Friday, November 20, 2009

Can I Take a Mulligan?

The President of the United States likes sports. According to Maureen Dowd

of the New York Times, he likes to talk sports, watch sports, and play sports. It is a big

deal to get invited to the White House to play in pick-up games on the new basketball

court out back. The President likes to play golf; and this too is a coveted invitation because

the chance to spend five or six hours talking and walking and joking and betting with the

President is worth it's weight in gold in the world of influence in Washington.

Recently, accusations began to surface that Obama has only been inviting men

to join in his favorite pastimes. He and "the boys" were enjoying male bonding, no women

allowed. Sensitive to any perception he might discriminate or exclude any one particular

group, the President invited a woman to play golf with him. He invited Melody Barnes,

his domestic policy chief, to "ruin a nice walk" and play as part of his foursome. Barnes'

father taught her how to play golf; and she shoots 100 for 18 holes.

Reaction to adding a woman to his formerly all male retinue has been mixed.

Some people were concerned this was the latest example of uber-political correctness.

Still others bemoaned the loss of another place where men could simply be with other

men. Does this forebode that when the President plays or watches sports, all groups

must be represented? Dowd seems to think it's all silly; but at the same time leaves

the impression that excluding women gives men a leg up with the President. Could it

be she simply wants an invitation?

Over the years I've argued for the right of men to hang out with men. Whether

it's all-male schools or the Olympic Club (which is now coed), I have always thought people

have a right to associate with whomever they wish. The same goes with all-white clubs

or all-black ones. As long as there is no economic benefit, as long as membership dues

and expenses cannot be deducted from one's taxes, let people hang out with whom they


Having worked with some amazing women and being married to a woman who

loves sports and was an athlete in high school and college, and having two daughters,

changed me enough to realize how why and who we exclude is in truth actually very telling

about who we are.

The President likes pick-up games of basketball, so does my second oldest daughter.

She's currently on a full athletic scholarship at a Division 1 university, where she competes

against the likes of Notre Dame, USC, CAL, and Stanford. On a basketball court, one of

her team mates observed "...she doesn't guard you, she hunts you". Pick-up games are

rough and tumble affairs. There is plenty of trash talking and posturing and less than

polite language. My daughter can talk trash, swear like a steveadore, and if you try to go

to the basket on her she will put you into the wall. The President is said to have a pretty

good cross-over move, good with both his left and right hands, and goes to the basket hard.

My daughter wouldn't back down from him or anyone else on the court. She is intense,

funny, skilled, and she is not alone. There are plenty of women like her. It would be wrong

for the President to include a woman just to have one there; that would be patronizing.

But why shouldn't he include people outside his normal comfort zone?

My other daughter, the oldest, loves baseball. I can't tell you the number of games

she and I attended the year the Giants went to the World Series. For sure, she will never

forgive Dusty Baker for his management of the sixth game of the Series against the Angels.

She still asks me to explain why he pulled Russ Ortiz! She's planning on being a lawyer

and could end up in political life. So, when the President invites key lawmakers, including

Republicans, to come to the White House to watch sports and have some barbecue; she

would be able to handle herself perfectly well. She would fit in, comfortable in her game

knowledge and self-presence. Once again, she is not alone. The President would not have

to search very far for women to include playing or watching or talking sports.

Since the passage of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, the number of women playing

high school, college, and professional sports has increased exponentially. These athletes

are now in every walk of life and every profession. For males whose egos are delicate or

threatened, the rise of women in sports, politics, law, or any number of other arenas is

uncomfortable. They often point out how women can't compete with men at the highest

levels. The pick-up game behind the White House or the foursome out on the links are

not sports at their highest levels; but the reality is there are plenty of people who are

interesting and can compete. And although not everyone can be fortunate enough to be

invited for sports-related fun at the White House, there's no reason women shouldn't be

in the mix.

One of the most exciting moments in sports for me was watching the American

Women's soccer team beat the Chinese team on penalty kicks. These are great athletes

and it was a great moment. Maureen Dowd wants to play Scrabble against the President.

If he is into Scrabble, bring her on. But when it comes to basketball, if she can't take a

charge on the White House court, leave her out. If she can't put worth a damn, don't invite

her for a Sunday match. If she doesn't know the difference between a balk, walk, or the

infield fly rule; wouldn't she feel out of place watching the World Series "with the boys"

on the White House 62-inch flat screen TV?

There are plenty of women who the President would enjoy playing against, and

there is nothing wrong with them being included. I love the fact the President agrees with

me on this. This same line of thinking would encourage more law firms to bring them in

as partners, more corporations to put them on their boards, and more companies to pay

them the same pay as men for the same jobs. When this happens, women will have arrived.

And I hope they arrive soon. What do you think? I welcome your comments and rebuttals.

Please send them to

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