Many significant issues confront us daily, both in Florida and around the country. Thank goodness for distractions like football, whose season is only two weeks away. Larry King said it best: “If you are a sports fan, every day is different.”
Over the past 30 years, no state has played championship football better than Florida. During that period, Florida college teams have won 11 Division I national championships. The Miami Hurricanes claimed five titles while Florida State and Florida won three each. Florida State is the defending national champion.
One of the cool benefits of winning a national championship is traveling to Washington, D.C., to be part of a public White House ceremony with the president of the United States. President Ronald Reagan began the tradition in 1986 by hosting the Penn State Nittany Lions.
Since that time, every recognized or undisputed national champion has received an invitation to the White House. Unless something remarkable happens soon, that streak is about to end.
The Florida State Seminoles are about to become the first champion to be unwillingly denied the chance to go to Washington. What happened?
The official reason is “scheduling conflicts.” We know any president has a great deal on his plate. Let us also not forget the criticism heaped onto FSU for the difficulty in scheduling a local celebration in Tallahassee earlier this year.
It appeared early on the White House was willing. On January 10, President Obama telephoned FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher to congratulate Fisher and the Seminoles for their achievement. According to the White House, “the President said he looks forward to welcoming the team to the White House to celebrate their championship.”
The invitation never arrived. Florida State presented several possible dates, but all were rejected by the White House. “We tried to give them a thousand dates, but we couldn’t get it worked out,” Fisher told the Orlando Sentinel.
Fisher was engaged in a bit of hyperbole, but we get the coach’s point. According to FSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Monk Bonasorte, 11 FSU-suggested dates were all unacceptable.
A possible roadblock was Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston’s participation on the Seminole baseball team, which would prevent him from attending. This was not a problem. “We would’ve scrapped a baseball game if we had to,” Bonasorte told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Bonasorte, Fisher and Florida State continue to take the high road. “Obviously, the president is very busy, we understand that,” said Bonasorte.
These kinds of events always work out, but somehow not for FSU. It is fair to assume something other than scheduling is in play.
Bradenton Herald sports columnist Alan Dell believes Winston’s notoriety is the main reason. Dell comes at it from the angle that “It’s in nobody’s best interests for FSU to visit the White House.”
Dell postulates that Winston’s highly publicized issue involving alleged sexual assault would make things uncomfortable for President Obama to be seen with Winston. Soon after FSU won the national title, Obama created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.
Chest bumping with Winston would not create the best optic for the president and his task force, Dell feels. “Winston is a lightning rod for controversy that POTUS doesn’t want on his doorstep,” wrote Dell.
I have another theory. Since 1986, championship team names range from Gators, Hurricanes, Tigers, Cornhuskers, Crimson Tide, etc. A team with a Native American name, Seminoles, has not posed a problem in the past, but today’s climate is different.
One need not be a sports fan to know of the controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins. A strong movement is afoot both in the public and private sector to coerce Redskins’ owner Daniel Snyder to change the team’s name. Obama has not been outspoken on this, but is sympathetic to the movement.
Despite the support of the Seminole Tribe, there are those who cringe at the thought of ANY sports team bearing the name of a Native American tribe or Indians, Braves, etc. The Tomahawk Chop has long been a no-no in politically correct circles.
It is reasonable to assume Obama would face criticism for hob-knobbing with pseudo Native Americans. I emailed the White House press office for any comment, but received no reply.
Whether this scenario, Dell’s, both, or another played into the continual movement of the goal posts involving an FSU visit, know this; the Obama political team is shrewd and calculating.
If a visit by the national championship football team is in the president’s best interests, the event will happen. If they believe it is not, FSU fans are stuck with guys writing columns in Context Florida lamenting the team’s absence from the Rose Garden.
Sorry. It’s all I can do.
Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.