Last night the Dallas Cowboys beat the Detroit Lions in a wildcard playoff. Dallas had been losing for much of the game. Throughout the game, the TV cameras were pointing out that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was in the owner’s box with Jerry Jones, the owner of the team. When Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass to take the lead, the Dallas owner’s box went wild. After the Cowboys sacked and forced a fumble (which the ‘boys recovered) from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the final minute of the game, the occupants of the box erupted in elation. The scene above is what it looked like.
And as uncomfortable as it is to watch Jones gyrate and Christie try to get in on the group hug with all the awkwardness of an out-group high school girl, you can’t stop watching! There’s something riveting about this scene. You look at it and you think, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”
This scene is also a good occasion to remember to follow the basic rules of sportsing while politicking.
1) Never Be Seen Hugging Jerry Jones
This is the one that got Chris Christie in trouble last night. It’s actually totally awesome that Christie has the confidence to reject the teams his constituents root for (e.g. The Giants and The Eagles). That takes cojones and the way Christie leans into his awful sports allegiance would be admirable if we didn’t all suspect he was just trying to tap into a larger donor base or was doing it for some other political calculation.
But even if you’re going big with an unlikely allegiance, and even if you somehow decide to root for the — ugh — awful Dallas Cowboys for some unknowable reason, under no circumstances should you be caught on national television hugging notorious jackwagon Jerry Jones. This is something none of us can unsee. The fact that the establishment Republican elites have so lost interest in Christie that they’re making Jeb Bush (!) run in 2016 was bad news for Christie. But now normal people know he hugged Jerry Jones. As Hans Fiene wrote, “You can either be president or you can jumpy-jump side hug the most hated man in football. Christie made his choice tonight.” He added, “The belly rub is Christie’s Howard Dean ‘Yeeeeargh!’ moment.” It’s over.
2) Know Players On The Team You Claim To Love
When politicians try to pass as humans, they frequently claim sports allegiances, because this is something normal humans do. This leads to embarrassing moments such as when Obama couldn’t answer a basic question about his favorite White Sox players. Trigger warning: This is unbelievably painful to listen to. We’re talking Curb Your Enthusiasm-levels of discomfort:
Or remember that time in 2010 that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley suggested that Curt Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher, was a Yankee fan? You don’t have to be a Red Sox fan or from Massachusetts to remember their 2004 series against the Yankees. Even though the Sox went on to beat my beloved Cardinals in the World Series, or maybe especially because they swept us in four games, I can admit that the ALCS was one of the best in history. Who could forget Schilling pitching his team to victory in Game 6 with his sock literally soaked with blood from the injuries that contributed to his awful outing in Game 1 of that series?
Anyway, Coakley, in a bid to demonize her opponent Scott Brown, noted he’d campaigned with Rudy Guiliani, a huge Yankees fan. Her interviewer pointed out that Brown also had Curt Schilling. “Another Yankee fan,” she somehow replied. It may have cost her the election.
Another good thing to keep in mind is that no one believes you when you claim that you are a lifelong fan of the sports team located in the place you happened to move to for nakedly political reasons. Who can forget Hillary Rodham Clinton’s completely hilarious claim that, “The fact is, I’ve always been a Yankees fan.” See, the team was coming to the White House and Clinton was running for Senate in New York so she invented a lifelong allegiance to the team. Katie Couric was interviewing her so instead of giving her the Sarah Palin treatment, we instead got a puffy interview about how Clinton had grown up as a Cubs fan but she had also been a Yankees fan since she “needed” an American League team.
But the fact no one believes anything uttered by either member of the Clinton marriage team has not been a barrier to their success so maybe you should invent lifelong allegiances. As a soon-to-be-coronated future president once said, “What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?”
3) When Using A Sports Team For Political Gain, Know Where They Play
Back in the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry campaigned in such an awkward fashion that he would eventually make Mitt Romney look like a man of the people by comparison. In battleground Wisconsin, he accidentally referred to Lambeau Field as Lambert Field. And while the media helped him out by hiding this gaffe for weeks, it became such a stink in Wisconsin that even the Washington Post’s Jim VandeHei was forced to cover it (three weeks after it happened, but whatever).
You can’t always count on completely obsequious media coverage, even if you’re a Democrat running against George Bush. So be prepared.
4) Practice Your Sportsing
Now, many of us have horrible hand-eye coordination. I can’t hit or catch a ball to save my life. It’s humiliating. It’s embarrassing. That’s why if I were ever to be asked to sports in front of a crowd, I’d decline. You can do this even if you’re president. Maybe not a great example on account of it being Jimmy Carter, but Jimmy Carter never threw out a first pitch at a baseball game and that is not even on the list of top 100 reasons he was a horrible president.
But let’s look at these images:
And the results speak for themselves. In the only important piece of journalism ever done by the Washington Post’s WonkBlog, the crack team of researchers mapped out 30 ceremonial first pitches. George W. Bush pitched a perfect strike. Bill Clinton also did well. Now see if you can locate President Obama’s or Charlie Crist’s.
5) If You’re John Kerry, Lean Into Being John Kerry
So we’ve talked a lot about John Kerry’s trouble with American football. But you know that man enjoys his fancy sports activities. His handlers are always lying about whether he was on a yacht during major international crises. And why were his campaign handlers in 2004 trying to make him be a football person when he’s more of a fútbol person? This Secretary of State missed his calling. Sure, the world is burning, but all the pictures of Kerry these days show him to be a natural in soccer. See, he’s good at something! Check this out:
No one will ever understand why Democrats thought Americans would mysteriously forget John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam veterans testimony and believe him to be “reporting for duty” or whatever. And trying to pitch him as a football-loving American instead of a French-speaking soccer enthusiast was also probably a mistake. Wait, now that I’ve written this out I think I see why his campaign consultants did that. Scratch this rule.
6) It Helps To Love The Game
For all the phoniness that politicians of all parties are known for, it really is obvious who loves the game and who doesn’t. No one doubts that Rudy Guiliani is an insane Yankees fan. And speaking of the Yankees, wasn’t it delightful how bad they were last season? And no one doubts that George W. Bush’s love of baseball gave us one of the few bright spots in the days after mad men commandeered passenger aircraft and crashed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
I’m someone who always thought W. made a better Texas Rangers owner and will make a better MLB Commissioner than he was president but you have to have nuclear-grade levels of Bush Derangement Syndrome to not love his opening pitch at Game 3 of the post-9/11 World Series. This video is so inspiring it even includes a good Derek Jeter story. Seriously, Bush’s love of baseball is so genuine that it can make you slightly grin at this Jeter story.
7) Sports Are Not About You, So Don’t Make Them About You
Yeah, it’s nice when the president calls the locker room following a sports championship (although Lewis Grizzard hated that Reagan did it), but this quickly reaches a point of diminishing marginal returns.
I know that Obama has low approval ratings and so he’s going with the Nixon-at-NASCAR strategy or whatever, but the politicization of everything is getting tiresome. Obama’s done his NCAA brackets! Obama’s issuing a canned statement about Oregon player Marcus Mariota that ESPN is running during the Rose Bowl for some reason. Obama is doing a rambling call-in to ESPN radio about new NFL guidelines and Ray Rice! Obama’s weighing in on the name of the Washington Redskins! Obama’s telling us about his oft-mentioned imaginary son and how that imaginary son would not play football if he existed, which he doesn’t!
8) There Should Be No Crying And No Legislating In Baseball
And then there are the times politicians have literally tried to rewrite sports history. In 1999, members of Congress passed “commemorative” legislation in an attempt to posthumously clear Shoeless Joe Jackson of the infamous Chicago “Black Sox” scandal. Now there may not be solid proof that Jackson did participate in the effort to throw the 1919 World Series, but as Dan McLaughlin, a.k.a. “Baseball Crank,” lays out the facts there’s a whole lotta suspicious and inexplicable circumstances surrounding Jackson’s conduct. The passing of time, sports mythology, and the whims of lawmakers didn’t justify the legislation, pointless as it may have been. Maybe this was the kind of law you’d expect from Strom Thurmond, who was always on the side of an underdog — especially when those underdogs have crooked hind legs. It also helped that Jackson was a South Carolinian and Thurmond was never one to pass up a chance to service his constituents in ways far more literal than screwing over the integrity of America’s pastime. But Fritz Hollings, Tom Harkin, John McCain, and NFL-great-turned-congressman Steve Largent all sponsored the legislation along with Thurmond, and all of them should have known better.