Was Obama booed over Youkilis joke? The perils of talking sports on the stump

Politicians like to use sports references as a way to connect with voters. But a botched line can be perilous.

Larry Downing/REUTERS
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event at Symphony Hall in Boston June 25.

At a fundraiser in Boston last night, President Obama encountered what sounded like some rare boos when he teasingly told the crowd: "I want to say thank you for Youkilis" – referring to third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who had recently been traded from the Boston Red Sox to Obama's hometown team, the Chicago White Sox.

The crowd responded with what sounded like a ripple of boos (though a Monitor reporter in attendance heard mostly chants of "Youuuuk").

Either way, if the jibe was intended to get a laugh, the resulting response clearly caught the president off guard. He joked: “I didn’t think I was going to get any boos out of here. I should not have brought up baseball. I understand. My mistake.”

It's a sentiment that no doubt reverberates with scores of other politicians who have made regrettable sports references, only to find themselves booed – or worse, mocked.

Talking sports on the stump is an easy way for a politician to connect with crowds and bolster his or her "regular guy" credentials. But, as many have learned, a botched sports reference can seriously backfire.

Remember Sen. John Kerry's cringe-inducing reference to "Lambert Field," in an attempt to relate to Packers fans in Wisconsin during the 2004 campaign? During that same campaign, Senator Kerry also told a Michigan crowd "I go for Buckeye football," unintentionally promoting a fierce rival.

More recently, Vice President Joe Biden got some jeers for telling a San Francisco crowd that the Giants were "on their way to the Super Bowl," when in fact, the hometown 49ers were about to face the New York Giants in the playoffs (he later said he mixed up the city's baseball and football teams). Nor do flubs have to be team-specific: Newt Gingrich was mocked during the GOP primary campaign for answering a debate question about where he'd be if not at the debate with "watching college championship basketball" (which was not actually on that night).    

But the most perilous terrain of all for a politician may be references to the Red Sox.

Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren – who introduced the president at last night's fundraiser – was given a hard time earlier in the year when she flubbed a debate question about which years Boston won the World Series. (In April, Warren's opponent, incumbent GOP Sen. Scott Brown, actually began running radio ads about the Red Sox that didn't even mention the campaign, essentially assuming that listeners would remember Warren's mistake.) 

And of course, Senator Brown's previous Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, was widely seen as having lost her race in large part because of two Red Sox-related flubs – dismissing the idea of shaking hands with voters outside Fenway Park, and incorrectly identifying former Sox pitcher Curt Schilling as a "Yankee fan."

Given all that, Obama may have gotten off relatively easily (of course, he didn't make any factual errors). But we bet he steers clear of Red Sox references in the future. 

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