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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Manly Men in the Oval Office

Manly Men (left: from Pete Sousa, The White House File)
Call it audacity of hope; call it a quickening of the presidential mojo—President Obama was back on a basketball court a scant two days after taking that elbow to the mouth and an added helping of 12 stiches. There’s no denying the President’s mental and physical resilience. And there’s no denying the arduous physical demands (and risks) that full-court pick-up basketball can impose on a 49-year-old.

Still, no American president—Obama included—has approached the manly altitudes of Theodore RooseveltAnd no president before or since has lost an eye while boxing in the White House. As president, TR also favored horseback riding in Rock Creek Park, swimming and rowing in the Potomac, jujitsu and wrestling in the White House, and tennis, hiking, and, of course, hunting. When running for president in 1912 on the Progressive Party ticket, he delivered an hour-long speech with a wannabe assassin’s bullet in his chest and blood spotting his shirt. (The 50-page speech, tucked in his jacket pocket, may have been a life saver.) Clearly, TR could take a good shot, both inside and outside the ring.

A Gentleman’s Education. TR began boxing as a student at Harvard, nearly winning the college’s championship. As governor of New York, he sparred several times each week, a habit that he brought with him to the White House, where he periodically moved furniture around his upstairs private office to create a makeshift “ring.” His regular sparring partners were typically U.S. Army officers, including one Captain (later Colonel) Dan T. Moore, who in 1917 confessed: “I boxed with the President on average, three times a week throughout two winters 1904-05 and 1905-06. . .I must have had the gloves on a hundred times.”

Gloves offered protection for the presidential hands but not for the presidential left retina, which became partly detached during one of TR’s 1904-1905 office sparathons. TR kept the incident and his subsequent loss of sight under wraps until well after his administration. But that didn't interrupt him from his weekly communion with the sweet science.

Manly Men Make Peace. In 1903 Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize for having negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War. In 2009, Obama was similarly honored. Boxing in the White House? The White House and the Nobel Peace Prize are not what they used to be.


Peter Chartrand said...

Bully! One of my boyhood heroes. Even though I know very little about him there's something about T. Roosevelt that brings Fidel Castro to mind. Aside from his Cuban adventures it's probable that he also would have liked to be president for life. I'm not aware that Teddy could have come up to Fidel's speechifying abilities however.

Wig & Pen said...

TR's refusal to run in 1908 was viewed as a gracious nod toward term limits. (His first term was in part McKinley's) When he ran again later on, zeal apparently eclipsed graciousness.
But FDR was another matter--a wannabe president for life by any other name.