Thursday, June 18, 2009

"The jocks in the White House"

Ben Smith:
If you haven't yet read ESPN's Wright Thompson's piece on the sociology of the White House basketball games, the screening games, the Washingtonians angling to play with Obama, it's really a must-read -- the defining story on Obama's Washington.
Thompson got lots of access and writes well, but keeps his eye on the subject of power:

When Salazar finally gets in, it's obvious he is actually pretty athletic, and he has a lot of hustle. He's not easy to cover. Someone yells, "Who's got Secretary?" Other than being addressed by his title, Salazar is treated like everyone else. Look around at the court right now. Don Gips, the director of personnel at the White House, is in the game, too, setting devastating picks. Then another regular, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., joins in. So now, on the court at the same time, are a Cabinet secretary, the guy in charge of administration hiring, a U.S. senator … and a bunch of staff members, some of them very junior. This is the dramatic difference between basketball and golf. Nobody's taking an intern to play golf at Congressional Country Club. Basketball is much more democratic. During a break, Casey is talking to scheduler Courtenay Lewis, explaining that she should treat him like anyone else.
Bob Casey, Obama
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Bob Casey says a foul is a foul -- even when it's committed by a senator from Pennsylvania.

"I fouled you, and you didn't call it on me," he says.

"Well …"

"You should have," he says.

(Don't think everyone acts like Casey. This, after all, is Washington, and politics trump everything, even democracy. A story: Former Division I player interviews for a job at the White House, an entry-level administration position. At the interview, he is told that there likely could be a position for him in one of the departments -- and that he'll be invited to play in one of their pickup runs. Oh, and a final piece of advice: If you get into a game before the job is finalized, let the other team win. No tomahawk dunks on a potential benefactor. Capisce?)

One thing you can't help taking away from a piece on the key to access in Obama's White House: There are almost no women in the story, and none on the court.

Howie P.S.: "Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash." gets a mention in the ESPN-OTL story:
In December, there wasn't a regular pickup game in the House gym. By February, lots of congressmen had rediscovered their love for the sport. Former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, D-N.C., is the game's commish, and they go almost every morning at 6:30. "I've been playing for the last month or so again," says Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. "Everybody wants to get in on the first administration versus Congress basketball game."

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