Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the United States Olympic Committee in Los Angeles, California

March 03, 1983

Thank you very much and—everyone except Bob— [laughter] —on account of I shouldn't have to follow that. [Laughter] No, I do thank him and I thank all of you for a very warm welcome.

Members of the Olympic Committee, Reverend Moomaw, Mayor Bradley, Senator Wilson, John Naber, Bob Hope, all the distinguished guests:

I have to say one thing about my very good friend and my minister, Donn Moomaw. You know he was a linebacker for the Bruins. When I was Governor, I took him to a couple of football games in which the Bruins were playing. I thought my playing days were over, but you should sit beside him in a stadium when the Bruins are playing. It gets to be a pretty physical experience. [Laughter]

But I'm pleased that my pleasant but official duties of welcoming the Queen permitted me to be here with you today. I must admit that every time I visit California, it gets harder and harder—and, Pete, you're going to find this out—to get on that plane and go back East. Even with the bad weather out here, it's better than most parts of the world.

A few weeks ago, we had a blizzard in Washington. Some of the Californians on my staff learned what it means to be snowed in. Yet even when the temperature was below freezing and snow covered the ground, believe it or not, joggers were still seen making their daily run. Although those hardy souls certainly had more tenacity than most, they represent a dramatic change of attitude that's taken hold over the last two decades. Today, as never before, Americans are actively engaged in personal exercise and physical fitness programs, a health trend we should all encourage.

Lately I haven't had as much time for my equestrian pursuits—there's no bridle path at the White House—but I work out on a regular basis because they do have a gym upstairs there. And I'll have to admit I don't have the same caliber of adversary as our Olympic athletes, but it does help to stay in shape when you're facing the fighting Irish in the form of Tip O'Neill. [Laughter]

Incidentally, I have to inject a little news item right here, though—and that was a joke. Seriously, I want to— [laughter] —I want to be serious a little bit about some of our sports back there.

The Ways and Means Committee, the all-powerful committee of the House of Representatives, in an overwhelming, bipartisan move has voted 32 to 3 in favor of, and sent out to the floor, the social security compromise plan. And that was Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and then the ranking minority leader, Barber Conable, and the subchairman, Jake Pickle. And I hope that the full House and Senate will follow their lead and protect social security for years to come by showing the same bipartisanship. And this will also guarantee, I think if they will continue on that, a solid economic recovery.

Now, I know we've got a good number of Olympians with us today. Some have been, for one reason or another, introduced. But I just wondered if all, present and past, of the Olympic athletes who are here today could stand up so that we can give them a round of applause—for what they've done, what they're doing and going to do. The truth is I just really wanted to see them all. [Laughter]

Well, you know, when I was a bit younger, being involved in athletics I, like so many others, dreamed about the Olympics. I didn't get very close to them. The closest, I think, was at the University of Illinois. It was the State track and field championships for the high schools of Illinois. I was on the 880 relay, and I can remember handing off the baton to our anchorman. We didn't win, because there was a young fellow that was also anchorman on a high school team from Chicago: Ralph Metcalfe went on to win gold medals in '39 and in '36 in the Olympics.

He and Jesse Owens were very, very special to my generation. I can remember what a great source of pride it was when they won that day in Berlin and Adolf Hitler, with his Aryan supremacy stupidity, had to stand up and swallow that stupidity when the gold medals were placed around the necks of some of our fine black athletes.

Ralph Metcalfe and Jesse Owens were much more than great athletes; they were great Americans. Ralph went on to become a Member of the United States House of Representatives for a number of years.

Sports in general and the Olympics in particular bring us together as nothing else. One of our first great sports heroes was John L. Sullivan, heavyweight champion of the world at a time in this country's history when there was a great discrimination against the Irish. And when Jim Corbert finally took his title as heavyweight champion of the world. Sullivan, I think, won the hearts of his fellow countrymen when he said, "I have fought once too often, but if I had to get licked, I'm glad it was by an American."

How can we ever forget the moment when another boxer, a young man, George Forman, from an underprivileged background, proud to be representing our country at the Olympics in Mexico City at a time when there was great ill feeling and the age 30 was a barrier to some in this country and all, and then he—how he had it throughout the fight, where he had it, I'll never know—but when victory was announced and he stood in the middle of that ring and suddenly unfurled a small American flag and stood with that flag raised, it was a thrill, I think, for everyone in our country, I say it was in the turbulent sixties. He showed us that whatever divides us, it's not as strong as what keeps us together.

And then there were those young men at Lake Placid, that team that—their coach told them before the game, before they went out to meet the Russians, and he said, "You were born for this moment. This is your moment." And I think we'll never forget the picture of those young fellows after that victory there on the ice, those young Americans when they certainly were not the favorite to win by a long ways, but they did.

Win or lose, we've always been proud of our athletes. And I think that all of you, especially you here at the front table—Don Miller and Peter Ueberroth, George Moody, and Don Crivellone—can be rightfully proud of the part that you're playing. You and others who are providing the support for our team, as well as those who are helping to organize the event itself, deserve more than a word of thanks. And I'm happy today to be able to extend it to you on behalf of the American people.

I appreciate the magnitude of the task that you've taken upon yourselves, the price tag for selecting, training, and supplying your Olympic team, as you've told us, $77 million. Raising that money and making sure that it's spent effectively is an enormous responsibility. And this year Americans are not only supporting their own team, but they're also responsible for the games themselves.

Today you're part of a noble American tradition of direct citizen involvement. If it weren't for citizens like you who take it upon themselves to support our athletes, the American team would be left wanting, as it has many times in the past. Unlike some other countries, American teams, as you well know and as has been told here today, do not receive government grants or Federal tax dollars. And that gladdens my heart, not just because we've got financial problems in Washington but because I just think that there are a lot of things that we were in danger of drifting into a feeling in this country that, well, it was always government's turn to do it, let government do it. And we were beginning to lose, perhaps, that wonderful do-it-yourself thing that that has always characterized the American people. So, I know that you're going to get the job done.

The task of organizing the games is worthy of Yankee ingenuity. With that operating budget, as you've been told, of nearly a half-billion dollars, next year's games will show the world what Americans without government subsidy can accomplish. These games will reflect the excellence, the hospitality, and the spirit of accomplishment that are so much a part of our way of life.

I understand that there are already signs of the swelling public support. The corporate community, as evidenced by you who are here today, has stepped forward in a big way in, among other things, financing specific construction projects needed for the games. And I think we're all grateful for this example of corporate citizenship.

One of the top priorities of our administration has been to encourage the American people as individuals, as organizations in private and in business life to get more directly involved in getting things done, solving problems, and helping each other. Private initiative is our most precious American resource, and it's as alive today as it was when our ancestors used to join in barn raising parties when it was needed for a neighbor.

Preliminary figures for '82 suggest that even in a time of severe recession Americans were still willing to contribute generously to worthwhile and charitable causes. Last year—and we all know how bad last year was, and, again, these are just preliminary figures—Americans, as individuals, contributed $48.7 billion, an increase of 9.4 percent over 1981. Corporate giving was $2.9 billion, and that was i percent higher than 1981. But in 1982, corporate profits were down 22 percent from what they had been in 1981, and yet they still improved their contributions.

Well, private sector initiatives succeed just as these Olympics will succeed because of thousands and thousands of individual efforts. The Olympic effort has the support of people like Jim McKay, Roone Arledge, and, yes, Howard Cosell. [Laughter]

I realize there's a theory that good news isn't good for the ratings. And I only wish that everyone in the media could appreciate as much as all of you here do the voluntary efforts being taken by the American people. So, I suggest that April 17th through April 23d—it's National Volunteer Week—that during that week maybe America's heroic private sector initiative efforts should be given the attention they deserve. And then if the ratings go down, why, they can go back to the bad news. [Laughter]

But on the other hand, you know, there's something that's not all too bad about that. I think it's great that bad news is considered—or the bad events and happenings are considered worthy of news; and the good deeds are so commonplace in America that they're not news, so they don't get the attention. But maybe we'll just have a few days and do that.

There isn't any shortage of good stories. Bill Verity, who headed my Private Sector Initiatives Task Force, told me about Monroe, Ohio, a town with a losing high school football team. And then, they hired a new coach. And he suggested the team's poor showing was, simply put, because its players just weren't as physically strong as their adversaries. And he recommended building a physical conditioning facility complete with weight-training equipment. Well, the school board reported they just couldn't afford the $50,000 needed for the project. Instead of giving up, the hometown barber—a live wire named Robert Youtsler—was brash enough to say, "Why don't we do it ourselves?" And they raised the money. And they used volunteer labor. And they built the training center.

And when they were done with that, they were so enthused that they repaired and painted the boys locker room and refurbished the girls locker room. And then, because they figured after all their effort they were bound to win, end up with a winning team, they recruited a gang of townspeople and painted the stadium. And they still weren't through. They then repainted the school—just one example of what can happen when the right spirit of "Can do" and "I will" replaces "Let's wait" and "I won't."

There are similar stories right here in California, the folks in a rather small town, Temecula. They got together and built themselves a sports park, held fund-raising barbecues and dinners. And those that didn't have money, volunteered the time and energy. And now the young people of that community have baseball diamonds for Little League and other sports events, just due to what's traditional Americanism.

Just one more shining example. Not so long ago, I signed a proclamation to make March Red Cross Month. Talk about timing, in the last few days Californians have had tornadoes, hurricane-force winds, earthquakes, floods. And the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and a host of other volunteer organizations have swung into action.

There is a place in all of this for government, a legitimate place. I, just before I came in here today, talked to Governor Deukmejian. And I know that the request is coming to expand the disaster area of California quite sizably and include a number of the counties that have been hard hit in this recent storm. And I was pleased to tell him that old, hardhearted me— [laughter] -we will expedite the answer to his request.

But it's times of trouble that can bring out the best in people. We're seeing that all over southern California. These organizations are, of course, based on voluntary support and represent the best, again, that there is about this country. I hope that when the winds stop and the floodwaters recede, people here in California especially will remember what's been done, and even more important, will remember to do their part to support these private efforts. The job they've done in the last few days is really something to be proud of.

Our country has been blessed with people who understand that whether or not their community will be the decent place they want it to be depends on them. And we're here today in that same spirit. Millions of young people will be watching the games, as you've been told, young people from all over the world as well as our own children, the fiber of tomorrow's America. And I know we won't let those kids down and won't short-change our country by doing anything less than a first-class job. In a free society, it all depends on us.

So, I just want to—whatever I can say to encourage everyone to do what they can to support our team, the American Olympic team.

Years after his triumph in Berlin, Jesse Owens was asked if the playing of the National Anthem at the Olympic victory stand ceremonies should be discontinued. You remember it wasn't too many years ago when there weren't any people talking about things like that—that playing the National Anthem might be provocative. Well, all Americans should hear his answer. He said, "It's a tremendous feeling when you stand there and watch your flag fly above all the others. For me, it was the fulfillment of a 9-year dream. And I couldn't forget the country that brought me there."

And I thank you for letting me be a small part of this ceremony here today. And, Bob, I can't resist telling a little story here that also has to do with some gentlemen who-three of them arrived at the Pearly Gates together and were informed that there was only room for one. And they had decided inside that the man who participated in the oldest trade or profession would be the one that was allowed to come in. And a gentleman stepped forward and said, "We know that the Lord made Adam and then created Eve out of a rib from Adam, and that took surgery. And I'm a surgeon, so I guess it's me." But before he could move in, the second one said, "Wait." He said, "Before the Lord did that he worked 6 days. Everything was chaos and he worked 6 days and created the Earth." "So," he said, "that makes Him an engineer, and I guess that calls for me." And the third one stepped up and said, "I'm an economist. Where do you think they got all that chaos?" [Laughter] I think of that story many times— [laughter] —when news and memorandums reach my desk and recommendations.

Anyway, again, thank you for letting me participate, and thank you all for what you're doing. God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 1:34 p.m. in the Biltmore Bowl Room at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a Luncheon Meeting of the United States Olympic Committee in Los Angeles, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives