It's A Coin Toss: Presidential Speech Or Football?

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Years ago, it was an occasional debate among press box sociologists about which sport was more attractive to members of the two political parties.

The consensus was that football was more for Republicans, baseball for Democrats — the general reasoning being that GOP types were more militarily inclined, as is the gridiron game, and that since football had long been more a college sport, and more Republicans had gone to college, football had a greater Republican tradition.

This was all, as you can tell, pretty unscientific reasoning among sportswriters who knew earned run averages better than polling samples, but today the NFL is so popular that that old discussion is moot. I suspect now that football is equally beloved by Republicans, Democrats, independents, Tea Partiers, Libertarians, socialists, Whigs, Know-Nothings and even Ralph Nader die-hards.

So I suppose we can understand why, when President Obama found out that he was only welcome to appear before Congress on Thursday, he decided on a 7 p.m. EDT speech, so as not to conflict with an 8:30 p.m. NFL game.

But really now: Are football fans so utterly involved with their sport that they couldn't sacrifice watching about one-quarter of one regular-season game to hear the president talk about economics in the middle of an economic crisis?

Now, to be fair to football, its fans are hardly the only Americans who would put entertainment above citizenship. Exceptionalism? We're an exceptionally negligent nation when it comes to exercising our franchise as opposed to supporting the local NFL franchise. Only 41.5 percent of eligible voters bothered to go to the polls in last year's national election, and I've got to assume that not all of the uncaring 58.5 percent were football nuts.

Still, when the president wants to speak to the nation, there's something unsettling about his being afraid to take on NFL fans. Specifically, forfeiting prime time to football means that President Obama will be speaking to the West Coast at 4:00 in the afternoon — a terribly inconvenient time. Good grief, it's lucky that Oprah isn't still on in the afternoons or the president might have had no choice but to come on after midnight in order not to upset the amusement patterns of our citizenry.

Really now, must the president become a lounge act for a football game if that means it is so much more difficult for millions of people out west — those who really do care about policy — to hear an important speech from the country's leader?

Sept. 7 — a day that will live in apathy.

The logical conclusion to all this is that it would be wise to shift Election Day from the heart of the football season in November to, say, May or June, when at least some pigskin devotees wouldn't be so in thrall to football that they might actually go out and vote.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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