The campaign for President of the United States is often described as a horse race; a point reinforced by a tracking poll appropriately named "Gallup." So, in the spirit of using sport vernacular to describe this election, I couldn't help but notice that on the stage at "Ole Miss" was more than a republican versus a democrat, more than a conservative versus a liberal, more than veteran versus a newcomer.... It was a wrestler versus a shooting guard; the difference between a suplex and a crossover, a DDT and a finger roll. The difference between Hulk Hogan and Michael Jordan.... In a word, finesse.
It seems that Senator McCain's experience as a junior varsity wrestler in High School and Senator Obama's experience as a junior varsity basketball player has seeped so deeply into their psyche's that they could be the defining factor in who wins or looses the election. I know it may sound like pseudo-intellectual psychobabble, but it's true. We all carry in our heads the quintessential images of either sport. If I ask you "who or what comes to your mind when I say the word basketball," you'll probably say Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, etc. Likewise, if I ask you to do the same for the word wrestling, then you probably say Hulk Hogan if you're old school, or Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or Batista if you watch "WWE Smackdown."
But, along with those images, the words wrestler and basketball player connotes two distinct styles of conduct. I can't help but to think back to Hulk Hogan's husky, raspy tone of voice as he exclaims, "what'ca gonna do when...yada, yada, yada...all over you" or Macho Man Randy Savage's voice that sounded like he was straining to think of the words that came out of his mouth. Neither of them sound like that in everyday conversation, so their "wrestling voices" are merely theatrical elements added to bolster the concept of who and what they are in the minds of their fans. That sounds a lot like John McCain these days, doesn't it? For example, did anyone really believe that he was truly suspending his campaign to go to Washington D.C. and solve the economic crisis, and that he wouldn't attend the very first presidential debate? No, of course not! But just like a WWE wrestler, McCain was using the crisis as a theatrical tool to bolster the image of who he is to his fans, with the hope of winning a couple more in the process. "John's a maverick," his fans say. "He can bring people from both sides to the table," his fans say. "He takes great political risks," his fans say.... Well, get this man a pair of tights and a steel chair, I say.
On the other hand, basketball is a game of finesse. When I think of Obama, I can't help but to see a similarity between his overall demeanor and that of another Windy City hero, Michael Jordan. Maybe it's because they're both from Chicago or maybe it's because they're both basketball players, but whatever it is, there seems to be an uncanny similarity between the two that goes beyond "I wanna be, I wanna be like Mike" and the "Yes We Can" slogans.
Composure. Level headedness. Both Obama and Jordan have a reputation for being "cool under pressure," sometimes to such a degree that their fans beg them to fight. I can recall a game between the Nicks and Bulls in which Anthony Mason and Jordan almost came to blows.... I remember how excited I was, because I felt that if he could play ball that well, then he could probably "open a can of whoop-ass," too. I'm older now and Anthony Mason still scares me. That moment, however, reminds me of the feeling I felt in last Friday's debate when Obama went at McCain about how he was "wrong" on Iraq. In that game, Jordan regained his composure and went on to win that game. Likewise, in the debate Obama regained his composure and went on to win the debate.
Another similarity (which is kind of a novelty), didn't the rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Obama feel a lot like the rivalry between the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls? Remember? That was the one where the experienced champions (Pistons), led by Isiah Thomas were so threatened by the remarkable talent of Michael Jordan that they came up with a plan called "the Jordan rules" to try to contain him. That plan, by the way, called for them to double- and triple-team him, roughing him up in the process.
But the major difference between McCain and Obama might come down to the nature of how their respective sports are played. As a wrestler, you are on your own in the ring. You work on viscerally and on impulse, with your prime objective being to level your opponent. You take risks, like jumping off the top rope, not knowing if your opponent will be there when you land, or if he'll be there with a foot waiting to break your fall. And even with a tag-team match, you're all alone in the ring until you can tag your partner, and when you do, you have to hope that your partner can wrestle as well as you can, or that they don't accidentally hit you in the head with a steel chair that was aimed at the other team.... Sarah Palin, anyone?
Basketball is a team sport with five different positions or specializations, a captain, a lieutenant, and a general (coach). The captain receives his orders and must continually assess and reassess the situation in a game that is constantly in motion. The captain takes an account of the strengths of each team member/position and makes a call about which play will result in a score. In other words, basketball is a game that is part brain, part gut instinct, and part physical ability. It comes a lot closer to the sort of organization and decision making that characterizes our government and the role of the president. If you're lucky, your captain will be a shooting guard like Kobe, Jordan, Obama.