By LZ Granderson
Page 2

There are two ways to interpret Barack Obama's appearance on "Monday Night Football" this week.

Barack Obama
AP Photo/Brian Kersey
Senator Obama, you might be a fine presidential candidate, but your MNF appearance is irrelevant to the discussion.

You could see it as a playful acknowledgement that he is aware of his slight overexposure and he smartly took the opportunity to join us all in a good-natured laugh about it.

Or, it's his strongest statement to date that he is running for president.

Personally, I think it's the latter and here's why: Aligning yourself with sports has long become the de facto route politicians take to illustrate they are "man" enough to run the country.

John Sayle Watterson, in his book "The Games Presidents Play: Sports and the Presidency," documents the link between sports and the president well and even credits Theodore Roosevelt with "the twentieth-century sporting presidency." But if you look at the 2004 presidential campaign, in which George W. Bush and John Kerry were aggressively -- if not embarrassingly -- trying to out-jock each other in the voters' eyes, you will see things may be out of hand.

Kerry goes windsurfing.

Bush grabs a golf club.

Kerry plays hockey.

Bush jumps on a horse.

Behind the scenes of MNF with Sen. Barack Obama

It was Jack Kemp tossing footballs into the crowd all over again. Actually I give Kemp a pass (pun intended) because at least he was a successful AFL quarterback. Bush and Kerry were just two media-savvy gym rats trying to distract us from their glaring shortcomings through an unintentionally humorous procession of shameless photo ops.

So Obama taking the time to give the Chicago Bears a shout out on Monday night was more than clever PR. It was a proclamation that says he's coming after you, Hillary. And Rudy. And McCain. And you too, Nature Boy.

Honestly, I don't fault him for the move. In fact, I was part of a team that approached his office last year to do a sports-related project. But now that all the big boys -- and gal -- have formed their exploratory committees, I'm concerned Obama's promo was a kickoff to Capitol Hill's version of Wide World of Sports. Will we soon find Anderson Cooper showing us clips of Hillary sparring in a gritty Harlem gym with Bill in the background?

Will we see YouTube files of McCain playing flag football with a neapolitan assortment of underprivileged kids somewhere near New Orleans? I can hear McCain's press guy now: "Is there one more black … I mean African-American girl we can get for this shot? The voters need to know John's a quarterback for every community."

And then after enduring the I'm-an-athlete-too onslaught during the day, we switch over to Jon Stewart at night, when he reminds us that once again we must choose between the lesser of two evils as opposed to the best person for the job.

I sure hope not.

Look, this country doesn't need a president who can slow-pedal with Lance Armstrong through a field of daisies. It needs someone who can navigate through the nuanced maze of international diplomacy.

Yeah, it was cool when Bill Clinton played his sax on Arsenio Hall and told us he wore boxers. But that was a different time. We are at war now and I don't want a pop culture figure in the White House. I want a leader. A real leader. Not someone stealing the images of leadership to fill the holes in his or her political resume.

So thank you Obama for the MNF appearance. I honestly did enjoy it. Now sir, please stop. And the rest of you don't even start. This election, this office, is too important to dumb down your pending campaigns with tactics more suited to win you the homecoming crown.

Besides, if we see you playing a sport and you suck, that just gives Stephen Colbert one more reason to make fun of you – and for us to reconsider our vote.

LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN the Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." He is currently working on his first book. LZ can be reached at