Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sports Society

I am no fan of unnecessary formality but I tend to notice when reasonable boundaries are thoughtlessly breached. As was the case earlier today.

On my morning commute, I tuned into the sports news and learned that the Los Angeles Lakers visited the White House on a road trip to the east coast. The sportscast played a couple of snippets from interviews with the players and one of the comments really struck me.

In an interview taped prior to the team's visit to the White House, one of the players was asked what he was most looking forward to. He responded that among the many exciting opportunities in the nation's capital, he was "most looking forward to meeting Barrack".

I realize that we idolize athletes in our society and allow them to break the rules so consistently, and from such a young age, that many of them grow up and remain completely unaware of the notion that rules really exist. But have they really internalized a level of self-importance that places them on a first name basis with the President?

I don't think their coach would refer to the President on a first name basis, nor do I think the team owner would do so. I acknowledge that there is no harm in this and that obsequious formality should be avoided when possible. I was just taken aback that an athlete, when interviewed by the media, would presume such equality with what is perhaps our most respected office.


  1. I find it very understandable that an athlete, or another celebrity for that matter, would refer to the President by his first name. Unfortunately, today's President is more of a celebrity than he is a world leader. I'm not downplaying his leadership role at all, or suggesting he is a poor leader for our country, but he appears to have more of a celebrity status than any political face should have. Wasn't he on an ad billboard in Times Square? What about this entire line of memorabilia with his face on it? I think when you sell yourself and your image, you take on more of a celebrity role, and a little bit of the commanding respect one might expect of a world leader is diminished.

  2. World leaders are the ultimate celebrities. They historically clear squares in the center of town and erect large statues of themselves to cultivate that status. If Obama appeared in an ephemeral ad among the 10,000 images at Times Square, I think he can be forgiven.

    Some complained that Clinton was too Hollywood (he hosted SNL) but he was one of the most effective world leaders in modern history. Reagan was the ultimate celebrity, as he conquered the silver screen prior to entering politics, yet he is also regarded as a highly effective world leader. Kennedy dated Marylin Monroe and hung out with Frank Sinatra – he was a pretty effective leader. Most of this went down before Jarek was old enough to pay attention so he can be forgiven but I think he may be listening to too much Republican rhetoric.

  3. I agree - my point was not that Obama is a poor leader because he is a celebrity, nor was it that Obama is the first President to have celebrity status (though I think he has more of a celebrity status than other Presidents).

    In fact I think he is doing as good a job, if not better than anyone else, given what he walked into. My point was that when you sell yourself Hollywood style, you lose a little bit of that formality with fellow celebrities (which is not a bad thing). He is a great leader and a fantasic public speaker. At times during his speaches he almost comes across as if he's talking with just a few of his friends in a room, and I think that is great, it allows people to connect with him. But as such, you're going to find a lot of people feeling SO connected to him that they're going to call him by his first name (almost as if they forgot he's the President). I did this in college. I connected really well with my Dean - we stayed in touch on a regular basis and had a very friendly relationship. I'd catch myself at times saying "I was talking with Pat yester...I mean, Dean Oles, and he..."

    Celebrities connect with him on a celebrity level, fellow world leaders/politicans connect with him on a world leader level. So perhaps having a celebrity refer to him by his first name is a good thing, it shows how good of a job he is doing at connecting with his fellow Americans. If we find other world leaders doing it, then we should probably question his credibility as a President.

  4. Good point about how other world leaders address the President. I knew things were bad when they started referring to our last guy as "little bush".

  5. I agree with Jarek's second comment. In house first name basis is a good sign: Honest Abe, I Like Ike, Teddy. We don't informally refer to those we don't like. Well, unless they cut us off in traffic: pal, buddy, grandpa, etc.