Obama's sports metaphors: Obamacare as slippery football

Obama's sports metaphors: Obamacare as slippery football
President Obama reacts as he misses a shot while golfing this summer at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, Mass. Obama is well known as an avid golfer and basketball player, but his football analogy in discussing his healthcare plan seemed an odd choice. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

A day after President Obama’s televised mea culpa to the nation about the failings of his signature healthcare program, one question persists.

Why football?


Again and again, Obama returned to gridiron analogies as he pleaded his case from a White House podium Thursday. He was the quarterback. It was his team that blew it. They’d fumbled, big time, (Goal line? Fourth down? Details were unspoken.) But he would get back into the game on the next play and persevere, Obama said, calling to mind muddy blocks of near-granite on a frozen Chicago Bears offensive line.

If it felt a little forced, it might be because football is not what comes to mind when one thinks of Obama and sports. He’s known for stealing away to play basketball with friends on courts in Washington — and occasionally, with really famous friends on courts in Los Angeles. “Of course, George and I won,” Obama reported after a May 2012 game at the Cheviot Hills rec center, the George being Clooney. Baseball-wise, he follows the Sox — not the world champion Red ones from Boston but the White ones from Chicago.

As president, he has spent hours on golf courses, prompting Republicans to keep mocking track of his time on the links as opposed to in the office, sweating the details of, say, his healthcare program.

Just Saturday he played  the elegant Grande Oaks Golf Club in Fort Lauderdale, described on its website as offering “an exclusive atmosphere with some of south Florida's foremost socialites.” More important, it was where the film classic “Caddyshack” was shot. (Among Obama’s foursome was former Miami Heat star Alonzo Mourning; alas, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray weren’t around.)

But football has served as a megaphone for Obama as he's strived to connect with a very large and captive audience.

On election eve in 2012, he and Republican challenger Mitt Romney starred in taped interviews broadcast during the Philadelphia Eagles-New Orleans Saints game, and Obama used the occasion to riff on comparisons between sports and politics.

It "has to do with staying focused, and it has to do with not getting distracted by either your own hype or the critics," he said, embarking on a cautionary soliloquy that perhaps also pertains to the healthcare mess. "And the truth is, just like in sports, in politics we are all human. We make mistakes, sometimes we perform well. But the key is to just stay focused on what you are doing. In sports, it's about winning championships. Interesting, in politics, it's not winning elections, it's making sure you are delivering for the folks who sent you."

This year, he used his annual appearance during the Super Bowl telecast — with more than 100 million viewers, the biggest television audience anywhere — to reiterate his concerns about concussions and other sports injuries involving young players.

“It is a great sport, I am huge fan, but there is no doubt some of the concerns that we have learned about when it comes to concussions have to give parents pause,” he said. “And as I said before, I feel differently about the NFL. These are grown men, they are well compensated, they know the risks that are involved. But as we start thinking about the pipeline, Pop Warner, high school, college, I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make the sport safer.”

A few months later, in a cosmic payback, the NFL turned down the administration's plea that football stars be enlisted to tout the healthcare plan. (The Red Sox had worked with Massachusetts officials six years ago to promote that state's healthcare program.)

Administration officials had said they were talking with the NFL about touting the plan, which prompted Republican leaders to warn the league against taking sides, which led the NFL to back off.

The league, a spokesman said, as if knowing what would come, has "no plans to engage in this area."

Twitter: @cathleendecker