The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. A few months later, they went to the White House for the traditional round of presidential congratulations.
Manny Ramirez was a no-show. Why? He didn’t like the president, George W. Bush, a baseball man himself, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers? Sox officials said Ramirez was visiting his sick grandmother.
Boston won the Series again a few years later, and the president invited the team back to the White House. Again, no Ramirez. Bush’s response? A shrug, a teasing smirk. “I guess his grandmother died again,” he said.
Ramirez was not one to speechify, and there the analogy to the current fracas between Trump and the Golden State Warriors breaks down: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry did hold forth on their political disagreements with the president. He didn’t have to acknowledge them, however. A statesman would have ignored them.
The most cutting comeback would have been for him to express affection for the entertaining celebrity athletes. He could have learned from the proverbial southern church lady whose rejoinder to any slight or insult is to smile sweetly and say “Bless your heart!”
But for men who need a masculine example, let’s go back to W. An aide told him once that Keith Olbermann was fulminating against him on TV. Bush’s response: “Keith Olbermann? Why is he talking about me? He does SportsCenter. I love that guy!”
The anecdote may be apocryphal, but that’s beside the point, which is not (at least in my telling) that W was a better man than his media critics or successors in office. It’s that, while peevishness and carping are effete, magnanimity is manly and disarming.
Manliness is a much derided concept these days — ask Harvey Mansfield. It’s also sorely missed by many, women and men alike. Some men aspire to it but bluster, miss the mark, and end up being catty instead. It’s called Twitter. In contrast, competition on the court can still be uplifting.