President Bush can't seem to win over athletes

Mike Royko avB

October 29, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

I AM SHOCKED and appalled by the failure of the nation's sportswriters to be shocked and appalled by another example of disrespect by an athlete toward the White House.

As many of you will recall, many sports commentators went into a tizzy when Michael Jordan didn't join his teammates for a photo opportunity with President Bush.

They shrieked that by failing to show proper respect and awe for the president, he was getting too big for his britches as well as his Nikes.

One hysteric babbled that Jordan should be fined by his employers and by the basketball league, and that he had created such ill feeling among his teammates that the coming season was already in ruins.

This theme was picked up by some super-patriotic readers who apparently believe that an invitation to a staged photo session in the White House has the legal weight of a subpoena to appear before a grand jury.

Some wrote or called to say they were certain that it was all a dirty Democratic plot: Jordan had been ordered by Jesse Jackson not to appear with his commander in chief.

Of course, this is part of the professional responsibility of sports commentators. They are sworn to uphold goodness, decency and fair play; to decide who should be in a hall of fame; and to declare whether some sports figure who just died should be mourned or have his grave spat upon. They bear a heavy intellectual burden.

So I'm surprised that they haven't uttered one word of condemnation against a young man who became one of the brightest new stars of sports this past summer.

I'm talking about John Daly, the stocky blond lad who smashes balls into orbit and amazed the golf world by coming from nowhere (actually, he's from Arkansas, which is almost the same thing) to win the PGA Championship, one of golf's grand slam tournaments.

Almost to a man (or woman and the other options), the sports commentators raved about what a fine young fellow Daly was: modest, homespun, good to his mom and dad, loyal to his hometown folk, his garments untainted by corporate logos, and the most refreshing, endearing character to burst upon the sports scene since Super Mario.

Shows what they know.

Only this morning, I was thumbing through the latest copy of Golf Digest Magazine when I came across a story about the remarkable Mr. Daly.

A portion of it dealt with how his sudden fame and fortune had brought him countless invitations to go here and there and to do this and that.

And a sentence jumped out at me: "He's turned down an invitation from the White House to attend a state dinner."

I called the White House to see if this could possibly be true. A press aide said:

"Yes, he had a scheduling conflict."

A scheduling conflict? At age 25, with nothing more to do than flog golf balls for a living, he had a previous engagement so urgent that he could not sit down and slurp soup with the President of the United States? And maybe give him a tip or two on how to cure his slice?

At least Michael Jordan had a partial excuse. He said that he had already met Bush when Bush was vice president, so except for the new job, Bush couldn't have changed much.

I don't know what has happened to the young athletes of this country. There was a time when they had respect for the highest office in the land.

As history tells us, Abe Lincoln once noted that Bubba Thunk had won the national rattlesnake stomping championship, so Lincoln invited young Thunk to dinner at the White House. Thunk rode a mule all the way from Missouri to Washington and not only dined with the president and other dignitaries, but provided after-dinner entertainment by successfully stomping 11 out of 12 rattlers. Unfortunately, the 12th nipped him and he passed away on the ballroom floor. His last words to the president were: "Thanks for the grub." I'd tell you the name of the history book that's in, but someone borrowed it from my library.

Anyway, I tried to reach John Daly to demand an explanation for his snubbing the President, but he was out somewhere thumping balls.

However, I'm sure I know the answer. As I said, he is from Arkansas. And he also has a funny haircut. It happens that Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, a Democrat, wants to run against Bush. And Clinton has a funny haircut. (Actually, just about everybody in Arkansas has a funny haircut, so I'm not sure that is admissible evidence.)

So Clinton probably ordered him to stay away, fearing that an appearance by Daly would help Bush get the 300-yard-hitters voting bloc. If Jesse Jackson could do it, why not Clinton? Remember, Jackson isn't even a governor.

I hope the sports commentators take note of this infamous act. And if they can't howl that he be fined or deported, the least they can do is demand that when he hits a ball, nobody should yell: "You duh man."

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