George W. Bush on the rugby pitch

Our posts rarely stray outside of Forsyth County, not because we are not interested in extra-county matters, but because there are way too many in-county stories for us to ever cover. But right from the start in the 1750s, the annual Moravian diary reviews began with world events and proceeded to the local, because the Moravians, as do we, understood that everything human is connected.

So, yesterday, my friend Steve Wishnevsky began a thread on Facebook about politicians, and particularly, U.S. Presidents, who might have suffered brain damage from playing football. I couldn’t resist, for two reasons.

1. We tend to see our Presidents only as political animals and as people of a certain age, forgetting that they were once much younger and perhaps less political, and maybe even knew how to have fun.

2. And of course, there is a local connection, as always…all roads lead to Winston-Salem.


JFK, age 9, Dexter School, 1926

Here is your local connection. Ernie Shore, a native of Yadkin County, an honors graduate of Guilford College in engineering and sheriff of Forsyth County for 36 years, previously was a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. When he and his roommate Babe Ruth got a divorce because Babe would not stop using Ernie’s hairbrush, Ernie moved into the household of “Honey Fitz” Fitzpatrick, the father of Rose Fitzpatrick Kennedy, and became essentially a family member. As such, he was one of the first people to see Baby Jack Kennedy when he was born. When JFK made a campaign stop at the Triad airport in 1960, he gave Ernie a big bear hug and called him “cuz”.


Herbert Hoover did not play football, but he was the first future US President associated with the game. Here we see him, third row in the suit, as manager & treasurer of the 1894 Stanford team that lost to the University of Chicago in the first postseason intersectional college game, 24-4, at the Haight Street grounds in San Francisco on Christmas day. Four days later, Stanford won a rematch at the Athletic Park in Los Angeles, 12-0.

That being said, our Presidents have had sporting interests from the very beginning. Aside from walking and horseback riding, which were a natural part of life for all our early Presidents, John Quincy Adams had an avid interest in billiards, as did Chester A. Arthur and James Garfield. Andrew Jackson was actively involved in horse racing, as were other early Presidents. Abraham Lincoln was a wrestler. Rutherford B. Hayes was a croquet player. Those who have only indulged in croquet as a casual backyard sport are unaware that the real game is a blood sport.  Croquet was wildly popular in the latter part of the 19th century. We have a picture of Salem Female Academy girls holding their mallets from the 1890 era. No doubt other Presidents from that time played as well, along with their first ladies.


Teddy Roosevelt was a boxer and jujitsu enthusiast, although his favorite sport was tennis. But he forbade photographs of him playing tennis, because he saw it as an effeminate sport. He built the first White House tennis court and the game became so popular with his close advisers that they became known as “the tennis cabinet”. His cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, contrary to popular belief, was not born with polio. In his early years he was a multi-sport star. As President, he had an indoor swimming pool installed at the White House, which he used for therapy. That area is now the press briefing room.


Franklin Delano Roosevelt, front and center, with his Groton teammates, c 1899

Many 20th and 21st century Presidents have been golfers. Woodrow Wilson played more rounds of golf than any other President. Dwight Eisenhower was runner-up. His vice -president, Richard Nixon was another golf lover who also spent a lot of time in the bowling alley in the White House basement. JFK was into sailing, swimming and touch football. Lyndon Johnson enjoyed hunting and fishing. Jimmy Carter, a high school basketballer, later took up jogging, and also spent time as President playng tennis, canoeing and fishing. Ronald Reagan was a swimmer and lifeguard. George Herbert Walker Bush was captain of his college baseball team and a pilot.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, third from left in the back row, with his 1910 Abilene, Kansas high school teammates. He also played at West Point.


JFK, 2nd from right, with his Choate teammates. He also played football and rugby at Harvard. His brother Ted once got into three fights during a Harvard rugby match and was ejected.

During his time as a Rhodes Scholar, Bill Clinton played on the Oxford College rugby team. His successor, George W. Bush was also a rugby man, playing at Phillips Academy and Yale. President Obama plays some golf, although not nearly at the Wilson/Eisenhower level. His favorite game is basketball. He is known for hosting a weekly invitational match of unusual intensity.


Richard Nixon played football at Whittier College


Ronald Reagan played at Eureka College. He was also the captain of the swimming team.

But our greatest Presidential athlete is undoubtably Gerald Ford. Ford played center and linebacker on the Michigan football team which won two unofficial national championships by going undefeated in 1932 and 1933. In 1934, he was voted Michigan’s football MVP. That same year he played in a couple of post season all-star games. While in law school at Yale, he was an assistant coach of the Yale football team and head coach of the freshman boxing team. During World War II, he coached all nine sports teams at the U.S. Navy pre-flight school in North Carolina.


At a time when many are stressed out over politics, I thought it would be nice to take a look at another side of those evil politicians. On, and here is the king in his football gear:



The President having fun at Soldier Field in Chicago during a major NATO conference