Remarks at a White House Luncheon for the National Hockey League All-Star Teams

February 8, 1982

The President. Well, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. It's wonderful to have so many representatives of this magnificent sport here.

It was a real thrill for me out there in the reception line to see Gordie Howe this afternoon. I remember my mother used to take me by the hand when I was a little boy -- [laughter]. Gordie, would you believe I was a teenager?

Well, ice hockey may once have been overlooked, but today, thanks to the dedication of many of you right in this room, hockey is getting the attention it deserves.

Last season, I understand that the attendance at National Hockey League games was nearly 12 million. But your sport stands for far more than numbers coming through the turnstile. The victory of the U.S. hockey team, the Olympic team over the Soviets at Lake Placid back in 1980, is a vivid memory cherished by the American people. And now 10 of those boys of Lake Placid are playing on National Hockey League teams. And one of them, Mike Ramsey, is with us today. And, Mike, congratulations for making the All-Star Team.

Hockey has a long tradition of which we can all be proud. The Stanley Cup, for example, is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, sports trophy in North America. When I was a sportscaster back in the 1930's, I remember reporting the scores of the Chicago Blackhawks. That was in the days when Taffy Abel, Lionel Connaker, and Chuck Gardner were playing for the Blackhawks. It's always been a rough-and-tumble sport requiring a special breed of athlete.

Some years back -- and the younger ones here will never remember it -- the Carnegie Foundation got interested in investigating what they thought was the overemphasis of sports in American colleges and universities. And Knute Rockne, the coach of Notre Dame at the time, was asked by his fellow coaches to represent them in presenting another side of the story to the Carnegie Commission. And in one of his appearances before that delegation, an academician said, ``Well, Coach Rockne, football is'' -- that was the principal target -- ``is such a violent sport. Why couldn't you have as much emphasis on other sports less violent?'' And Rockne said, ``Like what?'' And he said, ``Hockey.'' [Laughter] And Knute Rockne said, ``Professor, I once suggested hockey to the president of Notre Dame, and he said to me, no, Notre Dame will never back a game that puts a club in the hands of an Irishman.'' [Laughter]

Over the years your sport has always been blessed with courageous and dedicated management. I'm happy that the National Hockey League chairman of the board, William Wirtz, and president, John Ziegler, were able to join us today. And while we're recognizing management, we can't leave out the name of Clarence Campbell, a man who kept this sport going for over 30 years. Clarence, a special thanks to you for all that you've done.

Now, keeping a bunch of hockey players in line's no easy job, so these fellows deserve real credit. I remember doing a film called ``Hell's Kitchen'' back in 1939, and it featured a group of delinquents called the Dead End Kids. They had come from New York and straight from the Bronx by way of a play called ``Dead End,'' and they were as wild off the screen as they were on. But in one sequence the movie called for dressing them up in hockey uniforms and skates and putting them out on the ice in Madison Square Garden. And I was out there on skates too as their coach. I have the deepest appreciation of how hard it is to keep peace on the ice. [Laughter] And I can understand why hours of fine sportsmanship are often overlooked because of maybe a few moments now and then when tempers get short. But hockey's such a majestic contest, let's hope that public attention will focus on the nobler aspects of that sport.

The players with us today, for example, have been selected as the best of their profession. I'm certain they stand shoulder to shoulder with the top athletes in the world. Washington has our own up-and-coming hockey team, and we're more than pleased that our city's been selected for the All-Star game. We wish each of you the best of luck.

And yet, there's something more important to America about hockey than athletic achievement and trophies. This rugged sport has cemented a bond between Canada and the United States, a bond that citizens of both countries should never overlook. Canadians and citizens of the United States are more than neighbors; we're friends in the truest and deepest meaning and sense of that word. And there's no doubt that this sport represents what is best about the relationship between our two nations. Citizens from both countries compete together on the ice, cheer together in the stands for teams made up of young men from both sides of the 49th Parallel.

One of the latest sports heroes in this country is a modest young man from Ontario named Wayne Gretzky. Rumor has it, Wayne, that Washington has been trying to trade and get you here for the team. And I asked what Edmonton was getting in return, and they said two first-round picks and the State of Texas. [Laughter] But north of the border there are many fine people just like him, and we're happy to have them as neighbors and friends.

So, today, we salute all of you who make this wonderful game possible. Wish you luck in the contest tomorrow night. Thank you, and thank you for gracing this house in being here. God bless you.

Mr. Ziegler. Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I can't think and I don't think Mr. Campbell could recall an honor that's been paid to our sport and to our game than what you and your staff, in so graciously inviting us to your house. On behalf of the League, all of the members, our All-Star players, everybody connected with hockey, Mr. President, thank you so much.

When I heard that we had this gracious invitation, I suddenly had some recurring nightmares: I was here at this luncheon, and I kept breaking the china. [Laughter] And it wasn't that I was worried about replacing it; I was worried about the headlines: ``John Ziegler Leads Another NHL Act of Violence at the White House.'' [Laughter]

It would be presumptuous of me, Mr. President, to compare in any way our positions, but I pick up the newspapers from time to time and get a lot of advice from our friends from the media, and I notice that you do too from time to time. [Laughter] And I was reminded the other day how much the business of our friends in the media has changed. As a matter of fact, it was from one of the respected gentlemen of the media -- they said, you know, at the miracle of Christ, 20 years ago that would have been reported -- with Christ walking on water -- the headlines would have read, ``Miracle: Christ Walks on Water.'' But our friends today in the media and their business, that same event would be recorded, ``Expose: Christ Can't Swim.'' [Laughter]

You mentioned, Mr. President, that the Stanley Cup, which is awarded to these outstanding athletes who vie each year over a thousand games to have their name inscribed on what I believe is the world's oldest, and certainly the most respected professional trophy. We felt that the only way that we could come close to thanking you was to see that you got what these gentlemen worked so hard for, and that is a replica of our Stanley Cup.

For a minute, if I may read the inscription: ``Presented with respect and appreciation to President Ronald Reagan by the Governors, players, and officials of the National Hockey League on the occasion of the 34th National Hockey League All-Star Game, Washington, D.C., February 8th, 1982.'' Mr. President.

We had also heard of our President's activity as a hockey player. At that time he wore the jersey of the New York Americans. Mr. President, we were concerned that perhaps that jersey had worn out, and so we'd like to present you with an All-Star jersey that will be worn by our teams in this contest and appropriately -- [displaying the jersey with the name ``Reagan'' and the number ``1''] -- --

The President. Thank you all.

I had heard the Stanley Cup was going to be -- I thought it was the real thing. [Laughter] And I was waiting anxiously to have it opened and displayed here. But both of these -- I thank you very much, and I'm greatly honored and pleased to have them.

Note: The President spoke at 1:28 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.