ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
PRESIDENT Obama got his mouth busted last Friday and that's cool. Not in the sense that I'm glad the president got hurt, of course - I mean it's cool because we have a hard-core athlete in the Oval Office.
The elbow shot heard `round the world happened Friday afternoon, a couple of hours into a basketball game where Obama was setting about the task of working off his portion of the six different pies served at his White House Thanksgiving the day before. The five-on-five included Obama's nephew Avery Robinson, his ubiquitous assistant Reggie Love, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and the now infamous Rey Decerega, the director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. In the last of five games, Decerega's elbow hit Obama, who was playing defense, in the mouth, causing the lower-lip cut that required 12 small stitches.
The irony that our President got smacked down on his home court by a Latino was not lost on any of the people who reacted to my Tweet by imagining a symbolic nudge for Obama to pay more than just lip service to comprehensive immigration law reform.
Others saw it as the latest in a string of domestic and international "shellackings" he has suffered. News website comment boards lit up with sentiments ranging from snarky disappointment that he didn't get his entire mouth stitched shut to those inflamed that the man dared take some time to play basketball before facing the tumult in the Koreas and the remainder of Congress' lame-duck session.
I, on the other hand, am psyched that we have an athlete in the White House who isn't scared to compete hard and occasionally get smacked.
Lest anyone think Obama is charting new territory as a president getting razzed for being a "wuss," as he's been described on many comment sections, let's not forget January 2002 when then-President George W. Bush was mercilessly skewered after his athletically low pulse combined with a pretzel stuck in his throat caused a fainting spell that gave him a bruised cheek and a fat lip.
Few appreciated that the freak accident reflected an ultra-healthy man's cardiovascular system rather than someone prone to passing out. Many thought out loud: What, exactly, is the point of being so darned healthy if you're going to get a shiner for your efforts? I heard those same words last weekend, but you don't have to live in the White House to know that exercising your body is worth the trouble.
Forget about any perceived symbolism or the politics of the day. There's no better role model for a country plagued by life-shortening physical inactivity than a president who's not afraid to get sweaty and even bloodied as a result of strenuous exercise.
Obama may have lost Friday's last game, but he really scored by setting a good example for a nation of couch potatoes: Playing hard is rewarding despite the peril of a few scrapes.