The entire White House sports thing is a contrivance. Most of us get that. Our president opens up the Oval Office to receive a perennial parade of champions, not only because, sure, it’s the right thing to do, but most of all because it presents the Prez with a rare opportunity to connect with the entire electorate, be it blue, red, tea-colored, or a hue designated for party assignment.
In those moments, we’re all expected to summon some good will for the most powerful person in the free world, the guy who typically goes by commander in chief, who is ditching his serious daily duties ever so briefly in order to cavort and high-five and bust chops with America’s best and brightest (often a stretch) athletes.
Everyone smiles. Playful jabs are traded. No matter our politics, or lack of same, we typically buy into it, which means, OK, we’ve been played ever so willingly in what is a very old political game. That said, I can’t imagine these moments in turning the White House into an all-sports happy hour do all that much to change our perceptions, our politics, our votes.
Yes, it’s smart, prudent politics. But did Americans alter their voting habits or political allegiances when the Hub’s 2013 World Series champeen convoy wheeled down Pennsylvania Avenue? Red Sox Nation gets tons of credit around here, but let’s not be ridiculous.
In the midst of this very old, accepted political parlor game, David Ortiz forever changed the dynamics of these meet and greets when he pulled out his smartphone and asked the president to pose for a selfie. In the car with the radio on, I listened in real time, and admit now that I thought it sounded sensational, especially when I could hear Barack Obama eagerly and graciously accept Ortiz’s request. I totally bought the moment — hook, line, and phone-y baloney.
“Hey, Ellen, beat that!’’ I hollered at the radio as I drove along the Mass. Pike, thinking immediately of the Ellen DeGeneres boffo selfie ploy at the recent Academy Awards. Yes, I frequently holler at my radio and I also talk far too much to my dog these days. It has been a long winter.
Anyway, in fairly short order we learned the whole selfie thing was a scam, Ortiz doing the bidding of the smartphone company that he endorses. Right there in this long-accepted practice of political exploitation, Big Papi pulled a “Gotcha!’’ of epic proportions on the smiling Obama. Boy, if only the Sox DH thought ahead just another half-step and stuck one of those trick flowers in his lapel to douse the commander in chief with an unexpected stream of water.
Ortiz, the Designated Huckster, turned Obama into the Designated Hayseed. I look at the selfie now, Huckster on the left and Hayseed on the right, and can’t believe Ortiz was so brazen, Obama so gullible.
We know Ortiz doesn’t need the money. He just signed a contract extension for another boatload of dough. So now he’s pranking the Prez for a few extra bucks? Really, it can’t be that hard to stretch $15 million a year, even in this challenged economy.
The only gracious way out of this is for Big Papi and his market-share-grubbing smartphone company to quantify what the prank will generate in income and then designate those dollars to charity — perhaps, say, to help Michelle Obama’s initiatives to combat childhood obesity in her role as calorie counter in chief. Yeah, I know, fat chance that happens.
“As a rule,’’ White House spokesman Jay Carney noted in the wake of the flap, “the White House objects to attempts to use the president’s likeness for commercial purposes.” Carney then added, “We certainly object in this case.’’
Like baseball, the White House has its ground rules. These moments aren’t meant as an invite for teams or individual athletes to continue their huckstering, cash-grabbing ways. What next, visiting car execs unfurling Ford Motors’ oval logo in the Oval Office? It’s the No. 1 governmental office in our nation, its walls not to be confused with the ad space on Fenway’s left-field wall. Go sell cellphones and snake oil somewhere else.
The Red Sox were expected to be gracious and grateful guests, and they were, all of them, until Ortiz sprung into action like one of those guys who dart out from behind a traffic light and begin washing your windshield, shaming you into slipping them a buck. Thank you, Mr. President, you just got tooled. But at least you didn’t have to reach for your wallet.
These White House handshakes aren’t going well for Boston’s pro teams. Following their 2011 Stanley Cup win, the Bruins swung by to see Obama in January 2012, only to have star goalie Tim Thomas abstain. While the rest of his team did the handshake thing, Thomas was back in an area hotel room, telling the world via his Facebook account why he was a no-show.
“The Federal government has grown out of control,’’ wrote Thomas, “threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People. For that reason, I exercised my right as a Free Citizen.’’
And he did so by propping himself up on the shoulders of his teammates, who had yet to leave the White House when Thomas hit “send” on his Facebook missive. It was anything but gracious, the timing exploited his teammates, and it ultimately left them to answer the lingering trail of questions from the media that Thomas refused to address.
You don’t like who your friend is marrying? Fine, turn down the wedding invite. But don’t show up on the church steps and smack a pie in the face of the bride or groom as they leave the wedding.
The flap over Ortiz’s self-interested selfie will fade faster than a Polaroid instant snapshot. A new season is under way, with news cycles changing nearly at the rate of innings. The next flap is surely on deck. But the Red Sox visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2014 will long be remembered for the dirt of commercialism that Ortiz left on the White House rug.