David Maraniss: ‘Playing NFL Games Two Days After JFK Assassination Was Not Reasonable Amount Of Time To Mourn’
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, David Maraniss was a high school freshman.
“I have a really sort of contrarian memory,” the author and Washington Post writer and editor said on The John Feinstein Show. “I was in ninth grade in Madison, Wisconsin – an ostensibly very liberal city. But I remember vividly that some of the kids in my class really didn’t like Kennedy and weren’t at all mourning and were talking about what a communist he was. That’s one of my memories I never hear people talk about. It’s like everybody loved Kennedy, but they didn’t.
“I think that shows that there’s a little bit of revisionist history about it, which is of course natural because Kennedy was incredibly appealing in a way that transcended ideology. But nonetheless, there was an ideology in that moment that people forget about.”
Maraniss recalled that there was “a lot of political turmoil in Texas” when Kennedy went to Dallas.
“The concern related to sort of – and this is not saying that (Lee Harvey) Oswald was part of this; there’s always been this great contradiction about what Oswald’s politics were – but there was a very strong right-wing faction centered in the Dallas area that was putting out leaflets calling Kennedy a traitor to the country and sort of saying it was a black day when he would come to the state. So there was a lot of that boiling up as well.”
Kennedy’s assassination was the first of several in a tumultuous decade that saw Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., also gunned down.
“It’s a cliche and actually not right to say the Kennedy assassination was the end of innocence, “Maraniss said, “but it certainly was the first of a series of shocks that went through the country in the ’60s – and the most tumultuous of them all with the longest-lasting effects.”
Kennedy was killed on a Friday. Nevertheless, the NFL – with the approval of former commissioner Pete Rozzelle – played its Sunday slate of games. Rozzelle would come to deeply regret that decision.
“There’s a reasonable amount of time to mourn,” Maraniss said, “and two days after is not reasonable. He hadn’t even been buried yet.”
Still, Maraniss and Feinstein agree that sports can have a galvanizing effect on spectators.
“I have a problem with the word healing. I think that wounds never really heal; the scar’s there,” Maraniss said. “(But) no, I don’t think that’s overrated. I think that among the many positive aspects of sports are the communal effects. They bring joy to millions of people and they bring solace to millions of people in different (times). And so, it sounds superficial, but I don’t think it is. Life is lived through various sensations. Sports is one of those rare things than can allow millions of people or thousands or hundreds or whatever – but groups, communities of people – to feel something together, or to overcome something together.”
It’s clear that people who lived through Kennedy’s assassination remain touched by it in some way. Maraniss, who has covered politics and sports, often receives email updates from the White House about President Obama’s activities. A recent email had the subject line, “President going to Dallas.”
Said Maraniss, “It sent shivers down my spine.”