President Obama seems to have stepped into quicksand with his telephone call to the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles praising the decision to hire Michael Vick. Among animal lovers (a very substantial voting bloc -- perhaps even rivaling football fans), Vick remains anathema. It is one thing to get drunk and do something bad, but torturing dogs for fun suggests a deepoer disturbance, a kind of brokenness it is hard to imagine healing.
Obama's praise was related to the notion of giving criminals "a second chance," but in the LA Times:
Bill Smith, the founder of Main Line Animal Rescue in the Philadelphia area, bristled at Obama's characterization that the Eagles' signing of Vick was motivated by wanting to give a convicted felon a second chance.
"If he couldn't throw a football, he wouldn't have had a second chance," said Smith, who organized a campaign last season to collect food for animal shelters every time Vick was sacked on the field. "This isn't about giving anyone a second chance; it's about who can make the Eagles organization more money."
Vick's appalling crimes put him outside the norm for sports criminals. Most sports criminals hurt themselves, and it usually costs them their careers. We are accustomed to sports figures using drugs, abusing spouses, gambling and assorted other sordid activities. We're not accustomed to sports heroes torturing and murdering animals for fun and profit, but that's what Michael Vick confessed to doing, and for which he served time. [....]
Obama did not call up the owners of, say, the Texas Rangers to congratulate them for giving Josh Hamilton a second chance. Hamilton led that team to its first World Series appearance in its history. But Hamilton made some bad choices in life, and had his early MLB career derailed by drug and alcohol addiction. The Rangers took a chance on him and it paid off: He was brilliant at the plate in the 2010 American League playoffs, to the point that the New York Yankees wouldn't even pitch to him in the ALCS. Where was President Obama's call to Nolan Ryan, congratulating him for giving Hamilton a second chance?
The fact is, pro sports teams extend second and third and fourth chances to star athletes all the time, as long as those athletes still show the potential to win. [...]
President Obama's weighing in on Vick, particularly given Vick's crimes, make it seem as if the quarterback's skin color is more important to the president than the crimes he committed.
Tevi Troy, writing on Real Clear Sports, reminds us of the sorry history of presidential butting into football, which he calls the "cardinal presidential mistake of weighing in on or commenting about football." Previous blunderers have included Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and most especially Richard Nixon:
Nixon's poor judgment in sending failed football plays to Washington Redskins coach George Allen prompted the columnist Art Buchwald to write "If George Allen doesn't accept any more plays from Richard Nixon, he may go down in history as one of pro football's greatest coaches."
And in 1969, Nixon handed University of Texas coach Darrell Royal a plaque after his team defeated Arkansas and completed an undefeated season. The problem was that Penn State also went undefeated that season, and the national title, which was decided by the AP and UPI polls in those pre-BCS days, went to the Longhorns. Penn State fans have forever blamed Nixon for Texas finishing No. 1 that year. Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno was so bitter that, years later, he publicly wondered, "How could Nixon know so little about Watergate and so much about football?
Another time that Texas football discomfited a president was in the same year, when Royal asked ex-President Lyndon Johnson to help recruit five African-Americans to play for the Longhorns, despite their less than stellar record on race relations. Johnson flew from his ranch to visit the five at the LBJ library in Austin, but none of the players joined the Longhorns, despite Johnson's legendary persuasiveness.
Fellow Texan George W. Bush was also a football fan, and liked watching NFL games with his National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In 2002, when watching a playoff game between Miami and Baltimore, Bush choked on a pretzel and fell forward, bruising his face. The incident provided endless material for the late night comics, including this gem from Jay Leno: "All this time we were worrying about Osama bin Laden, turns out he was almost done-in by Mr. Salty."
My own take is that Obama was undone -- as usual -- by his overweening arrogance. In his mind, it is his job to provide moral guidance to all Americans. Almost certainly he views the plight of African American men with criminal records as a serious hindrance to achieving "racial justice," and saw an opportunity in Vick to instruct whites in the virtue of ignoring any qualms over hiring people with criminal records, thinking reflected in advocates of prohibiting employers from checking criminal records and credit histories.
Update - Michael Harlin writes:
The Obama sports curse and Rush Limbaugh -- Vikings 24, Eagles 14
That Rush Limbaugh really makes me laugh. For the last two years he has pointed out the "Obama sports curse." It seems that nearly every time President Obama calls up a sports team before a big game, whether college or pro, that team loses.
My son emailed me this last weekend proposing we bet on the Vikings v. Eagles game. I allowed him to pick and he selected the Eagles. I thought "oh great" and wondered if he would give me some time to pay the bet. But, I had forgotten Rush's observation of the Obama sports curse.
Obama had called the Eagles owner yesterday before the game, congratulating him on giving Quarterback Vick a second chance to play NFL football after Vick's conviction for animal cruelty two years ago.
And what happens? The Obama sports curse took effect: Vick fumbles, throws interceptions and his front line gives up....what was it....six or seven sacks and causes the Eagles to loose to the otherwise hapless Vikings 24 to 14.
My son and I will bet the Superbowl this year as we always do. We are both hoping that the President will not call either of our teams before the game.