Through the Years, Presidents Got Game

George H.W. Bush was captain of the Yale University baseball team in the mid-1940s.
George H.W. Bush was captain of the Yale University baseball team in the mid-1940s. (George Bush Presidential Library)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Fred Bowen
Thursday, January 15, 2009

Barack Obama will be sworn in as president of the United States on Tuesday. Obama will make history as the first African American to become president, but he is also another presidential first.

He will be the first basketball-playing president.

The president-elect is a dedicated hoopster. He played on his high school team in Hawaii, where he was known as Barry O'Bomber because of his long jump shots. Obama continued to play three-on-three games throughout the presidential campaign to stay in shape and have fun. There are plans to install an indoor court at the White House so he can keep working on his game.

You don't have to like sports to be president, but many presidents have enjoyed sports. Our current president, George W. Bush, is a big baseball fan. He owned a Major League Baseball team, the Texas Rangers, before he became president, and he hosted T-ball games on the White House lawn.

Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush (president from 1989 to 1993), was captain of his college baseball team at Yale University. The two Bush presidents enjoy other sports, including tennis and golf.

President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) jogged and was an avid golfer. Several presidents have played golf, but no one played as much as President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961). According to the book "Eisenhower and Golf: A President at Play," by David Sowell, Eisenhower played almost 900 rounds of golf during his eight years as president.

President Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) played football in high school and was such a big football fan that he suggested plays for the Washington Redskins while he was president.

The best football player, and probably the best athlete, to live in the White House was President Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977). Ford played center and linebacker for the University of Michigan in 1932 and 1933, when the Wolverines won two national titles.

President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) was probably the first president to emphasize the importance of sports and physical activity. Because he had often been sick as a child, Roosevelt believed in what he called the strenuous life. He hiked, rowed, played tennis and was an expert horseman. He even boxed when he was governor of New York, and as president.

According to local author Betsy Harvey Kraft, who wrote "Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit," Roosevelt also loved football but worried that the early college games were too rough. So as president, he brought together coaches from the top colleges to enforce stricter safety standards for the game.

Many people feel that as president, Obama will give the country more hope. He will definitely give America more hoops!

Fred Bowen writes KidsPost's sports opinion column and is an author of sports novels for kids.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company