How many people do you think have met the President of the United States? I don't mean people who knew the President when he was in high school, or went to watch one of his speeches, or saw his motorcade drive by one time. I mean actually seeing the man, shaking his hand, whether at a fundraiser or being hosted at the White House, exchanging a dialogue that he'll never remember and you'll never forget. 10,000 people? 100,000 people? I'd guess roughly 50,000 people: 50,000 people who have looked the leader of the free world right in the eye. (I'm open to adjustments to that estimate.) That is, essentially, 1 out of every 142,000 people on earth. You're four times more likely to have leprosy.
Tuesday, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated Super Bowl-winning team in NFL history, will visit the White House and meet President Obama, who will honor them and surely accept a personalized jersey. (Obama was 11 when the Dolphins won that Super Bowl.) This is considered a long overdue visit: They didn't visit the White House back in 1973 because Richard Nixon had that whole Watergate business to deal with. (I love that the only time a President is considered too busy to meet with championship teams is when he is immersed in scandal. Otherwise, he's got tons of time on his hands.)
Your excitement about this occasion depends on your Dolphins fandom, your age, or both. If you remember that team and are nostalgic for your lost youth, you are pleased that this historic team is finally receiving the recognition long denied them. If you are not a Dolphins fan or just too young to have ever seen them, you find them self-aggrandizing spotlight hounds who took advantage of one of the easiest schedules in NFL history. To each his or her own.
What strikes me most, though, are the members of the 1972 Dolphins who won't be there. Greg Cote, the fine columnist for the Miami Herald, reports that 31 players from the team will be in attendance. Thirteen will not. Eight have died; two are "too busy." (One, safety Jake Scott, runs a charter fishing boat in Hawaii, a fantastic job to have after retiring from the NFL.) And then there are three who aren't coming because … they hate President Obama.
• Defensive lineman Manny Fernandez. "I'll just say my views are diametrically opposed to the president's. Enough said. Let's leave it at that. I hope everyone enjoys the trip who goes."
• Offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg: "I just don't believe in this administration at all. So I don't belong. Anyone on the left or the right has to respect one man's opinion."
• Center Jim Langer: "I don't want to be in a room with those people and pretend I'm having a good time. I can't do that. If that [angers] people, so be it."
There's a long history of athletes, former and current, refusing to meet the President when he has invited them to the White House. A cursory, surely incomplete search turns up:
President W. Bush:
James Harrison, Pittsburgh Steelers (This might have been for the stupidest reason of all: Because Bush "would have invited the Arizona Cardinals if they had won." He refused an invitation from President Clinton as well.)
Manny Ramirez, Boston Red Sox (President Bush, definitely the biggest baseball fan to occupy the White House in decades, joked: "I'm sorry [David Ortiz's] running mate, Manny Ramirez, isn't here. I guess his grandmother died again. Just kidding. Tell Manny I didn't mean it.")
Pia Sundhage, Team USA women's soccer coach
I will try to say this as clearly as possible: These people are idiots. Every single one of them.
To get the opportunity to meet the President of the United States is something that millions of people dream of: It is, for almost anyone who has ever done it, one of the legitimate peaks of their lives. It does not matter what the politics of the person in office are, or what yours are. To refuse an invitation to meet the President is an offense to those who will never have the chance. It shows disrespect for not just the office, but the country itself. When the President invites you to the White House, even if he is actively trying to pass a law that says you, personally, are no longer allowed to eat cake, you stop what you are doing and you go. And you certainly don't grandstand for absolutely zero effect. Congratulations, Dan Hampton: You haven't changed a single mind. I hope you feel important.
If you want to make a difference in the world, if you believe the world would be a better place if your political beliefs were more widely disseminated, there are lots of things you can do. You can run for office. You can volunteer in your community. You can buy time for a local infomercial. You can start a blog. You can respond to everything @whitehouse Tweets out with "@whitehouse YOUR FEET STINK LIKE DEAD FISH." Earth is open to you. Make a difference. Put in some effort. The world needs more passionate, active people trying to do something.
But there's nothing lazier, and more disrespectful to your country, your fellow citizens and the thousands of people who came before you (many of whom worked a lot harder than you did and sacrificed a lot more than you did and would be elated to have someone from their lineage invited to the White House), than doing some flippant, "I don't like the guy," crossing your arms and stomping away. You don't like his tax policies, or theories on carbon emissions, or the tie he wore last Thursday? Grow up. You see people every day who don't agree with you on dozens of things, and somehow, we're all able to collectively understand that the world will go on, regardless. The President wants you to come to his house so he can honor you. The President just invited you over! He knows your name! Get over there, you dope. Jeez, what's wrong with you?
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