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Obama and “spiking the football”

In an interview today, President Obama used a sports metaphor to explain his decision to not release photos that show the body of Osama bin Laden: “We don’t need to spike the football.” In other words, we finished the job and there’s no need for unnecessary celebration.

The language is in sync with Obama’s public image as results-oriented leader who stays cool under pressure, as well as the Navy SEALs’ branding as “quiet professionals.”

I think decision to not release the photos was wise. Skeptics would cry “Photoshop,” while others would criticize the White House for showing off a gruesome death. (And of course, the images might leak out anyway.)

But Obama’s sports metaphor was a weird choice of words. Is he comparing killing Osama bin Laden to scoring a touchdown? Doesn’t that cheapen the whole thing a little bit?

Additionally, while every American knows what it means to spike a football, the reference might be lost on the world community. Here’s a “football” in the U.S.:

Obama football

And here’s is a “football” in the rest of the world:

Obama playing soccer

(Both photos via the White House Photostream on Flickr.)

To spike a football, you grip it in your hand and slam it onto the turf point first, and the ball bounces high in the air. Done after a touchdown to show off and celebrate, it looks super cool. However, you cannot spike a soccer ball without looking like a complete idiot.

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Obama’s instant-classic “spike the football” remark came during an interview with Steve Kroft of CBS News, scheduled to air Sunday on “60 Minutes.” The network released an except of the interview today.

“It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool,” said the president.

“We don’t trot out this stuff as trophies,” Mr. Obama added. “The fact of the matter is, this is somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received.”

In explaining his choice not to release the photo, Mr. Obama said that “we don’t need to spike the football.” He said that “given the graphic nature of the photo it would create a national security risk.”

Obama is a sports fan and is fond of football analogies, which he’s used to describe the push for universal healthcare (“we’re in the red zone“), economic stimulus (quoting Vince Lombardi), and negotiations with Iran (“This isn’t a football game“).

Good writers cry foul on sports metaphors because they’re easy and often reveal lazy thinking. Let’s call a flag on this play. Mr. President, report to the penalty box.

* * * *

Bonus: On Twitter this afternoon, Sarah Palin responded with her own ill-thought-out metaphor:

“Show photo as warning to others seeking America’s destruction. No pussy-footing around, no politicking, no drama;it’s part of the mission”

She was referring, of course, to the delicate way a cat walks. Because nobody on Twitter thinks of anything else when they read “pussy,” right?

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Politics


  1. Daisy says:

    Every American knows what “spiking the football” means? I have no idea what it means and still don’t even after reading the whole article in an attempt to understand what the heck it it means.

    • camden says:

      It means we don’t need to celebrate and parade the fact that bin laden is dead with photos. Football players spike the football in celebrations, when really they should give the ball to the ref, and continue on what they are suppose to do.

  2. A Fischer says:

    Please visit the Facebook Page: Spike The Football USA and find out about an event being planned to do just that!

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