Like the Republican Party, college football’s reigning champions have an elephant for a mascot. Like the Democrats, the reigning NFL champs have a donkey — on steroids — for a mascot. As we enjoy (endure?) the national conventions that officially brand this year’s campaign season, consider a few other parallels between the worlds of sports and politics. (Plagiarize this wisdom at your peril.)
• Charisma trumps credentials.
The National Football League’s highest-profile owner is Jerry Jones, whose Dallas Cowboys have been valued at $3.2 billion by Forbes
magazine (tops among American sports franchises). The Cowboys — under Jones’s guidance as president and general manager — have not so much as reached a conference championship game in 21 years. (Before Jones’s arrival, the franchise’s longest drought between Super Bowls was 14 years.) Winning football games, you see, simply doesn’t matter when you have a brand like the Cowboys and a salesman like Jerry Jones.
Likewise, experience in public office means squat when you have a brand like Donald Trump and a salesman like Donald Trump. A big smile, a loud voice, and millions of dollars to burn mean value in politics. Reagan over Carter. Kennedy over Nixon. Personality is what we want, damn the record (or standings).
• A family name goes a long way.
The NFL has the Rooneys and Maras. Modern politics has the Clintons and Bushes. If your last name is Kennedy, you’re bound for public glory and, if you manage the right details, public office. (The late Ted Kennedy proved that such details — those behind closed doors — may not actually matter. We’ve learned the same applied to JFK’s rise to the White House.) If your last name is Roosevelt, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican (Teddy) or Democrat (FDR). The presidency is yours for the taking.
Likewise, if you’re last name is Manning, you’ll likely play quarterback — and quite well — in the NFL. Three generations of Boones and Bells have played baseball in the major leagues. Ken Griffey played long enough to actually become a teammate of his son, the newest member of baseball’s Hall of Fame. This family-first phenomenon goes all the way back to our founding fathers. Who was president when John Adams died on Independence Day in 1826? Why his son, of course: John Quincy Adams.
• Underdogs win.
The 1968 New York Jets — winners of Super Bowl III in January 1969 — have nothing on Harry Truman in 1948 when it comes to measuring unlikely wins. Bill Clinton was called “the Comeback Kid” before spending two terms in the White House. George W. Bush — this is hard to remember — was better known as a former owner of the hapless Texas Rangers than for any achievements as governor of Texas when he announced his candidacy for president four election cycles ago.
And of course, there’s Barack Obama. One remarkable speech — at the 2004 Democratic convention — proved enough for Obama to become a national figure and, in 2008, defeat an opponent with credentials not only as a senator for 21 years but a Vietnam War hero. An underdog with charisma? Unbeatable. You saw what the Cleveland Cavaliers did last month, right?
• Team loyalty can be tested.
This is known in some parts as the Cruz Clause. Jerry Seinfeld famously equated cheering team sports with “rooting for laundry,” as players come and go, coaches are fired . . . yet we still pull for the boys in red (or blue, or green, or teal). But what happens when a Dallas Cowboys fan of 30 years finds himself cheering a team mismanaged one season after another? What about a millennial raised in a Washington Redskins family who realizes the flag outside his house features a racial epithet?
And what happens when a national party is forced — by the people, for the people — to stand behind a man prepared to sell a wall (literally) to Mexico and screen any and all Muslims before they enter the Land of the Free? Last week, two living former presidents chose not to attend the Republican convention, a staggering statement considering these two former presidents were Republicans themselves. It was like Roger Staubach and Emmitt Smith refusing to attend a Super Bowl featuring the Dallas Cowboys.
Laundry can be soiled, it turns out, in politics as well as sports.