During the past week there have been some big announcements regarding the 2016 presidential race. That, combined with the NCAA Tournament coming to a close and knowing what a big college hoops fan President Barack Obama is, caused an interesting question to pop into my head. How many of our United States presidents have been big sports fans?
On one hand we know that the president is one of the busiest people in the world with an amazing amount of duties and responsibilities, but on the other hand they are people just like you and me and enjoy some of the same things that we do, such as sports. With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at the top U.S. presidents that also loved sports.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
While Teddy Roosevelt may have enjoyed hunting more than any other sport, he had a pretty big impact on carving college football into the success that it has been since the beginning of the 20th century. At that time the rules for the sport were nothing like what they are now, which is indicative when looking at the 1905 season. That year 25 college football players lost their lives due to on-field injuries they sustained while playing the game.
Roosevelt is said to have threatened to eliminate the sport completely if changes weren’t made to protect the players. He called upon representatives from three college football powerhouses, Harvard, Princeton and Yale, to alter the rulebook in order to better protect players from being hurt. As the story goes, it was this meeting that led to the creating of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
President Eisenhower was one of the better all-around athletes to ever serve in the White House. He graduated from West Point but with mediocre grades, which is said to be due to him spending so much time focusing on sports. Football, boxing, fencing, gymnastics and even horse racing were some of the sports that Eisenhower enjoyed playing while attending school. He would later call not making the baseball team “one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest.”
On the football team Eisenhower was a varsity starter at both running back and linebacker and would later serve as junior varsity football coach and cheerleader. Though Eisenhower is mostly remembered for his long and distinguished military career (he was a five-star general that was considered a war hero by many) and his time spent as President of the United States, sports were as big a part of his life as anything else during his younger years and he remained a fan throughout his adult life.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)
When Kennedy enrolled at Harvard in 1936 he instantly looked toward the school’s athletic programs. He tried out for golf, swimming and football and would become a starter on the freshman football team, though that wasn’t his best athletic skill. As he soon realized, Kennedy was most talented as a swimmer and quickly became a star on Harvard’s swimming team. He spent one year on the freshman squad before being bumped up to the varsity team, where he would become a letterman.
His swimming skills would serve him well during his time as a soldier during World War II after his patrol boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer. Despite injuring his back in the wreck, Kennedy and other survivors swam towards a small island shore. Kennedy even took it upon himself to tow a badly burned crewman through the water to safety by clenching a life jacket strap between his teeth. He would later tow the man to a second island where he and his crew were subsequently rescued.
Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
Growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ford knew throughout his childhood that he wanted to play football for the great University of Michigan. During high school Ford was a star athlete and served as captain of the football team. After enrolling at the University of Michigan as an undergraduate, Ford became a major contributor to the Wolverines’ football team, playing center, linebacker and long snapper.
Ford helped Michigan to back to back undefeated seasons and national championships in 1932 and 1933 but ultimately turned down an opportunity to play in the NFL, instead opting to go to Yale Law School. He remained a big football fan and a fan of University of Michigan athletics in general, often having the school fight song, The Victors, played before state events instead of Hail to the Chief. Ford even selected the fight song to be played during his funeral procession. Aside from football, Ford was an avid golfer and played the sport throughout his life. He even hit a hole in one during a Pro-am tournament in 1977.
George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
After serving in World War II, George Bush returned home and attended Yale University where he quickly became the star of the school’s baseball team. Bush was selected as team captain and led the school to the finals of the first two College World Series, though they lost both times to Cal and USC, respectively.
During his senior year, Bush was honored to meet Babe Ruth when the baseball great donated the manuscript of his autobiography to Yale. Bush’s love for baseball would rub off on his children, especially his eldest son George Jr., who became a co-owner of the Texas Rangers before being elected the Governor of Texas and ultimately President of the United States, just like his father.
Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
Clinton has been an avid sports fan throughout his life, often attending games of all kind and even playing multiple sports as a young man. He started out as a basketball player in his church league and has mentioned more than once the time that he was the team’s leading scorer (he put up 16 points that day). Clinton’s love for basketball has continued during his adult years. He once watched a Heat-Spurs NBA Finals game with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban while the two were in Chicago at the same time in 2013. Cuban said of the viewing “people think I’m crazy watching game but President Clinton puts me to shame. Oh, my god, he’s crazy…until Hillary walked in.”
Clinton and fellow former president George W. Bush sat side by side, along with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and quarterback Tony Romo, at the 2014 NCAA Championship game at the AT&T Center in Arlington, Texas. Aside from basketball, Clinton has played a lot of golf over the years and said that the most star stuck he’s ever been was the time that he played two rounds with the legendary Jack Nicklaus.
Barack Obama (2009-2016)
It’s no secret that the current President of the United States is as big of a basketball fan as you’ll see. He’s played the sport from a young age and even earned the nickname Barry O’Bomber due to his accurate and impressive long-range shooting. As a student at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama was part of the basketball team that won the state championship in 1979.
Though he didn’t play in college, Obama has continued to enjoy pick-up games throughout his adult life. He even converted the White House tennis court into a multipurpose basketball and tennis court shortly after taking office in 2009. He also started the tradition of filling out the ‘Presidential Brackets’ or ‘Barack-etology’ for the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament, an event that is televised annually on ESPN.
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