IN THIS INAUGURATION WEEK, I HAVE THREE WORDS OF advice for
President Bill Clinton. When some jock-sniffing aide suggests you
invite the Super Bowl winners to the White House, Just Say No! Don't
do it. Pocket veto, baby. Ignore, ignore, ignore. And that goes for
the NBA champs, too. (Michael Jordan wouldn't come anyway, the
ingrate.) Same for the Stanley Cup winners, the WBC heavyweight
titleholder, the NCAA women's volleyball champs, the Little League
World Series victors and all Olympic medalists in 1994 and '96. No,
no, a thousand times no.
The presidential gesture of honoring sports champions, if it was
ever anything more than a politically manipulative photo op, has long
since lost its sincerity. Let's put this unseemly ritual to rest.
Where is it written that a World Series ring brings with it an
automatic confab with the leader of the free world? Who started all
this nonsense, anyway? I'll tell you who started it. Richard Milhous
Nixon, who in 1971 believed that his nickname gave him license to
draw up one trick play for the Washington Redskins to use in a
playoff game and another one for the Miami Dolphins to take into the
Super Bowl. Ever since, there have been more jocks shuffling through
the Rose Garden than Carter's got peanuts. Wasn't it ol' smiley face
hisself who invited the entire 1980 Olympic team to the White House
as consolation for the Jimmy Carter-led boycott of the Moscow Games?
Come on in. Have a Billy Beer. But please check those javelins at the
Not to be outdone, Ronald Reagan, an erstwhile sportscaster, took
his role as the Great Communicator to extremes at World Series and
Super Bowl time. Whenever someone uncorked a bottle of champagne in a
locker room, the White House operator made the mandatory phone call.
Yes, Mr. President?
Congratulations. You won the big one for the Gipper, heh, heh.
Thank you, Mr. President. Did you watch the game?
No, I was taking a nap.
Did you know I once played Grover Cleveland Alexander in the
movies? Think you could use a fella like him next year?
Could he play football, sir?
Golly, I don't know. He was a fine pitcher.
Well, we just won the Super Bowl.
You did? Congratulations.
Thank you, Mr. President.
In what may have been the mother of all Oval Office photo ops, on
one day in 1987 Reagan pressed the flesh with members of the world
champion Minnesota Twins and later received a delegation of American
motorcyclists who had won the Motocross des Nations. The what?
Of course, things didn't really get out of hand until the preppy
first sacker, George Bush, decided to set the record for Most
Athletes Visiting the White House in a Four Year Term. He was the
first President to invite the Stanley Cup champions. Apparently swept
away by his North American Free Trade Agreement, he invited the
Toronto Blue Jays. The 1989 NCAA champion Harvard hockey team. The
University of Tennessee's 1991 national champion women's basketball
team. He was all set to invite The Westminster Kennel Club's best-
in-show until Millie put her paw down.
The worst instance came last summer after the Barcelona Games. So
many U.S. Olympians showed up at the White House that when rain
forced the festivities indoors, they wound up sprawled all over the
floor, eating hot dogs and Dove bars, trying not to drip on the
Dolley Madison sofas in the Red Room. Hot dogs and Dove bars? No
wonder Jordan wouldn't break a golf date for a visit to the Oval
Office. Horseshoes with the Prez doesn't provide half the action of a
$20,000 Nassau with automatic presses.
Any day I expect to see our former commander in chief on the Home
Shopping Network, hawking his Duke Blue Devil, San Francisco 49er,
Pittsburgh Penguin and Chicago Bull jerseys -- all with BUSH 1 on the
I implore you, President Clinton, don't fall into this nefarious
trap. Just because Bush was too busy packing to squeeze in
national champion Alabama before he left town, it doesn't mean you
have to make inviting the Crimson Tide to Washington one of your
first acts as President. Ask yourself: Would Harry S Truman approve?
Inviting sports champions to the White House is elitist, and it goes
against your populist image. And besides, since when does Nixon set
the standard for presidential behavior?
In the politically correct 1990s, how would it look next fall if
you invited the Atlanta Braves to visit the White House? What if, in
February 1994, you had to entertain a bunch of grown men known as the
Redskins? No good. The best thing you can do is make a clean break
from all this nonsense.
Frankly, you've got more important things to do than pose with a
bunch of pampered egotists who will secretly chafe at you for raising
their taxes. Now, if your beloved Arkansas Razorbacks happen to win
the NCAA basketball tournament and you feel like holding a White
House pig roast in their honor, that's different. Bring 'em on. Put
on one of those goofy hog hats, hang from a chandelier and yell
''Sooey!'' until it echoes through the halls of Hamelot. It's your
house, after all, and it could do with a little fresh air.