The Pen is Mightier: Zach Bohannon's second plea to President Obama

President Obama with Wisconsin's team in October. (Wisconsin Athletics)

By Zach Bohannon

Since this basketball season is in the year of an election, I find this title of my blog very fitting. First off, the Founding Fathers of the United States of America were big believers that “the pen is mightier than the sword.” This belief is what led to the unification of all the colonies and ultimately the ability to gain the freedom that we have today.

Secondly, in parallels to that, I named the blog The Pen is Mightier because this is my campaign to make the average college basketball fan fall in love with one of America’s most under-appreciated teams, the University of Wisconsin men’s squad. I will use my pen and quill to give you unprecedented inside access at soon-to-be one of the most loved college basketball team’s in America!

Lastly, the title of this blog might be a reference to Saturday Night Live, you decide.

Sports and Politics

It is not very often (to be honest probably never) where I get an opportunity to juxtapose two subjects I am most passionate about: sports and politics. Believe it or not, these two topics have way more in common than the average person, but more specifically, the average sports fan, might imagine. With that said, this is my story about how politics and sports have become linked through my eyes.

For me, after I read the first book that was written about him called A Sense of Where You Are, I was always astonished by the life of Bill Bradley. I know it is a name many younger readers might not be familiar with, but to me, he was extraordinary. Here is just a quick run-down of his athletic résumé: Final Four appearance at Princeton, College Player of the Year, NBA All-Star and two-time NBA champion.

However, it was his off-the-court résumé that truly made me a fan: He chose Princeton after reneging on an offer from Duke. He later became a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, postponing his chance to play in the NBA for the New York Knicks by two years.

After his NBA career, he proceeded to become a U.S. senator for 18 years before unsuccessfully running for president in 2000. The story of Bill Bradley has forever changed my outlook on the way sports and politics are related. It even put me on the lookout for other athletes who have used their sports platform to their advantage on the pathway of becoming a politician. 

Let me start off with a politician and sports figure who is a large part of our own basketball program. Herb Kohl, who is a major donor to our university (the Kohl Center was built and financed by a $25 million donation by Koh), is a retiring senator from Wisconsin. He is also the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. You think his connections to the world of sports stops there? Absolutely not. While an undergraduate student at Wisconsin, Kohl was a college roommate with a childhood friend named Bud Selig, the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Let’s go one step further and talk strictly at the presidential level, because I could write for days about the different sports figures who turned to politics overall.

Our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who attended West Point before becoming the famous five-star general that won him the presidency, played football in college. His claim to fame was that he once tackled the legendary and fast-moving Jim Thorpe.

Richard M. Nixon was a college football player at the small school of Whittier College. President Nixon was succeeded by Gerald R. Ford, who many people know played football at the University of Michigan.

It wasn’t until the 41st president, George H.W. Bush, that we had a former team captain of a college sports team as commander in chief. President Bush was the team captain of his Yale baseball team while earning his undergraduate degree. His son, George W. Bush, developed a passion for baseball as well and became the owner of the Texas Rangers before he was elected president in 2000.

This leads us to President Barack Obama. Up until now, we have not had a president who has been as connected to or cared about basketball, in particular at the college level, as much as Obama has been during his first four years in office. People can agree or disagree whether this is a good thing, but one fact is for sure, it is great for the world of college basketball.

President Obama’s passion for the sport is well documented, from his predictions for March Madness on ESPN to his support for his brother-in-law’s basketball program at Oregon State. In addition, he became famous for his basketball craving during his 2008 campaign when he stopped and played a game of pickup with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Knowing of this deep passion that president Obama has, I decided to take advantage of my sports platform and get him to come to our arena to play a game of pickup with our basketball team while he was in town for his campaign speech in October.

Although my giant Twitter crusade ultimately failed, in his first career assist, my teammate George Marshall used his connection to the president’s godson, Alex Nesbitt, an AAU teammate, to snag VIP passes for our team. These passes gave us the opportunity to spend five uninterrupted minutes with the president, in addition to getting a few team pictures with him as well.

Our conversation with him included the following:

-- The president telling us he knew we could win at home, but the true test will be whether we can win on the road;

-- The president telling us that he will cheer for us as long as we aren’t playing Oregon State;

-- The president giving us advice in the wake of the Harvard cheating scandal. He reminded each of to always “do your homework!”

Our time with the leader of the free world was priceless.

Overall, it was an unbelievable experience for our team to meet President Obama. After following the final days of his re-election campaign, it still doesn’t feel real that our team was able to talk basketball with him at such a crucial time for him.

However, there is one thing he promised our team, along with our entire university after our private meeting that I want to remind him of now. Just prior to his campaign speech --approximately 15 minutes after meeting us -- the president said:

“The basketball team is over here.” He then pointed in our direction to the right of the podium in front of the audience of almost 30,000 supporters. “They invited me to play. I said after the election I will be raining down jumpers on them. Actually I didn’t say that, I said I’m getting kind of old."

That was it. It was a short shout out, but his promise he made to us in the VIP room was now carved into stone and made public.

Our head coach, Bo Ryan, preaches all the time to our team that in life you should always strive to under promise and over deliver. He has built our basketball program on this solid principle and year after year has lived by it through and through.

I, of all people, understand that politicians are notorious for making promises and not following through. However, this promise is one that I believe President Obama will not back down from. I know that he has many priorities that must be addressed, first for the nation, but all I have to say is this: To you, Mr. President, don’t let this be another politician’s promise that is not kept. The ball is now in your possession. Don’t be a ball hog; our team is ready, and patiently waiting.

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