Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia

March 28, 1995

The President. Thank you. This is a pretty lively crowd. Mayor Campbell, thank you for welcoming me back to Atlanta. I'm glad to be back. I'm glad to be here with Billy Payne and Andrew Fleming and all the leaders of the Olympics, LeRoy Walker and others.

You know, I was listening to Billy Payne talk, and I was thinking it really would have been a shame if the world had been deprived of all that energy and the Olympics had gone someplace else. My granddaddy used to say that people like Billy Payne are the kind of folks who sell hospitalization to shut-ins. [Laughter] I believe he could talk an owl out of a tree. The more you think about that the funnier it will get. [Laughter]

I'm glad to see my good friend Andrew Young here. He was a great ambassador for you, recently, when he spoke at the annual President's prayer breakfast, the congressional prayer breakfast in Washington, DC. And I thank him for all he has done over the years, especially on the Olympics.

This is a great endeavor. I can't imagine that Herbert Hoover refused to open the Olympics. That's probably why he was a one-termer. All this time we've been reading in our history books it was because of the Depression; turned out it was the Olympics. [Laughter]

I don't think—Herbert Hoover didn't like athletics very much because he was the first President who got a lower salary than a baseball player. [Laughter] Now the lowest paid baseball players make five times what the President makes, but back then the priorities were different. Babe Ruth was the first baseball player who ever made more than the President. And they asked him—they said, "It's the middle of the Depression. You're making more than the President of the United States. What do you have to say about that?" He said, "I ought to be. I'm having a better year." [Laughter]

You know, a lot of things happen here in Atlanta. I saw the other night on television Michael Jordan had his first buzzer-beater since coming back, you know, in Atlanta. You didn't like that, but it was nice for the rest of us. [Laughter] Georgia is going to the Final Four of the Women's NCAA. Playing Tennessee. [Laughter] We have a ticket here—don't you think one of us ought to be for Georgia? [Laughter]

I am delighted to be here. I came here mostly to say a simple thank-you to all of you. You have no idea, I think, what you are doing for the United States. This is a great endeavor, and it is an endeavor that is just as much about cooperation as it is about competition. It's about cooperation because of the teamwork required to put this endeavor together. It's about cooperation because a lot of these sports are team sports. It's about cooperation because the competition, even in the individual sports, requires a rigorous adherence to certain ethical rules of conduct which make the competition honorable and honored when over. That is true for the Olympics, it is true for the Paralympics, and therefore, in what you are doing, you are upholding the very best in this country.

The facilities are great. The technology is great. Don't you like hearing the Vice President talk about technology? You know, I thought I was a policy wonk until I had Al Gore as Vice President and Newt Gingrich as Speaker. It's amazing. [Laughter] Now I feel like the linesman at the tennis match. I just—out, in, let. [Laughter]

I told them the other day—you know, we're up there, fighting about the School Lunch Program and the food stamp program, and I found a technological fix for them. We should scrap the School Lunch Program and substitute Email stamps that would give you virtual food that everybody could download on the Internet. They're going to explain to me next week why that won't work, when I get back. [Laughter]

I want to say, too, that I appreciate the Olympic force. You're going to have 50,000 volunteers working on this, and then you're going to have— you've got 770,000 people in this Olympic force working in community service projects. That's an amazing thing. Nothing like that has ever been done, take my word for it, around anything like this before. And it probably would only happen in the United States. But again, it reinforces the fact that if you have enough spirit and enough vision and you're willing to cooperate, you can get just about anything done you want to do.

And if you ask me what I hope would come out of this, it would be that. This is a remarkable endeavor. There will be some winners and some losers. There will be some things that don't go right. There will be occasional accidents. As the Vice President said, we offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jack Falls, who was killed in the accident, working on the Olympic stadium, and to those who were injured, David Oakes and Bruce Griffin. But we know that in the course of human endeavor, if people work together and they try to bring out the best in each other and they play by rules that are honorable and clear and widely respected, that there is nearly nothing that cannot be done.

I'll bet you anything when all this is said and done, people look back and they celebrate the Olympics, and then they'll celebrate the incredible physical facilities you'll leave behind, which will be used by generations of people after most of us are even gone here. But one of the most enduring legacies will be the idea that over three-quarters of a million people actually got together to try to use the Olympics as a way of organizing around how to lift people up who live here. This spirit of partnership is, frankly, one of the reasons that our administration awarded one of only six highly coveted empowerment zones to the City of Atlanta, because of what you represented here.

I remember when I was a kid, I really admired Jesse Owens, and I watched those old films of Jesse Owens running in Berlin after Hitler promulgated all of his theories of racial superiority. And at the time, there was some question about whether Jesse Owens would be able to go and run; the Nazis were going crazy in Germany. And Jesse Owens ran his way into the hearts of the world and the history books of the Olympics and the United States.

He said something that has stayed with me. He said, "A lifetime of training for just 10 seconds." But the truth is that it's not that. You may feel that. You may feel like you're spending three lifetimes in the next 479 days just for 17 days. [Laughter] But it isn't that. It will endure.

This is an interesting time for the United States, and it could not be a better time in our history for us to have the Olympics. And I'll tell you why. Our economic system has produced, and just in the last 2 years, over 6 million new jobs. Other countries all around the world are asking us to come and help them set up the mechanisms of a market economy in former Communist countries: How do you regulate the banks; how do you set up a stock market; how do you get things so that they will work honestly and fairly and well, and free people can earn their way? We find people all over the world asking us to send the FBI in to help them deal with the problems of crime once they stop being dictatorships and they open up freedom, because we know that freedom can always be abused—always asking for America to do that. And when I go to these meetings, they say, "Well, gosh, you guys seem to be doing well. You've got your economy going and your deficit's down and things seem to be headed in the right direction." And yet, here at home, because there's so many changes going on, a lot of Americans still don't feel secure about their future.

In a global economy, the things that lift a lot of people in Atlanta up—make for the record number of new business starts we had in 1993 and the record number of people, hardworking Americans, becoming very wealthy—those same forces scare other people, with companies being downsized and all these changes happening.

And we need the Olympics in the United States—not just in Atlanta, not just in Georgia, not just in the New South that you are leading into the future—the United States needs the Olympics to remind us that every time we work together, we keep our eye on the future, we have a set of honorable rules by which we play, and we try to lift each other up, we do quite well. You will stun the world by your performance here. You will do that.

In doing that, and in working with all the people who are going to be doing all these volunteer projects, you have the capacity to remind America that just because the future is uncertain and rapidly changing, we do not need to be insecure. All we need to do is to do what we have always done when the chips were down and the stakes were high.

We are doing, as a country, better than virtually any other place in dealing with the challenges of the modern world, but we are not immune to those challenges, those problems, those anxieties. Now we're either going to hunker down or take a deep breath, throw our shoulders back, and walk right through them into the future. That is what you must do here. And when you do it, I'll make you a prediction: It will have an enormous positive impact on what Americans all over this country, from Alaska to southern Florida, from Maine to southern California, will believe we can do. And goodness knows we need it. And we're all going to do our best to make the most of it.

So thank you. Good luck, and Godspeed.

[At this point, an ACOG representative and Mayor Bill Campbell of Atlanta presented commemorative bricks to the President and the Vice President.]

The President. You have no idea how much this means to us—[laughter]—especially the way they were presented. We spend most of our time in Washington dodging these. [Laughter]

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 5:40 p.m. in the Inforum Building. In his remarks, he referred to William Porter (Billy) Payne, chief executive officer, and Andrew Young, cochair, Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games; G. Andrew Fleming, chief executive officer, Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee; and LeRoy T. Walker, president, U.S. Olympic Committee.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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