Monday, February 20, 2012

POTUS and the Pitch

Once a year America dedicates a national holiday to the office of the presidency and those who have held the role of commander in chief over the last 250 years of our country's existence. Honestly, some of the big name presidents like Washington, Lincoln, etc have birthdays in February so it seemed fitting to pick this month where we don't have any other national holidays already. In lieu of our typical Monday Morning Keeper piece, we decided to take a quick look back at how presidents, past and present, and have been linked to soccer throughout the years.

Although the game has been in America for close to 150 years, none of the men who have held the presidency have ever played soccer behind a youth or high school level. A bit of a surprise considering soccer is the most played youth sport in the country, that a president didn't make it to at least the collegiate level. Perhaps they were more focused on world diplomacy than the little while ball, but still other presidents excelled in sports such as Gerald Ford being drafted by the NFL before entering politics. President Obama might be the most active player, taking part in organized matches as a child growing up in Indonesia, but nothing beyond that level. The George H.W. Bush ("Senior") noted in some interviews that he took part in the sport as a child, but mostly just kicking the ball around with friends; this perhaps makes him the first president to take part in the game at any level.

Several of the children who have grown up in the White House have taken part in youth soccer. Chelsea Clinton played while in middle school and high school when attending school in DC during her father's 8 years in office. Both Sasha and Malia Obama are currently active in youth soccer programs through their respective schools and the president tries to make it out to their matches as often as possible.

Although we can't claim a "Soccer President" all to ourselves, there are several key political figures who have played the game at a colligate level. Former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs was the starting goalkeeper at NC State from 1990 to 1992, putting him as one of the highest ranked officials with legitimate soccer credentials. How about Jon Stewart? Host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central (and our pick for president any day), Stewart played soccer at William & Mary College in Virginia and he still continues to work in the occasional soccer reference on his show.

President's who were otherwise uninterested in the sport still played a vital role in its growth in America. Ronald Regan sent a personal letter to the head of FIFA demanding that the United States earn the right to host the tournament in 1994. He later invited the FIFA President to the White House for a state dinner which was considered to be the key move that help secure the World Cup for the US. Since Regan's move, the next four presidents have all been involved with promoting the game whether through support for Olympic, national team, or world cup bids. The winners of the MLS Cup have been hosted by the president at the White House just like all the other professional sports in America.

So although we still have not elected our first president with a strong soccer background the history is there and it is growing. Thanks to all the men who have served our country as POTUS and all those men and women that will serve in the future... and may they put in a pitch on the South Lawn!


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