle and Jim Thorpe.

President Carter was known for his love of running, as President Obama spoke often of his passion for basketball.

These are just a few examples of athletic presidents, there are many others: presidents who have recognized the value of being part of a team and who have led achieving teams, in the sports arena and on the world stage.

Like many high-fliers across a wide range of industries and experiences, they can look back on their time as young people cultivating skills in their chosen sport, while also learning valuable leadership principles: work ethic, motivation, dedication, goal-setting, performing under pressure, overcoming adversity, and so much more.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden is credited with saying, “Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” The same has been said about the office of president.

While these historic figures loved their sports, they most certainly learned from them as well.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie @bedfordcountychamber.org.

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