Obama: the ‘everyman’ superhero

By Allyson Kloster

President-elect Barack Obama clearly loves sports, and he wants you to know that. Questions about his thoughts on the Chicago White Sox and Cubs, the BCS, his childhood dreams of being a professional basketball player and his Cabinet’s historic basketball skills are welcome and encouraged (just don’t ask about the time he bowled a 37).

But he’s not chatting with you just because he wants to be a part of the sports conversation. He wants you to see that he’s a part of the conversation.

Although presidential candidates publicizing their affinity for athletics is nothing new, Obama seems to be changing the centuries-old image of a sports-loving president.

According to John Sayle Watterson’s book, “The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency,” in the past, presidents have shown off their sports skills to prove they have courage, manliness and political competence.

We don’t just want the president to like sports, we want him to be good at sports.

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It’s the same reason we tend to elect tall men with plenty of hair on their heads, and the same reason Watterson said George Washington’s athleticism “contributed to his success on the battlefield and may well have contributed to the birth of the republic.” To feel protected, we want our leader to be healthy and tough.

By playing pickup basketball games with everyone and their mothers, Obama is showing Americans that he can throw down just as past presidents have.

But he’s doing something differently.

Rather than trying to convince people he’s Superman, he’s using sports to make himself seem like an “Everyman.”

He bashes the Cubs like a true Sox fan and shoots hoops for fun (and a photo op), and he said that playing basketball was one of the first places he felt he belonged as a boy.

Smart moves, considering the times we’re living in. Today, Americans are dually obsessed with stories of superheroes and “everymen.” We desperately crave a hero to get us out of the dour times, yet we want this hero to be just like us.

Perhaps that explains why Obama takes every chance he gets (and creates) to show us that he encapsulates both qualities.

Even his superhero of choice fits in perfectly with the overall image he’s carefully grooming. He prefers Batman over Superman because Batman had to work hard for his powers, unlike the alien Superman. It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches American dream (except Bruce Wayne was filthy rich).

What better way to show everyone that he is worthy for the job than through sports? They are the great equalizer – you can come from an economically poor background and still have the opportunity to excel. It takes skill and mental toughness to succeed, not money and status. How appealing is that?

Although Obama used sports in his campaign as a way to mold his image as an “everyman,” it’s unlikely he’ll stop popping up on the sports pages now that he’s in the White House.

In fact, expect more of him on the sports page.

You can expect stories on the development of a full basketball court on White House property, and also Obama’s thoughts on how much he loves Chicago sports, publicized to the fullest extent to boost Chicago’s 2016 Summer Olympics bid.

All this is fine and dandy. But during the election, it was obvious Obama wanted us to know that he was as interested in sports as we were. Having a few interviews dedicated almost entirely to sports seemed contrived. Hopefully now that he’s in the Oval Office he won’t overdo it.

Otherwise, he might as well wink at the camera, raise his Bud Light and salute Joe Six Pack.

Allyson Kloster is a senior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]