Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Sunday, December 31, 2006
Popularity from Sports to Politics and Back
This Bush-for-Baseball-Commissioner thing is taking me in a bunch of different directions. Not bad for a random thought hatched over Christmas-Day Chinese food with my family.
One commenter questions my suggestion that Bush's unpopularity would not necessarily bother people or cause them to stop watching baseball. He raises a really interesting question about contextual popularity or unpopularity of public figures that is beyond the scope of this forum. But sports links are everywhere, so I thought I would respond:
George W. Bush, the President, is unpopular. Many, many people do not like his policies, his politics, or the manner in which he conducts himself in the Office of the President of the United States. But that does not necessarily translate into a general dislike of George W. Bush, the Person (whom I do not know). It will translate with some people. Many will respond negatively to anything Bush does, especially those who believe he is unintelligent. Many also see Bush not only as following bad policies, but as following illegal (and thus impeachable) policies. The commenter captured the latter point when he used the analogy of the CEO of Enron not becoming beloved as President. The CEO of Enron was unpopular not because he did a bad job as CEO (lots of CEOs do a bad job), but because he did illegal things.
Note, however, that those objections to Bush as commissioner are based on his ability, as opposed to his popularity--the assumption that because he is a bad president, he would be a bad commissioner. Maybe so. But if we focus solely on popularity, I do not know whether or not I would dislike or disagree with Bush's ideas and views in a different context, such as running baseball. Maybe we share a dislike for the wild card, inter-league play, the designated hitter, and the obscenely small strike zone (to cite a few examples). And maybe I would appreciate his frat-boy-charming personality wielded towards ends I like.
The converse of this phenomenon--athletic popularity translating into political popularity--is at the heart of the growing trend of former professional athletes running for public office. The most recent examples were Lynn Swann's unsuccessful run for governor of Pennsylvania and Heath Shuler's successful run for U.S. House of Representatives from North Carolina, as well as Charles Barkley's continued promises/threats to run for governor of Alabama in 2010. All are counting on name recognition, reputation, and popularity built in one context carrying into a different context. Shuler, of course, had to overcome the fact that he was not a very good NFL quarterback.
In any event, we hope the voters will consider the candidate on the merits (on his ability to perform in office) before supporting him and not automatically assume that popularity and likability on the playing field means likability in public office. So why should the reverse not be true--unpopularity (again, distinct from competence) in political office does not automatically mean unpopularity in a sports-related job?