Fan in Chief
Richard Nixon and American Sports, 1969–1974
Nicholas Evan Sarantakes
Some presidents throw out baseball’s first pitch of the season. Some post picks for college basketball’s March Madness. One might tweet about a football player kneeling. President Richard M. Nixon phoned Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula to suggest plays for the Super Bowl. He hosted players in the 1969 Major League All-Star game for a party deemed the strangest since the mob scene during Andrew Jackson’s inauguration. He attended a Washington Redskins practice to boost moral; altered the NFL’s policy for televising home games; introduced the practice of calling teams after Super Bowl or World Series wins. The list goes on, but the point is clear: Richard Nixon was the nation’s first sports super fan to occupy the Oval Office. And this, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes suggests, may explain why Nixon, so despised for all his faults and failings, was nonetheless also widely loved by the American public.
In Fan in Chief Sarantakes sets out to show how Richard Nixon’s passion for sports, more than policy positions or partisan politics, engaged the American people—and how Nixon used this passion to his political advantage. Fan in Chief takes place in the realm of political theater, a theater in which the president’s role was perfectly genuine. A true fan, Nixon exposed core elements of his personality, character, and values in the world of sports; through sport he could connect and communicate with the character and values of his fellow Americans. Fan in Chief is thus a story of both personality and politics; but more than that, it is an in-depth exploration of what Richard Nixon’s love of sport can tell us about the man and his times.
“Just when it appeared that the cottage industry that revolves around Richard Nixon and historians had run its course, Sarantakes has produced a remarkable and original book about one of our most controversial presidents. In his fair-minded and very well-researched study, the author not only skillfully explores the relationship between the president and sports but demonstrates the powerful connection between sports and politics, a connection virtuallyinvented by the Nixon administration.”
—Melvin Small, author of The Presidency of Richard Nixon
“In Fan in Chief, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes presents the Richard Nixon we never knew. Through his love of sports like baseball and football, we see how ordinary Nixon was—even as president of the United States. The book is packed with names fans will recognize, and Sarantakes shows us how a shared love of sports is a universal language that brings people together.”
—Luke A. Nichter, coauthor of The Nixon Tapes: 1973
“Sarantakes takes a serious look at President Richard Nixon’s employment of sport for his political purposes and demonstrates that Nixon attempted to utilize the attributes of sport such as hard work, personal resiliency, and a commitment to following the rules and norms of society as a means to shape American core values and beliefs, epitomize democratic ideals, and promote a sense of community. Nixon believed that youthful voters primarily looked to the White House to define American identity rather than a set of particular policies.”
—Steven A. Riess, Bernard Brommel Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus, Northeastern Illinois University, and author of City Games: The Evolution of American Urban Society and the Rise of Sports
“Richard Nixon loved politics, and he loved sports. In this excellent book, Nicholas Sarantakes shows how the president fused these passions to win favorable publicity but also to promote his conception of traditional American values. Embedding his narrative in great events and forgotten games, Sarantakes shows us a Nixon we have never seen before.”
—Allen Matusow, author of Nixon’s Economy: Booms, Busts, Dollars, and Votes
“No modern president has used sports as a political metaphor so effectively as Richard Nixon. And few moments match the Nixon presidency as a time when issues like race, players’ rights, and feminism muscled their way onto the sports pages. Sarantakes breaks fresh ground in this intriguing study of how an awkward president employed his genuine love for sporting competition to demonstrate to his ‘great silent majority’ that he shared their values.”
—John A. Farrell, author of Richard Nixon: The LifeSee fewer reviews...