The 2020 Dayton 500 started with a bang and ended with a crash. Not only did nearly 200,000 fans show up at the biggest race in NASCAR but the President of the United States, Donald Trump served as Grand Marshall of the event.
All of the drivers spoke in awe of the presence of the President. Even the retired ones like Jeff Gordon yearned for a chance to drive the opening laps behind the Presidential Motorcade. It was spectacular.
These are the moments that prove sports are important to a culture. Not important based on who wins (Denny Hamlin) or who loses. They are important because of the unity they exhibit among Americans. Watching the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States joining in on celebration America was enough to make every American smile. NASCAR is a particular example of that as it is a purely American sport.
Barack Obama, likewise was a staple at American sporting events. He is a huge basketball fan (another sports that is of American origins) and could be found regularly on the sidelines of professional and collegiate games. His presence there was a moment for all Americans, Democrat or Republican, to stand together and be unified.
George W. Bush is the most legitimate of the sports-attending presidents as he owned the Texas Rangers prior to his move into politics. Though he kept a low profile as President of the United States, since he is a staple at many events. His Presidential Library and residence are near the SMU campus, he is a regular at their football and basketball games where he is always met with an outpouring of love.
Yes, there are time fans are jerks and let their politics cloud their humanity. The best example is when Trump was booed by Nationals fans at the World Series in 2019. But watching Presidents of the United States celebrate in American cultural events is good for America. The ability of Americans to cheer on their president whether they agree with him on the sanctity of life, taxes or healthcare shows maturity as a nation. Understanding that behind the job there is an individual that is as American as the next sports fan is a good thing.
President Trump has been particularly inclined to show up to sporting events, apart from the Daytona 500 he was at the Super Bowl the last two years, the Army-Navy game and the Presidents Cup. To his credit this notoriously loose-lipped president has not been apolitical at these events. I believe he took this strategy from his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Obama opened up the door with his attendance and yearly March Madness bracket on ESPN. George Bush of course had one of the most memorable scenes in presidential history when he threw out the first pitch at the Yankees game after the terrorist attack on 9-11. This was one of the most moving scenes in all of sporting history. Together, the New York fans, few of which (according to voting results) voted for the President, stood together and cheered.
Sports ought to be a place where no matter your views on how to stop climate change, how to deal with the national debt or who should own guns, we should all be able to sit together and cheer for a team. We should all be able to stand and honor the president voted for by our countrymen, even if it wasn’t by us. Presidents at sporting events should remind us that as fragmented and partisan as our politics can be, there is more that unties us as a country than divides us.