By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) It started with knocking on doors and handing out fliers on the South Side in a White Sox cap and probably dad jeans.
“I rise today as a U.S. Senator, as an Illinoisan and as a proud resident of the South Side of Chicago,” Barack Obama said on the Illinois Senate floor in October 2005, “to congratulate the Chicago White Sox for winning the 2005 World Series. As my fellow South Siders know, it has been a long time coming.”
Then he added a customized jersey to the dad jeans, a party foul to purists but very much the mark of an everyman in anyone who loves sports cosplay even if he was running for the highest office in the land. He graduated from Sox Senator to First Fan with the Sox dad coat (and still dad jeans).
There were no famous White Sox fans before President Barack Obama. George Wendt?
Sure, maybe there were famous people who claimed loyalty to the Sox, but they were rarely vocal about it. The Sox cap had been relegated to color coordination on indifferent hip-hop artists. But Obama owned the hell out of his.
The image pops up almost daily: President-elect Barack Obama in his White Sox hat.
There he is riding in the back of an SUV. Wearing a Sox hat.
Taking his daughters to school. Wearing a Sox hat.
Heading for his morning workout. Wearing a Sox hat. An old, old Sox hat that he seems reluctant to part with.
Now, as most of the country seems reluctant to part with Obama, Chance the Rapper as Sox fan doesn’t seem weird. What did America think about Bears fans before him? Superfan caricatures.
And then there he was, donning a cap, affirming the stereotype.
The outgoing President of the United States was our famous Chicago sports dork. He mispronounced names like Chris “Sales” and “Cominsky Field” like so many critical Windy City sports radio callers who have beer-farted about Kerry “Woods,” Josh “McGowan” and “Soldiers” Field.
Regardless of partisan leaning, we had in the White House one of us. Not an accomplished lawyer, professor and legislator — oh hell no. We had a dude who put Chicago sports out there no matter how awkward he sounded about it. And that basically ends Tuesday with Obama’s farewell speech to the nation from right here where his political career began and his Zubaz were purchased (I’m guessing).
After three Stanley Cup victories for the Blackhawks during his presidency, they gave him a coveted United Center parking pass, like that one your uncle gots that he lets you borrow if he ain’t using it.
Near the beginning of Obama’s historic presidency, the Hawks ended what was the NHL’s longest championship drought, and the Cubs ended pro sports’ longest drought at its end.
In between, he shot hoops on the reg and made an annual NCAA tournament bracket, all the while being very much a starchy politician and a hero to many good people and a disappointment to other relevant critical thinkers. Still, in the ultimate Chicago loyalist move, Obama righted the wrong of the ’85 Bears never getting their White House appearance rescheduled.
While this president will always be a Chicago meatball, more so now that he has extra time to more fully embrace that persona, he understood during his time in office that sports and politics are intersectional.
“I’m from Chicago,” Obama said last year to the audience at North Carolina A&T when waxing on not being able to achieve goals alone. “When I think about basketball, I’m thinking about Michael Jordan and the Bulls … Detroit kept on pounding us until we finally said, man, we gotta get Pippen in there.”
Two things stand out to me there: 1) A sitting president addressed issues of sports and race and athlete conscientiousness at an HBCU and exemplified necessary conversations that need to occur even in our respites and despite screams to keep politics out of entertainment and 2) Obama used the first person plural when talking about a favorite team, something that rankles a guy like me who refuses to pretend I am part of the squad, no matter how much my screaming in the stands totally influenced that last play call.
But it’s so Barry and Michelle Q. Sportsfan that I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t call 670 The Score at some point in his downtime to complain about Fred Hoiberg not being fiery enough for “our” players. The disdain in his voice is clear with the Pistons reference as he’s momentarily called back to yelling at a Hyde Park TV over no foul called on one of the Bad Boys. He effortlessly lobs from the ’90s-big-head-caricature-T-shirt primal to waxing on the approaches to social justice of Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe.
We now move on as a country into a great unknown — to put it mildly — but what is known is that the White House is losing a piece of us as Chicago sports fans. Obama was the closest in my lifetime to an everyman spilling nachos on himself as he jumps up during a touchdown, to the giddy, starstruck goobers that we all are away from our day jobs.
Still, I bet President Barack Obama references Chicago sports in his farewell Tuesday. It’d be a nod not just to his hometown but a cap tip to us meatball siblings of his.
After all the hope for the nation’s future and time for unity blah blah blah, he’ll change into some dad jeans and groan at highlights of the Bulls losing to the Washington Wizards and consider how his favorite hoops team can swing that Charlotte Bobcats pick for another star.
And he’ll don his Sox cap.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.