Two sports writers for the Washington Post slammed President Trump for skipping the Washington Nationals’ opening day, but also attacked him for using sports to divide America. The pair ultimately decided that Trump is too divisive to be allowed to participate in national sports.
Washington Post sports writers Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith wagged their collective finger at Trump for skipping opening day in D.C., and thereby, “skipping the spring ritual celebrating one nation under baseball.”
“For more than a century, Opening Day in Washington afforded presidents an opportunity to mix with their constituents by tossing out the ceremonial first pitch, chomping on peanuts and crackerjacks and voicing an opinion about an umpire’s call,” the April 5 editorial begins.
The two then waxed poetic about the fence-mending, ameliorative properties of baseball through American history. The authors claim that baseball brought the nation together during the Civil War and said baseball had been used to “transcend red and blue partisanship.” Apparently, Roberts and Smith feel that the Confederacy is interchangeable with today’s “red states” and the modern Republican Party is somehow just like the slave-holding South.
From there the article describes how past presidents treated baseball as a useful political tool. From William Howard Taft, who in 1910 became the first president to throw out an opening pitch, to FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, and Nixon, presidents used baseball to unite America, the authors say.
FDR was even good-natured enough to take a jab about his politics at the ballgame:
Baseball, Roosevelt thought, served a political purpose; it was an escape from tumultuous times. Having fun during the Great Depression became a way to tackle “fear itself.” And in the baseball stadium, Roosevelt even laughed at himself. On Opening Day in 1937, during his squabble with the Supreme Court, a plane flew over the stadium pulling the banner, “Play the game, don’t pack the court.” Roosevelt beamed as brightly as anyone in the ballpark.
But, no better example of this, they wrote, is seen than how George W. Bush united the nation in the immediate aftermath of the Islamic terror attacks on 9/11/2001:
… but it was George W. Bush — the former Texas Rangers’ owner — who elevated its national importance. After the horrors of 9/11, Bush traveled to Yankee Stadium to throw out the first ball of Game Three of the World Series. When he appeared on the field wearing a bulky FDNY jacket covering a bulletproof vest, the stands erupted with a spontaneous, heartfelt chant of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” Throwing a strike from the mound, he united Republicans and Democrats behind their country, their president, and their game.
After lauding presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, the authors then slam Trump for ruining sports instead of using them to unite:
President Trump has not ignored sports, but he has used them to play to his base, not to bridge partisan divides. He scorned black NFL players who knelt during the national anthem for what he interpreted as a lack of patriotism. Shortly afterward, however, during the National College Football Championship game in Atlanta between two Southern teams, he appeared on the field for the national anthem.
The writers speculate that Trump skipped the Nats’ opener because he might face boos there. “He knows that the Nationals’ fan base is not his fan base,” they write. Then they carp that Trump “has shown that unless an event benefits him personally, he has little interest in it.”
But, ultimately, the authors are glad Trump sipped the Nationals’ opener:
The Opening Day ceremony, by contrast, symbolizes national unity, which Trump has avoided since the beginning of his campaign. In Trump’s America, sports reflect the debates on Fox News and CNN, a fractured country polarized by the president’s Twitter account. Outside golf, where the president privately socializes with friends and corporate elites, the president’s main interest in spectator sports is promoting a form of “stadium-based patriotism” where Americans must demonstrate their loyalty to country by saluting the troops and singing “God Bless America.” Of course, if he attended a Nationals game, he would find that these rituals are promoted at the ballpark, too.
In conclusion, the pair again notes that FDR was able to laugh as he attended a baseball game when he saw a plane toting a banner slamming his court-packing plan and that even a political jab didn’t keep Roosevelt from using sports as a uniter. Trump, on the other hand, is venal.
“Instead of harmony, an appearance by Trump at a baseball game would likely ignite even more acrimony,” the authors conclude.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.