Nixon and Sports: Photos

Nixon Home | Introduction | Timeline | Photos | Quotes | Related Publications
Bibliography | Media Recognition | Author Background


First Ball: In the United States, the President is expected to render both the ceremonial duties of a head of state and the tasks related to politics and policy associated with a head of government. (In the United Kingdom two individuals, the monarch and prime minister, perform these functions). One of the ceremonial functions of the President was to throw out the first baseball of the season. Nixon loved this part of his job, and was often asked to throw out the first ball of regular games that he attended throughout the summer.


Nixon at the Ballpark:Nixon used sports in ways that gave voters a way to relate to the President of the United States.  When he attended ball games, Nixon normally watched the games from the stands like the average fan, rather than from a luxury box or from the dugout or sidelines. The Secret Service was quite worried about the first couple of trips Nixon took to the ballpark, because he went without access to the nuclear command codes and there was no doctor standing by in case of an emergency. Here he is attending a Washington Senators baseball game in 1969 with Attorney General John Mitchell.  Secret Service agents and the U.S. Army officer carrying the nuclear codes are visible around the President.


Man of the People: Nixon’s interests in sport extended beyond being a spectator. He took up an interest in bowling while he was President. The White House staff made efforts to publicize this interest, staging photo opportunities that presented Nixon as a regular individual with interests that he shared with many other Americans. Of course, most bowlers do not have a bowling ally in their basement.


The Sport of Presidents: Golf was another sport that Nixon took up while in office. His feelings for the game were less than enthusiastic, but it was an interest that Americans expected in their Presidents, and Nixon eventually developed a strong liking for the sport. He had sets of clubs at the White House, Camp David, San Clemente, and Key Biscayne so he could play whenever he wanted. His scores were decent given his physical awkwardness and a job that kept him from playing on a regular basis.


Baseball Reception: Major League Baseball celebrated its Centennial in 1969. The night before the All-Star game, which Washington hosted, professional baseball held a banquet where an assortment of players were recognized as the greatest individual at their respective positions. Golden trophies were presented to these players or the next-of-kin of the deceased. The afternoon of the game, Nixon held a reception at the White House for these players and their wives. At this gathering, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn gave the President a trophy similar to the type presented the night before that said: “Baseball's Number One Fan.” Many reporters at the time found the reception almost surreal, watching baseball legends traipse about the executive mansion. More than one journalist called the event the strangest moment at the White House since a crowd barged into a reception held during the administration of the Andrew Jackson. Nixon greeted the ball players and one of the most widely circulated images was this one of him and Casey Stengel, former manager of the New York Yankees.


Texas-Arkansas Hype: The Texas Longhorns and the Arkansas Razorbacks were ranked 1 and 2 in several polls at the end of the 1969 college football season, making their annual game a battle for the national title. Nixon added fuel to the public’s interest in the game, when he announced his intention of awarding a plaque to the winner of the contest. Editorial pages in Arkansas asserted that the Texas-Arkansas game was even bigger than the visit of the President of the United States. This claim is misleading. Nixon’s presence only added to the national attention focused on the contest.
Source: Arkansas Democrat, December 3, 1969


Nixon and the Longhorns: Texas defeated Arkansas 15-14, and Nixon visited the Longhorn locker room afterwards.  He presented Texas head football coach Darrell Royal with his presidential plaque live on national television. This image of Nixon and Royal appeared on the front pages of newspapers all over Texas and across the country. H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s chief-of-staff, thought the White House had achieved a major public relations victory for the President.


Bevo Rex: The Longhorn faithful were ecstatic after the victory over the Razorbacks. This game was in many ways the high water mark of the Texas football program. No other school in the history of college football had ever received a “national championship” from the President of the United States. Nixon clearly benefited from his association with this contest. This editorial cartoon of Nixon with Bevo—the Texas mascot—appeared on the front page of The Austin American after the game. 
Source: The Austin American, December 12, 1969


Paterno and Lambert: Joe Paterno, head football coach at Penn State, was quite upset about Nixon’s involvement in announcing the national championship. The Nittany Lions were undefeated for the second year in a row, and Paterno argued that it was premature to decide the national championship until the end of the bowl season. When Nixon offered to award the Nittany Lions a plaque for having the longest winning streak in college football, Paterno refused, saying it was a distinction his team already owned without dispute. Sports columnists in the South defended the process of awarding the “national title.” These attacks in some ways strengthened Nixon’s identification with the region, which was a key area of support. When Penn State won the Lambert Trophy that goes to the best team in the East, Paterno said, “I couldn't feel better about receiving this trophy if it were presented on television by the President of the United States.”
Source: Penn State Athletic Department


Nixon at the All-Star Game:  During the 1970 mid-term elections, Nixon made a number of appearances on the campaign trail, and often mentioned local sports teams in his speeches.  At the suggestion of son-in-law David Eisenhower, Nixon attended the Major League Baseball All-Star game in Cincinnati after making an appearance at a governors’ conference in Louisville, Kentucky.  The President sat in the stands with Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Congressman Robert Taft, Jr., who was running for his father’s old seat in the Senate.


Nixon and Yaz: The Most Valuable Player of the game was Carl Yastrzemski, an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. Yastrzemski was an admirer of the President, and decided to give him his MVP trophy. A meeting between the two was arranged on April 13, 1971, and the athlete presented the award to Nixon.


Political Cover: The trip to Ohio and Kentucky was a major success. Throngs of admirers greeted him in Louisville and his appearance at the All-Star game went well. Nixon tried to present this trip as a Presidential expedition that had nothing to do with partisan politics or the pending mid-term elections. The Louisville Courier-Journal believed otherwise. 
Source: Louisville Courier-Journal, July 15, 1970


Nixon on Football: In 1971 Nixon gave a speech at the dinner the National Football League held in honor of the new inductees into the Hall of Fame. He expressed his belief that the sport helped shape “a spirit of competition, a spirit of trying to do our very best,” which to Nixon was the thing that made America great.


Nixon and the Redskins: In 1971, the Redskins, a perennial loser in the National Football League, were winning and looked like they might make the playoffs for the first time since World War II. On November 21, the team lost a home game to the Dallas Cowboys, 13-0. Redskin fans booed the players during the game. Two days later, Nixon took head coach George Allen up on a long standing offer to visit with the team to give them a pep talk. He told the players to ignore those who booed. “A great majority of people in this town back the team,” he remarked. “You have been good for this city. Many of the players were stunned and elated to have the President show his support.


The Playmaker?: The Redskins made the playoffs but lost in the first round to the San Francisco 49ers on December 26. During the game, Allen used a play that he said Nixon had designed. Nixon never actually designed the play, but allowed Allen to tell the team that he did in effort to energize them. The effort was too clever by half; the play resulted in a loss of yards. With the Redskins’ season over, Nixon decided to root for the Miami Dolphins in the Super Bowl, figuring that his residence in Key Biscayne made him a sometime Florida resident. On January 3, 1972, he called Miami head coach Don Shula at 1:30 in the morning and suggested the Dolphins use a quick slant pass in the game.
Source: The Washington Post, January 5, 1972


Coach Nixon: The President’s support for the Dolphins might have seemed trivial to many, but it was taken quite seriously in Dallas. Getting his team to the Super Bowl was a major achievement in the career of Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, a well known Republican. He was miffed that Nixon was supporting his opponent, and said so publicly.
Source: The Dallas Morning News, January 11, 1972


A Year Later at the Super Bowl: In 1973 the Dolphins returnedto the Super Bowl undefeated, but Nixon chose to back the Washington Redskins who had also made it to the game. Many sports fans in Florida were offended at the change in Nixon's loyalties. Miami won the game, 14-7, and many fans drove past the President’s home in Key Biscayne, honking the horns of their cars, taunting Nixon.
Source: The Tampa Tribune and Times, January 14, 1933


He’s No Angel: When the Washington Senators moved to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area and became the Texas Rangers in 1971, Nixon announced that hewas now a California Angeles fan. In 1973, he was true to his word and threw out the first ball of the season at an Angels’ game in Anaheim, California. He became the first President to participate in the opening day ceremonies in a city other than Washington.

Return to Nixon and Sports main page