Top Ten Most Athletic U.S. Presidents

Top Ten Most Athletic U.S Presidents 

Some presidents played sports in college – others enjoyed hobbies ranging from dancing to dueling, wrestling to walking on stilts. Many have taken advantage of the tennis courts, bowling alley, swimming pool on the White House grounds.

Read on to get the scoop on which commander-in-chief goes down in history as our most athletic president.

10. Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln was known as a pretty fair wrestler in his youth. Most noteworthy was a wrestling match against Jack Armstrong in 1831 in New Salem. Armstrong was considered the best fighter in the area, but several accounts of the match have Lincoln winning handily. Lincoln was also known for his strength reportedly carried a load of 600 pounds.

9. Donald Trump

At military school, Donald Trump played on the varsity soccer, baseball, and football teams. A former classmate claims that Trump could even have played professional baseball. Esquire notes that “The indications are that Trump actually was pretty good at baseball, and that he’s an above-average golfer now.” In fact, Golf Digest reports that Trump tops the ranking of the best presidential golfers, beating out John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Gerald R. Ford for the top spot.

8. Woodrow Wilson 

He played center field at Davidson College. But he didn’t make the baseball team when he transferred to Harvard University. USA Today reports that according to Wilson’s presidential library, Wilson also made “an avid, yet unconfident golfer.” According to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wilson played more than 1,000 rounds of golf during his two terms, and was also the first president to throw out the first pitch in a World Series.

7. Barack Obama 

While his presidency began with legendary stories of his pickup basketball games, Obama found more peace in golf. Though the lefty was never going to make anyone forget Phil Mickelson, he played the second-most rounds of any president (more than 300) and improved so much from his early days with a fidgety, loopy swing that he now says he’s “an honest 13 [handicap].” (A nonpartisan plea: Whenever a president plays golf, many in the other party like to criticize how often they play. Some in the left did it to W and some on the right did it to Barry. Please stop this. Being president is the most stressful job on the planet by a factor of 10. Let the president be a regular person for a few hours and keep up his/her mental health by temporarily getting away from the crushing pressure of the gig. He was also on his high school basketball team which won the Hawaii state championship, however he was not a starter.

6. Teddy Roosevelt 

Roosevelt once said: “I believe in rough games and in rough, manly sports.’’ Which was true. In addition to being an army Rough Rider, Teddy tried multiple sports. He wrestled and boxed – he had sparring matches in the White House until having his left eye damaged by a punch — rowed, played tennis, did judo and hiked. He even climbed the Matterhorn. Famously enough, Roosevelt helped save football by catalyzing some rule changes, including the legalization of the forward pass.

5. John F. Kennedy 

The images of a sprightly JFK playing touch football in Hyannis Port were long gone by the time the 43-year-old took office in 1961. Various medical ailments had slowed the young president. But in his youth, Kennedy was a letter-winning swimmer at Harvard and a good enough golfer to make people forget about his balky back. Kennedy played football his freshman year at Harvard but also loved sailing and won several races and the Eastern Collegiate championship with Harvard. His most notable swimming feat probably was in World War II after his PT-109 was sunk. Even though he had chronic back issues, JFK “towed’’ an injured crewman to an island by dragging him with the strap of his life-vest in his teeth.

4. Ronald Reagan

Dutch did it all. High-school football, lifeguard (when he says he rescued 77 people), captaining the swim team, running track and riding horseback with his beloved Nancy. Reagan was also a sportscaster, calling Iowa football games and broadcasting Chicago Cubs games in the 1930s, including the 1932 World Series best known for Babe Ruth’s called shot. (Reagan rarely went to the games, usually calling them off telegraph reports.)

In 1988, while hosting the hometown Super Bowl champs at the White House, Reagan, clutching a football, asked “where’s [wide receiver] Ricky Sanders,” and hit him with a perfect crossing route on the White House lawn. He was 77 at the time.

And in make-believe athletics, Reagan portrayed George Gipp (The Gipper) in Knute Rockne All American. The president once said that he loved acting, politics and sports — but wasn’t sure in which order.

3. George H.W. Bush

The man who celebrated his 90th birthday by going skydiving was, not surprisingly, a natural sportsman. He played first base for a Yale team that was runner-up at the first two College World Series in ’47 and ’48, got his handicap as low as an 11 and was an avid tennis player, famously playing the sport during his first eight-hour stint as president 

2. Dwight Eisenhower

“I want an officer for a secret and dangerous mission. I want a West Point football player.”

That quote, perhaps apocryphal, was delivered during World War II by General George C. Marshall and has since become steeped in Army sports lore. Back in the days when the team was one of the best in the country, and even today when they’re far from it, there’s a special meaning and reverence of those who played ball at the United States Military Academy.

A young Dwight Eisenhower did just that, serving as running back and linebacker for Army during his time on the Hudson. In the leadup to the famed 1912 Army-Carlisle game, the West Point players were obsessed with Carlisle star Jim Thorpe, the two-time Olympic track gold medalist from earlier that summer and, now that the season had turned, football star. The goal was to deliver a “hit so powerful it kidnapped Thorpe from consciousness,” as Lars Anderson put it in his fantastic book on the game. Eisenhower got the lick and fazed Thorpe but only for a bit. He quickly scored and Eisenhower was later injured trying to make another tackle on one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. He was forced to leave the sport and took up a number of others.

Eisenhower was also the most frequent presidential golfer (and perhaps the best depending on the day), playing more than 800 times and building a putting green on the White House lawn. He broke 80 at Augusta four times during his administration, though who knows how many more times he could have done it if not for that pesky tree on No. 17.

1. Gerald Ford 

This probably wouldn’t be the first guess of most Americans, who today remember Ford’s athletic grace from clips of Chevy Chase’s bumbling, stumbling, fumbling Saturday Night Live impression. It’s ironic though because Ford was, by far, the greatest athlete who ever took the oath of office. At Michigan, he played on two national championship football teams and was a team MVP in 1934. He was courted by pro teams including the Green Bay Packers. When football was done, Ford found new interests – swimming laps almost every day of his presidency in the White House pool he had built. He also played tennis, ran and, like most of his predecessors and successors, was fond of the golf course. Bob Hope jokes (to find Ford on a golf course you merely had to “follow the wounded) and clumsy reputation notwithstanding, Ford regularly shot in the 80s.

Honorable mention: 

George Washington – wrestling

If George Washington was born about 70 years ago, there’s a good chance he would have grown up to be Mike Ditka. He has the same build and he excelled both on the field of battle and as a leader. The main difference is that in the 1700s, Washington stood nearly half a foot taller than his peers, and he was a man-child before there was even such a term. Relatively speaking, when it came to the sports of his day, horseback riding, rock throwing and “pitching the iron bar” (a version of javelin), the Father of our Country would have been recruited in all of them while he was in eighth grade. While most of his accomplishments are tough to quantify, we have to go by what the people of his time believed. One, he was considered the best horseback rider in the United States. Two, whenever a feat of strength was put in front of him, whether it was throwing a rock clear across the Rappahannock River or launching an iron bar twice the distance of his young soldiers , he never failed to drop all the jaws in attendance.

Other mentions: 

Jimmy Carter – baseball / running

Herbert Hoover – Hooverball

Bill Clinton – extracurricular activities 

George W Bush – baseball / running

William Howard Taft – wrestling

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