The 1972 Miami Dolphins were honored at the White House on Tuesday just 41 years after their win in Super Bowl VI. According to those present, 31 members of that undefeated squad enjoyed the proceedings but three didn’t even show up for reasons Will Leitch of Sports On Earth thinks are dumb. He joined Karen Given to explain.
KG: In Tuesday’s column titled “Pointless Grandstanding,” you called out the three Dolphins who snubbed President Obama: defensive lineman Manny Fernandez, offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg and center Jim Langer. Why?WL: I tried to make it as clear as possible in the column the idea that when any president calls you should go. I looked at times when Manny Ramirez and Pia Sundhage, who was the coach of the team U.S.A. women’s soccer team. They refused to go see President Bush. They were dumb, too. I want to make that very clear. It is a non-partisan idiocy to not go.
I feel like one of the great things about this, frankly, rather silly tradition of having teams come to the White House, it is really one of the things that really speaks to what is great about sports is you can give yourself this illusion of living outside the political bubble. It’s the one thing, generally speaking, that the president knows, everyone’s going to be pretty happy to be there.
Of all the drudgery things he must do throughout the day, this is a thing where he gets to put up a jersey and smile and make a very hackneyed joke about the team and then complain about how the Bears or the White Sox didn’t win. So I find it sad in this day and age that we can’t have this a thing where you can sit in a room with someone and say, “Hey, it’s amazing to me that I’m with the president, even if I disagree with him on everything.”
KG: Well, speaking of which, you write, “When the president invites you to the White House – even if he is actively trying to pass a law that says you personally are no longer allowed to eat cake, you stop what you are doing and you go.” Really? Because I am a huge fan of cake.
WL: Listen, that to me is why you rise above it. Whatever it is we might disagree on, he’s the president of the United States, and I’m a citizen of this country, and it would be bad if we made people go to the White House when they were invited – that would be something entirely different. I also reserve the right to say how silly that is. You know, these conversations with the president are 30 seconds that you will never forget, and he will never remember having gone through at all.
If the president were on the opposite side of me on every issue, and I got invited, I would not be able to look my family in the face when I got home and told them, “Oh, no. I didn’t go see the president because I’m mad about this issue, and I’m going to go post an angry blog comment about it.” So, you know it’s really a matter of decorum more than anything else – the notion that you can actually disagree with someone in a reasonable way without actually [saying], “I’m so disgusted by this person that I’m not going to share the stage with them.”
KG: What do you think of guys like NASCAR drivers Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick who all rejected Obama’s 2011 invitation for scheduling conflicts? Are they on your naughty list too?
WL: Certainly the life of driving around in circles is a busy one. Short of like my actual wedding or illness – it’s hard to think of anything – even when it came to the wedding, I think my wife would understand that the president just called and said, “Hey, I’m going to give you this plaque and get your picture taken with me.” I would like to think such things could be scheduled around. I do think maybe that’s a step better. I don’t know. Maybe not. Maybe that actually is a bit more cowardly in a way. If you’re really not going to see the president for philosophical reasons, you should at least say it. I think you’re dumb, but you should at least have the wherewithal to say it.
KG: Now that the Will Leitch has weighed in, any chance we’ll see an end to athletes who stay at home while their teammates shake hands with the leader of the free world?
WL: I’m sure I have shaken them to their very foundation. I’m sure that those three Dolphins – after patting themselves on the back and feeling wonderful about the move them made – read my column and were like, “My gosh, this guy was right.” If you look at the comments under my column, it is clear that it has in no way been taken as a political column at all. And everyone’s been very reasonable. No, everyone’s having the same partisan fights they do in every comments section under every story ever. So I feel like my column was not only proof of my theory but also its refutation.