Athletic Cliches Cross the Political Line of Scrimmage

Attendance is expected to be good again for, from left, Monique Currie, Nikki Blue, Coco Miller, Crystal Langhorne and Lindsay Taylor of the Mystics. A playoff berth would be an added bonus.
Attendance is expected to be good again for, from left, Monique Currie, Nikki Blue, Coco Miller, Crystal Langhorne and Lindsay Taylor of the Mystics. A playoff berth would be an added bonus. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)   |   Buy Photo
By George Solomon
Sunday, May 18, 2008

For decades I've watched, heard and read about Washington Post political reporters calling Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, for a pithy quote. In fact, over the past 10 years, Larry Sabato has been quoted 150 times in The Post, so many quotes that former Metropolitan editor Robert Barnes once instituted a brief ban on quoting Sabato, much like the Sports department avoiding Dexter Manley's outrageous midweek locker room comments in the 1980s.

But over the course of the current presidential campaign, which has seemingly lasted as long as three seasons of NBA playoffs, political reporters and columnists have been worse than tired sportswriters in using tired sports cliches such as political horse race, Hail Mary, slam dunk, heavyweight slugfest, blowout, fourth and long (we know who has been on the receiving end of that one, don't we?), counterpunch, three yards and a cloud of dust, end run, smash-mouth politics, hardball, curves and so on. (I don't know where the term "thrown under the bus" fits.)

"Politics and sports are entertainment," said Sabato, answering my call in Charlottesville on the first ring and stringing quotes together for me with the speed of Joe Theismann. "Politicians and political writers are looking to communicate to the public; by using sports terms, they engage their audience because everyone likes sports."

Sabato, known to some political reporters as "dial-a-quote," added, "News has become a big circus -- with political elephants and donkeys basically the same as the Redskins and Giants."

Washington Post columnist/TV political pundit Eugene Robinson was more succinct: "This campaign has been going on for so long you need to find something to say. Anything, really. It's political chatter, and those sports cliches just come to mind. Sports are a treasure trove of cliches -- just there for the taking."

But the man who operates best on both sides (politics and sports) of the street is James Carville, who provides strategy for Democrats, political wisdom for TV and college football talk for XM Radio.

"Politics and sports complement each other," Carville said. "That's why we steal the metaphors. It's all about competition. Anytime you keep score, it's competition. I love 'em both."

Losses and Gains

Busy week for women's sports. Two of the most dominant female professionals will be retiring from their respective sports, with Annika Sorenstam, 37, leaving the LPGA Tour at the end of the year with at least 72 victories and Justine Henin, 25, retiring immediately as the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world with seven Grand Slam titles.

On the positive side, the WNBA opens its 12th season this weekend with the addition of one team (Atlanta) to the 14-team league and optimism that growth and interest in the college game will carry over to the pros.

"Business is up," reported Greg Bibb, the Mystics' new chief operating officer, noting the addition of 900 season tickets to bring the total to 3,000, with corporate sponsorships "up 27 percent." The Mystics, who often have led the WNBA in attendance, need to provide their loyal fans a playoff team.

Looking for that college carry-over, the Mystics drafted Maryland's Crystal Langhorne with their first pick, joining a veteran cast headed by former Duke stars Alana Beard and Monique Currie, who played high school ball at Bullis.

"I like being a rookie," Langhorne said. "It's not comfortable, but I like that."

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