Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

an Athlete shall lead them?

with 2 comments

So because my roommate (who also happens to be my fiancee) works in the magazine industry, I get a bunch of free magazines each week. One of those is Sports Illustrated, which doesn’t capture my attention the way it used to (I was a big Montreal Expos fan back in the day, but that day is but a distant memory). This week, however, a pair of articles caught my eye.

One was by Pablo S. Torre, who profiled Jeremy Lin, the star guard on the Harvard Crimson who has the potential to be the first Asian-American drafted to the NBA (apparently the Crimson at 13-3, 2-0 Ivy so far this year. Who knew?), and lead the Harvard squad to the Big Dance for the first time in decades. That made me want to check out when the Crimson head next Columbia… turns out it’s tonight. Guess I won’t be catching that game. Too bad.

The other article, however, was about Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf. Yet another Ivy piece, the article noted that the Princeton-educated pitcher grew up on a Texas ranch raising longhorns, earned a 3.75 GPA and majored in “operations research and financial engineering” (no clue what that is), wrote his senior thesis about the financial success of MLB draft picks, pals around with Tom Vilsack and interned at the US Department of Agriculture. But the quote that really grabbed me came from Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan. Now maybe it’s because Kerrigan used to be the pitching coach for my beloved Expos, and came up with the idea to move to a skinny right-hander named Pedro Martinez from the bullpen to the starting rotation, but I trust the guy. This is what Kerrigan has to say about Ohlendorf: “Ross reminds me of the things I read about [Bill] Bradley–very intelligent, very much an old-school gentleman, well-mannered, great competitor, loves the spotlight. I could see this guy down the line being a United States senator, I really can.” Even Vilsack admits that “Ross has got a very solid base from which to approach politics” (Vilsack’s words don’t mean as much to me).

Now there’s a precedent for this path, not just Bill Bradley but Jack Kemp, and Jim Bunning, and Dave Bing (mayor of Detroit) and Kevin Johnson (mayor of Sacramento), to say nothing of the top collegiate varsity athletes that have gone on to political careers, from JFK to Gerald Ford to George H.W. Bush.  My question is: is this a good thing? I don’t know. Sports people like to say that sports builds character, builds leadership abilities and all the rest. I suppose that can be true. And the examples I’ve presented thus far have been from both major political parties. And clearly many if not all of these guys were pretty bright (except Ford). But I wonder if there’s something of traditional American anti-intellectualism going on in embracing athletes in leadership positions. Maybe another chapter of Richard Hofstadter’s 1960s Pultizer prize winning classic Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

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Written by David Weinfeld

January 29, 2010 at 19:49

Posted in politics, sports

2 Responses

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  1. In contrast, Jeremy Lin (who is doubtless dreaming about but not counting on a professional career in basketball) wants to be a minister not a politician.

    Lil

    January 30, 2010 at 01:39

  2. […] I’ve written about before, the involvement of American athletes in politics is something of a mixed bad. I think it’s […]


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