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Remarks at a United States Olympic Committee Dinner Honoring August A. Busch III in St. Louis, Missouri

July 22, 1982

Bill, thank you very much. Reverend clergy, Governor Bond, Mr. Toastmaster, the distinguished gentlemen here at the head table, and you ladies and gentlemen: I was going to bring good Senator John Danforth out here. But there was a tax bill on the floor of the Senate, and he figured that you'd want him there voting. And I can assure you I wanted him there voting. [Laughter] But we did have the pleasure of his daughter accompanying us out here.

And, Mike, earlier tonight you said that if you hadn't won you wouldn't be here, and others wouldn't have been here. And then you suggested I might not have been here. 1 [Laughter] I have to tell you the possibility is that I would've, because in the business that I used to be in, if you didn't sing or dance, you wound up as an after-dinner speaker. [Laughter] But I'm delighted to be here tonight.

1 Earlier in the day, the President's son Michael had been part of a crew, sponsored bit Anheuser-Busch, which broke the speedboat record on a 1,027-mile run up the Mississippi River from New Orleans, La., to St. Louis. In winning the Grace Challenge Cup, as the race was called, the crew won for the U.S. Olympic Committee a donation of 8102,700.

I've felt for a long time that the work of the Olympic Committee isn't good work; it's great work, because the dedication and the selflessness of the people of the Committee and through the generosity of people like yourselves—we keep America participating in a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Yes, the Olympic Games are athletic games and contests. They give us an opportunity every 4 years to see our young men and women giving their best to their country. But let us also remember that there is a longer and a deeper meaning behind the Olympic torch.

Those games started in ancient Greece as a means of bringing peace and trying to end the wars that went on constantly between the city-states of Greece. And the tradition, the Olympics, became so pronounced even then in its first beginning that if wars were going on when Olympic time came, the wars were called off while they performed and joined together in the games.

Now, you know, lately I found myself eyeing another tradition from ancient Greece. History has it that there was a city-state there in which they had a custom that if anyone wanted to suggest a government program, he did so standing on a chair with a noose around his neck. And if the people liked the idea, they took the noose off— [laughter] —and if they didn't, they took the chair away. And I've been giving that a lot of thought lately. [Laughter]

Seriously, we have known such moments of pride in this great 4-year event—the individuals going back to the great Jim Thorpe, and then there was Jesse Owens repudiating the arrogance of the Nazi cult and Hitlerism. And just a few years back-and you'd be surprised what glowing words I was going to have here about a hockey team until by this time—it has all been said. [Laughter]

No, but it was up in a small, upstate New York town, a bunch of down-the-block American kids did the impossible and did electrify our nation. One thing that hasn't been told here about that victory over the Russian hockey team—sensational victory that it was—that before that game in the locker room these down-the-block kids who weren't supposed to have a chance against that great team—their coach told them that they had been born for that moment. They were there because they had been born to be there for that event. And of course when they left that ring chanting, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" I think the whole Nation was chanting it with them.

It was an unforgettably proud moment, and they've shown what I like to think is the best of the American spirit. They also represented what amateur sports and the Olympics are all about: to foster a noble and inspiring patriotism, yes, but also the healthiest possible kind of international relationship, free for a time of animus and hatred, in keeping with the original tradition of the Olympics.

It is a cliche to say that sports are a character builder, but then, you know what a cliche is. A cliche really is something that is so obviously true that it is spoken and repeated over and over again until we call it a cliche. More than any other people, Americans are sports-minded. And maybe this is what has contributed to what we call the American personality. With all our faults, we're the most generous people in the world.

Youngsters in this country grow up influenced by heroes in the world of sports, and the legends of sports become part of American folklore. If I could just relate one.

Some of us remember back some years to those great national championship football teams of Bud Wilkinson's out in Oklahoma. And one year with one of those national championship teams, they were playing Texas Christian late in the season.

TCU had had a very mediocre season, but then, as can happen in sports, on that day, meeting the national champions, they rose to the heights. And in the closing minutes of the game, a TCU end made a diving catch of a pass in the end zone for what would be the winning touchdown. And with the stadium going wild, he walked over to the referee, handed him the ball and said, "No, sir. It touched the ground before I caught it."

Now, we're all grown up, so possibly our first reaction was, "Well, that was the wrong thing to do; he should've kept his mouth shut. He could've gotten away with it." [Laughter] But was he wrong?

Suppose he grew up to represent you in Congress or possibly in the statehouse-maybe even in the house I'm living in now. Or he could have become a Supreme Court Judge. What then? Would we say then he should've kept his mouth shut in the interest of political advantage or expediency? Or do you want to hear from him always the truth?

Well, he became a high school coach. And I think the parents of the young men who learned football and other things from him must feel that they were very fortunate.

Now, I know there are those who decry the emphasis placed on sports. They say, "Kid games, athletics." Maybe sometimes we wonder about all of the great time and effort that's put into these athletic spectacles.

Well, since I started telling stories, would you mind if I told another one? This one has to do with football, also. You see, I didn't play hockey. [Laughter] It's also a little personal. I played football in the line. I was a guard—right guard. [Laughter]

But I remember—and have remembered 50 years now—my senior year, and we were playing a team. And there was a center—and I played beside the center, being a guard on our team—and this center took off on our center in the most vicious manner, fouling, every dirty thing he could get away with—but also his language. And the things that he was saying. And what he was saying made it plain that his whole motive was nothing more than the difference in the color of his skin and that of our center, Burkie.

And in the huddles, I looked across once, and Burkie's lip was bleeding. He had a bad knee, and this fellow had discovered it. His lip was bleeding from biting it, trying to keep down any sounds of pain. The rest of us wanted to do something about this opponent of his, but over and over again in the huddle, Burkie said, "This is my fight." And he just played football. Nothing dirty and no fouling. He just played football until he had played this man opposite him off his feet. And late—just a few minutes to go in the fourth quarter—they sent in a substitute, and this fellow started off the field. And he was wobbling, and he got about halfway to the sideline, and he turned around. He came back, and he elbowed his way through the two teams standing there waiting for play to begin again, stepped up to Burkie and—the tears were coming out of his eyes—and he stuck out his hand and, crying, said, "I just want you to know, you're the greatest guy I've every met," and turned and left the field.

I think the young man learned something very important that Saturday afternoon. Now, maybe he might have learned it some other way sometime in life. But then maybe he might not. He might have gone through life soured and embittered, unreasoning, by unreasoning prejudice and hatred. But I think all of us learned something in that game that day.

Well, that's why the work of the Olympic Committee is so vital. Wrapped up in all the difficult nuts-and-bolts work that goes with an event like these great games is the importance, the overriding importance of the contestants themselves, the young men and women learning the importance of honest striving, fair play, love of country, and, yes, love of their fellow man.

Now, the members of the committee need to know that all of us in this country are behind them. They need our support now during this time when the all important training and recruiting of athletes is going on. I can tell you, they've got a friend in Washington. And I'm going to do everything I can to be of help.

Now, well, that doesn't mean, Bill, that I'll volunteer to run the 400-meters. [Laughter] Not any more.

We have with us tonight a very special guest and honoree. But before we get to him, I hope you'll forgive me if I indulge in a little paternal pride. Mike, my son, you know, broke the record in that boat run, New Orleans to St. Louis. And, Mike, I'm proud of you. But not just proud of what you did, but proud because you did it for the cause that brings us together here tonight. I know it wasn't just a boat ride. I don't know how you're still awake, but a lot of effort went into that boat ride, and it was for a great effort, the effort of the Olympic Committee. Whether you'd gotten a record or not, I think all of us here hope that other Americans will emulate you and give of themselves in behalf of our country and our Olympic team.

But now, the guest of honor. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to be privileged to assist in presenting an award to this distinguished guest.

A few years ago, the New York Times wrote of the business success of August Busch III. And among the accolades, they described his grasp of detail, his voracious appetite for work, and his ability to attract and keep talented executives. August, you wouldn't like to spare a few minutes and give me some suggestions as to how I could get that— [laughter] . I'd like to get that kind of coverage in the New York Times. I've been reading it more and enjoying it less lately. [Laughter]

But enough fooling around. Your accomplishments, as the head of one of America's most important countries [companies] is impressive. But tonight we're here to thank you for your generosity, your hard work on behalf of American sports, and especially on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

You have arranged to give the Committee more than a million dollars of seed money for the training and recruiting of our young athletes precisely at this moment when it is needed. At the same time Anheuser-Busch is guaranteeing a $10 million contribution for the '84 games in Los Angeles. You've been the guiding force behind this cause. And it is this personal effort on your part—your interest in the Olympic sports and a willingness to give of yourself, even with all the demands on your time-for which all of us are particularly grateful. And we hope that other Americans will be inspired by your example.

Because of your effort, I am privileged .here to participate with something that is being done on behalf of the U.S. Olympic Committee. And I am going to ask Bill Simon to come up here with me as we will present to August Busch III the Sportsman of the Year Award.

Note: The President spoke at 10 p.m. in the Pavilion Ballroom at the Marriott Pavilion Hotel. He was introduced by William Simon, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Earlier, the President attended a reception for the Olympic Committee in the Hawthorne Ballroom at the hotel.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a United States Olympic Committee Dinner Honoring August A. Busch III in St. Louis, Missouri Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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