In the coming days, the National Basketball Association will crown a new champion. Someone will be crowned “MVP,” somebody’s “legacy” will be assured and still others will thank God, their mothers and their therapists in nationally televised post-game interviews. And of course there will be the endless self-congratulations on Twitter. It is all seemingly choreographed and no more so than with the eventual visit to the White House and photo-op with President Obama, who we all know is a big sports fan. Seems a win-win for all involved.
The practice of bringing sports champions to the White House became particularly noticable during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, also a big sports fan, during the 1980s. Reagan’s administration was as astute as any, in taking advantage of such publicity opportunities. In an era defined by the global expansion of America’s symbolic power, what better opportunity is there than the President of the so-called most powerful nation in the World, meeting with the “champions” of the world. It most cases visits to the White House illicit very little reaction except when it’s somebody’s favorite team.
Six years ago, though, traditionalists were up in arms when members of the Northwestern University Women’s lacrosse team, wore flip-flips—albeit designer ones—to their visit to the White House. The subsequent brouhaha, known at the time as “Flip-Flop-gate,” seemed perfectly pitched for one of the most timeless of political faux-pas, the political flip-flop. The Chicago Tribune, reported the story with the headline, “You Wore Flip-Flops to the White House?,” while pundit after pundit opined about the diminishing values of American Youth. By the summer of 2007, the White House had an official dress-code policy for visitors, specifically stating “no flip-flops.”