In Joe Biden’s White House, sports and politics may retreat to their own corners

A REAL PERSONALITY, a 36-year career in the Senate and two terms as deputy speaker, Joe Biden saw athletes and sports as sources of virtue, upliftment and community. He feels that sport has given him the confidence to overcome his stuttering and at times has given a sense of healing to his family.

Like 46. President Biden’s sentimental approach to athletics and his promise to lead the nation across the political divide should help ease tensions between the White House and much of the sports world.

He will certainly appeal to sports stars and the sports community to get us back on track, as American Francis Biden, the president-elect’s younger brother, told ESPN. Joe Biden sees sports as one of the most important things that unite us as Americans, Francis said.

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But the deep divisions in the country, which predate President Donald Trump’s four years of using sports to bolster his political base, will put those aspirations to the test.

Trump has introduced an anomalous reality on sports into the presidency: This avid golfer regularly attends sporting events and this month awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 14 athletes, including Annika Sorenstam and Gary Player. But under Trump, the champions’ ceremonial visits to the White House went from a national honor to a decisive political test. Teams kept coming, but some athletes, including Golden State Warriors goalie Stephen Curry and soccer star Megan Rapinoe, said they would refuse to go. After the attack on the Capitol on the 6th. In January, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a longtime friend of Trump’s, refused the president’s Medal of Freedom.

In sometimes vulgar terms, Mr. Trump called on sports team owners to punish athletes who followed the behavior of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested social injustice by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. He has been arguing with sports fans on Twitter and falsely accusing Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only full-time black driver, of cheating after a noose was found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway.

Biden’s transition officials did not respond to ESPN’s requests for comment. But Young Biden told ESPN that the president-elect has a very different take on the athletes’ protests for social justice. There’s nothing he admires more, Francis Biden said of his brother. That’s what’s at stake. He’s putting his skin on the line. You’re risking your career. These guys are heroes.

Trump’s platforms provoked a strong reaction as stars threw their massive popularity behind political and social justice movements and used their social media platforms to berate the nation’s highest office holder. Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, perhaps the most prominent athlete in the country, once called the president a bum on Twitter.

At the same time, athletes who showed their support for the asset were vilified by the asset’s critics. They include Washington Nationals receiver Kurt Suzuki, who wore a red Make America Great Again cap during his team’s visit to the White House in 2019, and boxer Deontay Wilder, who traveled to the Trump White House to posthumously witness the embarrassment of the first black heavyweight world champion, Jack Johnson. Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients, including Viking legend Alan Page, Yankee star Mariano Rivera and golfer Tiger Woods, have been denounced in some circles for accepting Trump’s award.

Over the years, Trump has been a big sports fan. He played baseball in high school, owned the USFL New Jersey Generals and hosted boxing matches at his Atlantic City casinos. As president, he attended several college football games, at least one UFC game and was grand marshal of the 2020 Daytona 500, where he was warmly welcomed. But when Trump was spotted at the 5th game of the 2019 World Series in Washington, a large crowd booed him.

Today, even before Biden’s inauguration, there are signs of a thaw in the president’s relationship with sports, at least among those who criticize Trump.

Golden State Warriors striker Draymond Green and James celebrated Biden’s victory on Twitter. @KingJames you can go to the White House and celebrate your G-Title! The green tweet to James. James replied: Let’s go back, G!! I’ll take my tequila and wine too!

Curry, WNBA stars Sue Bird and Elena Delle Donne, and Magic Johnson Lakers icon Magic Johnson also shared holiday messages on social media. And the Nationals invited Biden to throw the first ceremonial pitch of the 2021 season. Trump was the first president not to throw the first MLB ball since William Howard Taft started the tradition in 1910 at a Senators game in Washington.

There have always been times when individual athletes and coaches have refused to go to the White House, but I think the tradition in general will be restored unless Biden uses his presidency to bridge the gap, said Joseph N. Cooper, a professor of sports leadership at UMass Boston and author of a forthcoming book tracing the long history of black activism in sports.

In 2010, Biden congratulated Connecticut players Tina Charles and Maya Moore (right) on their victory over Stanford in the 2010 NCAA women’s title game. Photos by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA/Getty Images

SPORT BIDEN saw sport as a refuge, a place where he could have fun, develop, surpass himself and gain the respect of his peers. He was small for his age and grew to six feet by the end of high school, but he made up for his height with speed and excitement. On the football field, he was known for his quick runs and long touchdowns.

He had good speed and was something of an absolute athlete, recalls Michael Fay, a Biden football teammate at Archmere Academy, a Catholic school in Wilmington, Delaware.

His classmates at Archmere called him Dash, not because of his ability to dodge in the field, but because of his stutter.

I was called Dash because I couldn’t keep up in class, Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep. It looked like Morse code. Period, period, period, period. Guys, shh shh shh shh shh shh!

Stuttering was a disgrace for as long as he could remember. But when he was embarrassed during his turbulent childhood and adolescence, he could always count on his athletic ability to pick it up.

To me, sports were as natural as talking is unnatural, Biden wrote. And sports turned out to be my ticket… and more. I wasn’t easily intimidated in the game, and even when I stuttered, I was always talking: Give me the ball.

The football team won 8-0 in their senior year at Archmer Academy in Delaware and took the conference title. Biden scored 10 touchdowns, many of them on long receptions. Thanks to Angela Peterman.

In 1960, in its final year, Biden’s football team posted a record of 1-6, another record in a string of years of defeat. There were only 19 guys on the team at the beginning of the year, so the new coach spent the lunch break strengthening his team. He was just looking for guys big enough to survive in football, Faye said.

Although the team and expectations are low, Archmere continues its season of storytelling, in which Biden plays a major role. The team won 8-0 and took the conference title. Biden scored 10 touchdowns, many of them on long receptions.

I threw 20 touchdown passes to Joe during our high school careers, said Bill Peterman, the Biden High School quarterback who went on to play at the Coast Guard Academy. He laughed and added: Joe caught 19.

Biden says a culture of victory has remained true to him. As vice president, he spoke at the opening of the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame for his former coach, E. John Walsh, in 2012. He challenged us to play the game the way you’ve lived your life, with passion and honesty, Biden said. No matter how good you are, the coach has always insisted that you are first and foremost a teammate.

After high school, Biden enrolled at the University of Delaware, where he hoped to play football and maybe even turn pro. But this dream only lasted a semester in freshman year, as he had to leave it to focus on his declining grades.

When my freshman year grades came out, my mom and dad told me I wouldn’t be playing football in the spring, Biden wrote in his book. At the 2018 memorial service for legendary Delaware State football coach Tubby Raymond, who led the Blue Hens after graduating from Biden, he spoke about the lessons he learned from football.

I remember the first time I stepped on the training field as a rookie and I was 18, he said. And it didn’t take long for me to realize that much more was expected of me and everyone on the training field that day than our athletic skills.

We’re supposed to be gentlemen. We are expected to conduct ourselves in the same manner on and off the field.

Walking with Steelers hero Franco Harris in Pittsburgh just before the election, Biden reminded them that sports can bring joy to his two young sons, even in the midst of ruin. In 1972, Steelers owner Art Rooney asked Harris and Rocky Bleyer to visit Biden’s two sons, Bo and Hunter, who had been hospitalized after a terrible car accident that killed Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and his youngest daughter, Amy.

Then they had smiles on their faces and they each held a football signed throughout the steel curtain, Biden recalls.

In 2004, Biden testified before the Senate Commerce Committee about the use of steroids in sports. He said he saw SPDs as a form of cheating that undermined the sporting ideal. Ken Cedeno/Bloomberg/Getty Images

In the US Senate, Biden has lobbied for a federal law banning performance-enhancing drugs, which he says is a form of cheating that undermines the sporting ideal.

What do kids learn from thinking the best athletes are all up to speed? Biden said in a 2004 media statement after the federal steroid ban was extended. I think it teaches them that they need to use steroids or steroid precursors to get ahead and win the game; that cheating is okay. I am deeply offended by that. The United States is the ultimate meritocracy, and taking a performance-enhancing drug to gain an unfair competitive advantage is completely anti-American.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of professional teams in Philadelphia for years, and was on the field in Minneapolis to help the Eagles celebrate their Super Bowl LII victory. He has also supported teams at his alma mater, where he regularly competes.

As vice president, he sat in the stands to cheer on the Delaware women’s basketball team at the 2013 NCAA Tournament in North Carolina. Then he went to the locker room to congratulate the team. The following year, the Delaware men’s basketball team visited the White House and dined at the vice president’s residence after winning the 2014 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. In his final weeks as vice president, Biden called the Delaware state hockey team to Washington to celebrate the 2016 national championship.

He was so excited when we won the national field hockey championship, Delaware Athletic Director Chrissy Ravak said. He immediately contacted us and told us he wanted to talk to our coach and then invited us to his home in Washington to celebrate this achievement. Biden set up a video interview with field hockey coach Rolf van de Kerkhof. I’m surprised he took the time to give me five or seven minutes of his time, the coach said. He was talking about us and his grandchildren playing sports. He’s a sports fanatic, that’s for sure. He attributes his growth as a person to the sport.

As vice president, Biden sat in the stands to cheer on the Delaware women’s basketball team at the 2013 NCAA tournament in North Carolina. He then went to the locker room to congratulate Elena Delle Donne and her teammates. University of Delaware

BEFORE President Biden promises to get rid of Department of Education rules written during the Trump administration that gave more rights to students accused of sexual assault on campus. The rules also limit how schools can assess these allegations. Some lawyers have welcomed recent changes to Title IX rules, saying they allow men accused of assault to defend themselves against charges of speculation. However, many women’s rights groups and other organizations report that these changes keep survivors from reporting abuse. This issue is especially important at large universities, where ESPN has found that athletes are three times more likely to be accused of sexual misconduct than other students.

A return to Title IX is unacceptable, according to the Biden platform.

On a personal note, Biden, 78, said his own participation in sports today is limited to regular exercise to stay healthy and be a fan. He enjoys playing golf, biking occasionally and his brother says he can still bench press. Most mornings, he says, he trains on his bike or on the Peloton treadmill, then gets up before heading to work.

Despite his lifelong commitment to the benefits and virtues of athletics, some analysts warn that Biden has no easy task in returning the sport to a politically neutral field. They fear the country is too polarized for that.

The sports world has kept this balance for much of this country’s history, being supposedly apolitical while supporting the president and having this healing power, said Frank Andre Guridi, a Columbia University professor who studies the history of sports and social movements.

I think many of these beliefs are now under serious threat. I don’t see how Biden can fix that without a major change in our political culture.

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