- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Although he had medical problems throughout his life, President John F. Kennedy was an avid sportsman who always projected an image of vigor. As America remembers JFK on the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, The List takes a look at President Kennedy and his love of sports.

  • 10. Cover boy — President-elect Kennedy was on the cover of the Dec. 26, 1960, Sports Illustrated. In the magazine, he wrote an article on the importance of exercise and participating in sports and physical activity, particularly among young people. He ended the article by writing, “We do not want our children to become a generation of spectators. Rather, we want each of them to be a participant in the vigorous life.”
  • 9. Meeting the champ — In 1962, President Kennedy met reigning world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson at the White House to help bring attention to the Big Brother program, a youth mentoring program (now called Big Brothers Big Sisters). Kennedy boxed while at Harvard in the 1930s. At that time, boxing was required of every undergraduate.
  • 8. On the links — President Kennedy went to great lengths to keep his love of golf a secret and tried to avoid being photographed on a golf course. Golf was considered a game of the elite, and he did not want Americans to be reminded of his privileged upbringing, particularly during the 1960 campaign. Kennedy was nearly as good as a professional golfer, and even had his White House photographer shoot a film of his golf game. He intended to invite Arnold Palmer to the White House to watch the film and critique his game after he got back from Dallas in November 1963.
  • 7. Out with friends — President Kennedy went skeet shooting with novelists Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1958. At Camp David in May 1963, Kennedy went skeet shooting with Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and actor David Niven.
  • 6. Getting in shape — President Kennedy was a firm believer in physical fitness. He reorganized the President’s Council on Physical Fitness by getting civic groups and ordinary citizens involved in helping improve the fitness of all Americans. He named University of Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson as chairman of the council, which started running public service announcements encouraging Americans to exercise.
  • 5. Helpful skill — President Kennedy was a swimmer in high school at Choate Rosemary Hall and was a champion swimmer on the Harvard varsity swim team. While in the Navy during World War II, he also took a course on swimming survival. In 1943, after his PT boat was sunk by a torpedo, his swimming skills allowed him to save his crew. He rescued one member of his crew by towing the strap of the man’s life jacket in his teeth while swimming three miles to an island. Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, as well as the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the accident.
  • 4. Anchors aweigh — President Kennedy attended the Army-Navy college football game in 1961 and 1962. Having been a naval officer, he greatly enjoyed the game and began the tradition of the president performing the pre-game coin toss. The 1963 game, which was scheduled for Nov. 30, 1963, initially was canceled because of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since Jacqueline Kennedy believed the game would be a fitting tribute to her husband, the game was rescheduled a week later. Navy prevailed 21-15.
  • 3. Playing catch — President Kennedy played wide receiver for the junior varsity football team at Harvard. Throughout his political career, he was frequently photographed or seen in home movies playing touch football with his family. Forty-eight hours after Kennedy’s assassination, Pete Rozelle, the commissioner of the NFL, made the decision to go ahead and play the seven contests that were scheduled for that Sunday. Although none were televised, Rozelle’s decision, which he later said he regretted, remains controversial to this day.
  • 2. Enjoying the national pastime — While he was in school, President Kennedy played baseball. He was a right-handed pitcher and third baseman. As president, he attended the home openers of all three Washington Senators games, where he threw out the first pitch. He also attended and threw out the first pitch of the 1962 All-Star Game which was played in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, he stayed through the end of each baseball game.
  • 1. On the seas — President Kennedy particularly enjoyed sailing throughout his life. Although he sailed many boats, his favorite was his 26-foot sailboat, the Victura, which his parents gave him as a gift for his 15th birthday. While at Harvard, he and his older brother, Joe, won the McMillan Cup Regatta, the oldest collegiate sailing event. In 1962, he attended the America’s Cup in Newport, R.I. On the evening of Nov. 21, 1963, President Kennedy stayed at the Rice Hotel in Houston, before heading to Dallas. The next day, as the staff was cleaning his room, they found a piece of hotel stationery in a trash can with a drawing of a sailboat that looked very similar to the Victura.

Sources: “Floyd Patterson: The Fighting Life of Boxing’s Invisible Champion” by W.K. Stratton; Harvard Gazette, Time magazine, Golf.com, Yachtpals.com, International Star Class Yacht Racing Association, Gorevidalnow.com, pinkpillbox.com, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Fitness.gov, The Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Harvard University, Ledyard (Conn.) Patch, U.S. Navy, “The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game” by John Feinstein, Baseball Almanac and the Houston Chronicle.