In journalism, you hope to come up with a catchy opening sentence or "lede," as we call it in the trade. Over the years, there have been some stellar examples, few more powerful than the one written by a British journalist on the eve of the 1966 World Cup final pitting England against Germany.
"If on the morrow," he wrote, "the Germans beat us at our national game, let us remember that we have beaten them twice at theirs."
On the morrow, the Germans didn't beat them. England won 4-2. The country came together in jubilation.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, a boxer in his youth, used the sport of rugby as the catalyst for the highly improbable unification of his country. In Canada is there anything that better nourishes and symbolizes national unity than the Grey Cup game? In the United States, for pulsating moments of national esteem, try matching the Miracle on Ice – the hockey triumph over the Soviets at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980.
During his presidency, Barack Obama talked about the importance to his country of baseball. "There is a direct line," he said, "between Jackie Robinson and me standing here."
Sport and politics. Until now what a good mix they've been. Until now, presidents have made well of the mix. They do so at national championships, at the Olympics, throwing out the first pitch, welcoming winners at the White House.
With sport has come scandal, corruption and tragedy too. But by and large, it's been a source of inspiration and patriotism. Along with the flag and the anthem, sport showcases the military, which is given an ever increasing number of tributes at competitions.
One of Jimmy Carter's mistakes was to withdraw U.S. participation from the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The U.S. wasn't flexing its muscles under Mr. Carter. Many saw him as the Ceder of the Free World. Ronald – "win one for the Gipper" – Reagan used the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles to help reverse the image.
The Bushes were big on baseball, the Kennedys on touch football, Dwight Eisenhower and Bill Clinton on golf, Barack Obama on basketball. Until now, sporting fields and arenas were zones of comfort, shelter from the storm.
Donald Trump knows about the patriotic power of sport. It seems it would be an ideal fit for his make-the-country-great-again vision. Sport, you might bet, would be one domain where he wasn't the great disruptor.
But no, he's even extended his culture wars to the games people play. Under his presidency, sport has become intensely politicized. It's become another agent of polarization, a source of disunity, of racial discord. Sport shows, as much as anything else, that this is a man who can't be at peace unless he's at war, unless he's bomb-throwing.
He was at it again Friday morning, reigniting the controversy over African-American football players not standing for the national anthem, tweeting how disrespectful players are being and how "the Commissioner has lost control of the hemorrhaging league."
He can't let it be. Political points – people are tiring of players' protests – are to be scored by turning the gridiron into a land mine. Earlier he said that "son of a bitch" players who don't stand should be fired by the owners. He rescinded a White House invitation to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors because of a fight with star Stephen Curry over the issue.
The Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins had a nice visit to the White House. The President has spoken highly of NASCAR, a white sport very popular in the conservative south. He chastised Mr. Obama for playing too much golf, only to subsequently play more himself.
Critics see a pattern. It's mainly the African-American athletes he goes after. It seems to fall in line with all the white-nationalist support he draws from cross the country. It seems to fall in line with his Muslim travel ban, Mexican wall, birtherism and his reaction to racial violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Mr. Obama said last year that "sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle but ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we were." That is still happening with sports in America. Not for the better this time, but for its opposite.