MRS. NIXON and I are delighted to welcome this very distinguished company to the East Room of the White House.
We understand that some of our guests could not be here for very good reasons. Spring training for baseball rules out some of the baseball celebrities and sports figures and some of those on the golf tour-I understand everybody over 40 has a new lease on life as a result of what happened in Hawaii the other day--could not be here.
But if I could be allowed just a few moments to impose on your time, before Mrs. Nixon and I have the privilege of meeting you each personally, to reminisce a bit about physical fitness; how this program really began; how it has grown; what it means, and what it means particularly in terms of the health message that I sent to the Congress yesterday dealing with the medical profession's contribution to health and how we get better health care for all Americans.
In 1956, President Eisenhower called me into his office. You may recall this was the year after he had his heart attack. He had just read a very disturbing article with regard to the health of young Americans of high school age as compared with young people in Japan and European countries. And he said that it was essential that we develop a physical fitness program, one in which our young people would be more interested in physical fitness, more interested in it--recognize its importance to raise the standards.
I, as Vice President, was given the assignment of attempting to put some emphasis on this program. During the period that I was Vice President we made some progress in creating interest on the program.
Then, in the years after that, when Bud Wilkinson was here, brought here by President Kennedy, the program got additional impetus and was extended not just to those in high school, in college, the younger generation, but to some of us older people, too.
And as a result of that program, people around the country, I think, have been made aware of the importance of physical fitness and what an individual can do about his health that will possibly not make it necessary for him to go to a doctor. And so much can be done, if we do take care of ourselves properly.
This meeting today with Jim Lovell, who is--what an example of fine health! Look at that weight and all that sort of thing. We are going to send him on the first mission to Mars--but this meeting today, frankly, gives us an opportunity to point up the fact that here are some of the great examples of people who have been successful in the field of sports and physical fitness, because what you do has an enormous effect on young people across the country and on older people as well.
Let's face it. This is a sports-minded country. That isn't bad. It has a lot to do with the spirit of a country, the fact that people are interested in how a golf match or a football game or a baseball game or, for that matter, a tennis game, any kind of sport that you might figure that people who may not participate, who will never be champions, like to watch.
But now we come to the key point. With television and those marvelous close-ups they have and the reruns and everything else, with television these days the tendency is for people just to sit there, feet up, eating pretzels and drinking--well, drinking, in any event--and that is their participation in sports. I do not think that is bad. As a matter of fact, that can do something for the spirit, as well--in both ways.
But what I am suggesting is this: that we need to alert the people of this country, and particularly the young people of this country, that they can do something about their future to make them develop the health patterns which will avoid physical illness and very serious physical illness in the years ahead.
I am not the best one to speak on this subject. As a matter of fact, as I have said, I really hate exercise for exercise's sake. Bud Wilkinson has constantly told me I must jog every day. I do a little, but about a minute is enough.
But the point is that I feel that the emphasis on exercise, the fact that some exercise--call it what you will, jogging, walking, participation in competitive sports--some of this is so essential for the physical well-being of the people of this country.
It is also essential for the spirit of the people of this country. When a person feels better, he thinks better. This we all know. And, therefore, the work that you do on this advisory committee, of inspiring young people around the country to develop now the health patterns, the exercise patterns, the participation, not just watching on television, this serves America and serves it well. And I express appreciation for your doing so.
I want to say, finally, just one thing with regard to the people that are here in this room and the contribution you have made to this country. You are all successful in your various fields.
When I read the list of people, the champions in baseball and football and tennis and golf and all the other areas, I must say it was--being a sports buff-it was really an impressive list. I have seen many diplomatic dinners and all the rest. But this is the most impressive crowd I have seen in this place for a long time, I can assure you.
I believe in competitive sports, as a spectator or as a participant. I believe in the spirit that an individual develops, either as he watches or as he participates in competition.
I don't go along with the idea that all that really matters is jogging in place and having a good physical appearance. What really matters, of course, is the spirit as well as the body.
And if the individual is thinking in an optimistic and, in the best sense, competitive way, he will be a more healthy individual in every way. I believe in that.
And I am glad, therefore, that here in this room filled with champions that you are inspiring all Americans, young and old, with the fact that this is a country that likes competition, friendly, clean competition in all areas of life, that encourages it not only in the school years but in all the years after that. I believe that what you do in that field really renders a great service to this country.
And, finally, I want to say I appreciate the example that the people in sports give to the young people of America. You can't really understand or realize, I am sure, how a champion has--one who appears on the television screen or down on a field of play--how much effect he has on that young impressionable boy or girl who is in the stands or watching on the television set.
And the lives you lead, the fact that you are good competitors, that you play to win, but you also know how to lose, which means, not accepting a loss saying, "Well, it didn't make any difference," but saying, "I am going to do better so I win the next time"; the fact, too, that you lead the kind of lives that are an example of good, decent, and clean living in the best sense of the word, believe me, this helps the American spirit.
I express my appreciation to you and having talked to you this way--and I want Bud to hear this--I will jog 2 minutes tomorrow morning.