Some presidents throw out baseball’s first pitch of the season. Some post picks for college basketball’s March Madness. One might tweet about a football player kneeling. President Richard M. Nixon phoned Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula to suggest plays for the Super Bowl. He hosted players in the 1969 Major League All-Star game for a party deemed the strangest since the mob scene during Andrew Jackson’s inauguration. He attended a Washington Redskins practice to boost moral; altered the NFL’s policy for televising home games; introduced the practice of calling teams after Super Bowl or World Series wins. The list goes on, but the point is clear: Richard Nixon was the nation’s first sports super fan to occupy the Oval Office. And this, Nicholas Evan Sarantakes suggests, may explain why Nixon, so despised for all his faults and failings, was nonetheless also widely loved by the American public.
In Fan in Chief Sarantakes sets out to show how Richard Nixon’s passion for sports, more than policy positions or partisan politics, engaged the American people—and how Nixon used this passion to his political advantage. Fan in Chief takes place in the realm of political theater, a theater in which the president’s role was perfectly genuine. A true fan, Nixon exposed core elements of his personality, character, and values in the world of sports; through sport he could connect and communicate with the character and values of his fellow Americans. Fan in Chief is thus a story of both personality and politics; but more than that, it is an in-depth exploration of what Richard Nixon’s love of sport can tell us about the man and his times.