Soccer politics from Obama and Kerry

Al Kamen
Columnist March 27, 2013

Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry bounced soccer balls around Tuesday: Obama at a White House meeting with Los Angeles’s Galaxy and Kings — championship teams in soccer and hockey — and Kerry while goofing around with a women’s soccer team in Kabul.

Obama is known for his prowess on the basketball court, while Kerry has a legitimate soccer background, having played for the Yale team. Both men are clearly athletes, but politics would be their primary game. Still, both managed not to embarrass themselves while bouncing soccer balls off their noggins.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

But that was just our layman’s opinion, so we enlisted the help of D.C. United midfielder Chris Pontius to analyze the leaders’ soccer skills.

Pontius, with a diplomatic demeanor that even a secretary of state might envy, said after watching the video evidence that Kerry’s form in executing a heading of the ball “could be a little better.”

“He didn’t have much control, Pontius observed, though he allowed that it might be difficult to pull off smooth moves while wearing a constricting suit, as Kerry was. “We should get him in a soccer jersey,” he said. “And then we’ll really see.”


Secretary of State John Kerry, with the Afghan women’s soccer team in Kabul, tries a header. (JASON REED/REUTERS)

As for Obama, Pontius pointed out that he kept his eyes on the ball, apparently a good thing. “It sounds strange, but when you keep your eyes on the ball, it helps you put it in whatever direction you want it to go,” he said. (You can watch a video of the header at washingtonpost.com/intheloop.)

Some think players might lose brain cells every time they head a ball, Pontius noted, but the American people shouldn’t worry about their leaders losing brainpower. The balls were coming at these heads of state at a pretty slow speed, he said — “I don’t think they’ll be making any decisions they wouldn’t have anyway.”

Most of all, Pontius was just glad to see two U.S. political bigwigs giving soccer a boost — though he did say he wished it was his team getting that White House welcome.

“Soccer is obviously such a global sport. It can touch a lot of lives, and it’s great to be part of that.”

The name game

Political talk shows are popping up everywhere on television these days, increasing the intense pressure on each of them to stand out and attract younger viewers.

Some folks think the networks may be pressing too hard to come up with hip names for the gabfests.

No more “Today” or “Good Morning America” or “The View” or even “Morning Joe.” And no more names of the stars, such as “Ellen” or “Oprah.”

But the more recent titles, we’re seeing on Twitter this week, have people wondering who comes up with these monikers.

Last summer brought “The Cycle,” on MSNBC, which we had thought clearly referred to the 24-hour news cycle or, this time of year, hitting for the cycle (single, double, triple and home run) in one baseball game.

Then, CNN recently titled former ABC White House reporter Jake Tapper’s new show, “The Lead.” That, as most folks would understand, refers to the top part of a news story or perhaps of a news program, as in the top news of the day.

Of course, if you pronounce it differently, it could appear to have been named for a heavy ductile metal that can poison you.

And now MSNBC is stealing femme fatale Paula Broadwell’s title of her book about former CIA director (and lover) David Petraeus, calling Nation editor at large Chris Hayes’s new show “All In.” That obviously refers to the term for betting all your chips, right?

Back to the bar

Lanny Breuer, former head of the criminal division at the Justice Department, is returning to his old law firm, Covington & Burling.

His tenure at Justice included high-profile prosecutions — including the case against oil giant BP for the Deepwater Horizon spill. But he also drew criticism for his role in the “gun walking” operation known as Fast and Furious.

Breuer will be vice chair of the firm and focus on civil and criminal litigation. He joins other high-profile hires, including former senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who is now a member of the lobbying practice.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop . Twitter: @ InTheLoopWP.

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