Kasich Calls in a Few (Million) Favors


The image still jars a half-century after it emblazoned Page One of the right-leaning Columbus Dispatch. Politician and coach are captured in natty dark suits, broad grins and clasped hands raised skyward as they predict certain victory one for the other.

Richard Nixon and Woody Hayes would later cite their haughty forecasts made that warm day in October 1968 as the beginning of a sturdy bond that would help sustain both men through self-induced falls from grace – lapses in judgment that would end their careers and stain their legacies.

History repeated itself last month when current Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer publicly endorsed fellow Buckeye John Kasich’s campaign for president. In an online video released just days ahead of Kasich’s Ohio primary victory, Meyer and Kasich exchange in a litany of call-and-response praise interspersed with homey photos set against a warm musical sound track.

It’s a soft sell. But it’s still a sell.

Given the uncouth circus otherwise known as the Republican primary, the mutual aggrandizement between coach and governor probably wouldn’t raise brows were it not for Meyer’s previous claim to public neutrality in political matters.

In a February interview with the Toledo Blade Meyer was asked to weigh in on the presidential race, but categorically declined: “No, my job description is very clear, and that’s to coach Ohio State football … I have strong beliefs, but I’m not going to share that with you guys. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

The exact logistics leading up to Meyer’s pivot remain uncertain; but not so the celebrated coach’s tit-for-tat relationship with the vote-starved Kasich.

It was 2014 when Northwestern University’s football team filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming status as school employees and therefore the right to collective bargaining. The NLRB would eventually find against the players; but not before a number of states’ legislators and executives frantically drafted legal firewalls protecting their own athletic programs’ regressive labor practices.

Ohio’s elected officials were among the first to reaffirm policies defining athletes as students – a set of measures Kasich helped expedite in keeping with his all-out attack on state employees’ benefits, retirement and bargaining rights.

But as The Nation sportswriter Dave Zirin cites in a March 11 post, “… not all public employees have felt the sting of the Kasich-austerity agenda … One public employee in particular—and a teacher at that! — by the name of Urban Meyer has done just fine. As the International Business Times reported [March 10], ‘The endorsement comes less than a year after the university’s board of trustees, who are appointed by the governor, approved Meyer’s new contract, in which his compensation averages $6.5 million a year.’”

Further damning in this fishy quid pro quo are federal prohibitions on using one’s position to influence political outcomes at institutions receiving federal funding. Like Ohio State.

But to date OSU higher ups have Meyer’s back, insisting their head football violated no laws by endorsing the governor-candidate that has in effect been his benefactor and protector.

And Kasich flatly refuses to comment beyond defending Meyer’s “rights to free speech”.

Given the nature of political campaigns there is no consistent evidence endorsements make much of a difference. (Case in point, for all of the hoopla surrounding Hayes’ embrace of Nixon, Ohio Republicans went for native son and then-governor Jim Rhodes back in ’68.)

What we can say for sure is the right endorsement at the right time can’t hurt. Especially when the endorser is a football deity who owes you millions of favors.

Afterward: Primary election eve in Ohio saw four more high-profile Kasich endorsements as every past OSU coach since Hayes rallied to Kasich’s side.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Jackson, Ohio. Email donaldlrollins@ gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2016


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