Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Anything can happen when politics and sports mix

November 23, 2011 by Matt Riffe


Some things in life simply cannot go together: oil and water, vinegar and baking soda, Yankee and Red Sox fans, and sometimes, after the past weekend, politics and sports. 

U.S. Air Force photo by Larry McTighe via Wikimedia Commons

The controversy around First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to a NASCAR event, which prompted boos from fans in attendance, is not the first time that the two subjects have collided. After all, pulling for a particular political candidate can almost get as heated as pulling for your favorite sports team week in and week out. Here at the National Constitution Center, we’ve picked five events, good and bad, to see what happens when politics and sports get mixed.

1. President Theodore Roosevelt Walks No-Man’s Land

In 1901, President Roosevelt became the first president to attend an Army-Navy game, and in the process started the tradition of the president switching sides at halftime. It was in fact thanks in part to President Roosevelt’s efforts that the Army-Navy game was re-instated. After the 1893 game, the  game was scrubbed due to a near duel between a rear admiral and a brigadier general.

2. Sarah Palin Meets Flyers Fans

Philadelphia is known for its sports-crazed fans in general, but Flyers fans have been notorious for being the most disruptive and knowledgeable fan base around. Unfortunately, in 2008 Sarah Palin found out for herself when she was introduced for the ceremonial puck drop for the start of the 2008-2009 season. The Republican vice-presidential candidate was greeted with a chorus of boos; it didn’t help that the Flyers went on to lose to their bitter rivals, the New York Rangers, either.

3. President George W. Bush Throws a Strike at Yankee Stadium

In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush returned to New York City during the World Series between the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. Right before the start of Game 3, President Bush, wearing a FDNY pullover, entered onto the field to a roaring and fired-up Yankees crowd. With a quick wind-up, Bush's strike just off the center of the plate symbolized the hopeful return of normalcy after the country’s worst terrorist attack in history.

4. Cup-crazed Fans Best Detroit Mayor

Anyone who is familiar with the Stanley Cup playoffs knows that when the eventual winner is crowned, it is a joyous time for the team and fan base. But the joy apparently doesn't extend to amnesty for political leaders—such as Detroit’s mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, who found himself booed off the stage at the Detroit Red Wings' Stanley Cup parade for his involvement in a corruption scandal that hit the city in 2008.

5. Hoover Hears it From Crowd

Beginning with President Taft in 1910, presidents have often-times thrown out the ceremonial first pitch to mark Opening Day in baseball. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1931 World Series that a president, Herbert Hoover, was actually heckled and heard boos from the crowd. In hindsight, one might assume the booing was prompted by the Great Depression, but the fans actually voiced their displeasure at Hoover for Prohibition. Hoover left the game amid the crowd chanting, “We want Beer!”

Matt Riffe is a Public Programs Demonstrator at the National Constitution Center.

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