POTUS loves sports

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A few hours before President Obama stepped to the mound at the Major League Baseball All-Star game in St. Louis Cardinals territory, a sports analyst told me there was no way he’d wear his White Sox gear. 

But that’s exactly what he did, another demonstration that Obama is an unabashed, fervent fan of all things sports.

It’s not just baseball he loves — asked last week about news reports from abroad he’ll attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the president even offered a pun: “That’s my goal.” 

I’ve been noting this on Twitter for months using the tag #potuslovessports, but finally pulled together all of the examples of the Obama obsession for a story in today’s paper:

From making March Madness bracket picks in the White House Map Room to thanking Russians for Washington Capitals hockey star Alex Ovechkin, President Obama is embracing his role as America’s No. 1 sports fan.

He plays basketball and golfs most weekends, and he’s hosted nine sports teams from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Columbus Crew soccer champions at the White House since taking office in January - a record-setting pace.

“The passion that Obama has is on the extreme side and shared by only a small handful of presidents,” said Marc Ganis, a sports analyst and president of Chicago-based SportsCorp Ltd.

Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm goes beyond the usual photo-op. He knows his facts and he loves his Chicago teams - pro basketball’s Bulls, pro football’s Bears and big league baseball’s White Sox.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama was in the sports spotlight again, throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis and trading quips with Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck - including an insult to the Washington Nationals’ lousy season.

Read the full story here.

I had fun reporting the story, interviewing John Sayle Watterson, author of “The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency.” He gave me all kinds of historical details that didn’t make the final cut.

Among them:

Herbert Hoover used to gather Cabinet members to play a game he called “Medicine Ball,” sort of like volleyball, every morning on the White House south lawn at 7:30 a.m. with few exceptions.

According to Watterson, President Teddy Roosevelt was an avid athlete - from hunting and tennis to wrestling and jujitsu. “He was the first president to really engage in sports in a major way and used sports to shape his image,” the author said. 

Sports Corp.’s Ganis noted there were some fervent fans — President Nixon would send Redskins Coach George Allen suggestions for plays — but former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton rarely “did the sports thing” beyond photo opportunities. 

This president knows his stuff — Obama has long said he prefers ESPN’s sports center to political cable shows. 

At one point his NCAA bracket (he accurately picked University of North Carolina as the winner) was a featured item at WhiteHouse.gov. He’d given ESPN the exclusive interview and filled out the bracket in the Map Room from memory. Obama also has been vocal advocating for a change to college football tournament system. 

Obama watches the games intensely, hosting a SuperBowl party at the White House for members of Congress, joining friends for the NBA All Star game and predicting the Los Angeles Lakers would win the championship in six games (it only took five). 

Further making my point yesterday, before heading to the midwest for a speech on community colleges, Obama made time in his day for another sports star as tennis great Serena Williams visited the Oval Office. 

The White House also posted video of Bob Costas interviewing Obama:

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs uses baseball, soccer and football references on a regular basis, and even a technological gaffe implicated the sports-loving Obama team — one day the White House live stream played ESPN

Wizards player Etan Thomas has been spotted at the White House and is rumored to be playing with Obama, who has retrofitted the tennis courts into an outdoor basketball court. 

In May when honoring UNC, he reminded the players that he’d chosen them for the bracket and said he needed to work on his jump shot. 

This week after paying tribute to the champion Columbus team, the president fumbled a signed soccer ball on his way back to the Oval Office. 

Bush’s first year in office included similar events, from the University of Oklahoma football and softball teams to hosting the first, second and third-ever White House tee-ball game for youngsters, according to events compiled by Mark Knoller of CBS News. 

Knoller, the unofficial White House historian, noted that Bush threw the first pitch during Game 3 of the New York Yankees versus the Arizona Diamondbacks World Series, just weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

He later honored the Diamondbacks at the White House for their victory.

Here’s Obama’s basketball court:

 

— Christina Bellantoni, White House correspondent, The Washington Times

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Christina Bellantoni

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