Kevin Drum has unearthed another scandal from the late 1960s that will surely shake this campaign to its foundations. Citing a blog named Slacktivist, who read on Cursor that a blogger at Bad Attitude read in the NYT Review of Books that Karen Hughes had this in a book she wrote from memory:

“‘President Putin knew you had played rugby, but he didn’t have the context. I mean you just played for one semester in college, right?’ I said, dismissing it.

“‘I played for a year,’ the president corrected me, ‘and it was the varsity.’â€

Aha! Rugby isn̢۪t a varsity sport at Yale! Kevin quotes Slacktivist,

Now, okay, this isn’t that big a deal. I’m not even sure it’s a little deal. But the fact is the guy played a bit of intercollegiate intramurals and he likes to tell people that it was more than that — that he played Ivy League varsity.

That’s kind of smarmy and less than admirable, but whatever.

Still, consider the kind of treatment this story would be getting if it were John Kerry, rather than George W. Bush, who was caught lying about his athletic resume.

Kevin says this “sounds about right” and notes that a magazine once lampooned Bill Clinton for taking too many mulligans.

Damn that conservative media!

The Yale Rugby site asks,

Did you know…

The President of the United States George W. Bush was a member of the Yale Rugby Football Club in 1968?

I’ve heard that somewhere, yes. They also provide a photo:

So, Bush played intercollegiate rugby at Yale. Is saying you were on “the varsity” when it was an intercollegiate club sport stretching the truth? It doesn’t appear that there’s a higher level of rugby that he could have played, so it seems reasonable enough. And, goodness, this is the Ivy League we’re talking about, anyway.

My impression of Bush’s athletic career is that he’s always been rather self-deprecating about it. I recall reading a profile during the 2000 campaign that interviewed some of the players that were on the Texas Rangers when Bush was the owner and they observed that most owners and GMs who had played any ball at all would always bring it up whereas Bush always underplayed his experience, understanding that it wouldn’t impress Big Leaguers. I couldn’t find the piece (probably in the NYT archives somewhere) but I found these on Google: SI (Sept. 03):

SI: At Yale you were a pitcher, right?

GWB: I was a middle reliever my freshman year. And I was mediocre at best. And then I went on and played rugby my senior year.

He says much the same thing to the Federation of American Scientists:

Baseball remained his favorite, but, he says, “my talent never matched my enthusiasm; I was a mediocre pitcher on the Yale freshman team. In my junior year, I was introduced to rugby, and I worked my way onto the first team for my senior year.”

Here, he terms it “the first team,” implying that he played at a lower level as a junior. And the Yale page only mentions the senior year. Maybe they only mention “the varsity”?

Jerome Doolittle (of Bad Attitudes fame) is almost certainly right on this count: “And you can take it from one who played club rugby in the sixties — once or twice against Yale — that the point wasn’t so much athleticism. The point was beer.” Still is, apparently.

Update: I concede Kevin’s point that Mickey Kaus is often mean to John Kerry. I’m less than persuaded, however, that the press is generally kinder to Bush than to Kerry or unwilling to harp on insignificant matters involving either. Hell, there’s a long-running Slate feature that records Bush’s verbal flubs.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kevin Drum says:

    You seem to have rather missed the point of my post, which was aimed more at Mickey Kaus and the press’ treatment of Kerry, than it was at our president’s youthful rugby prowess.

  2. gordon says:

    I think the whole point of the post is that this is tremendously insignificant. He said he was on the varsity team once, but there was no varsity team. Like Slactivist said, no big deal. But if it was Kerry saying something untrue about his college sports activities, people like Mickey Kaus would be all over it and the media would treat it like it matters. That’s of course strictly hypothetical, but that’s the pattern some of us have observed with Kerry today and with Gore in 2000. Really, the whole thing is an attack on Kaus and his strage obsession with Kerry (like his recent post on how some guy seeing Kerry meeting people in a Georgetown apartment one night during the Vietnam protest proves that Kerry lied about sleeping on the Mall for most of the week) more than a criticism of Bush.

  3. Boyd says:

    Blah, blah, blah.

    If it’s so damn insignificant, how come both James and Kevin have posted on it?

    CLARIFICATION: Before you protest (or just dismiss me), I understood your post perfectly well, Kevin. By saying it’s insignificant, then weaving this insignificance into a speculative complaint about Kaus is…well, creating something totally imaginary from nothing absolutely.

    Either way, that equation starts from zero and ends up in the same place.

    DISCLAIMER: If anyone reads this comment as snarkiness, go back and reread it, imagining me chuckling the whole time. There, you got it!

  4. John says:

    I don’t think it’s even hypothetical to say that Kaus would be all over it if this story were about Kerry. Given the complete insanity to which Mickey Kaus has descended about Kerry, I’m sure that he’d be obsessing over this for weeks if Kerry had done the same thing.

  5. chris says:

    Actually, this all makes sense. When I was in school, the varsity rugby team was called the first team. He was just trying to be clear with people who do not know the sport. I am sure this will become another “skandal.”

  6. Blondie says:

    No, the point is, Tucker Carlson was right: Karen Hughes is a pathological liar who thinks nothing of complete fabrication if it maked her boss look good.

  7. Paul says:

    Kevin is, as usual, partisanly blind.

    MSNBC went to incredible lengths to cover Kerry’s hind quarter.

  8. From WordNet:

    n 1: a British abbreviation of `university’; usually refers to Oxford University or Cambridge University
    2: a team representing a college or university [syn: {first team}]


    1 British: UNIVERSITY
    2a: the principal squad representing a university, college, school, or club especially in a sport b: REGULAR

    Since Yale’s intercollegiate rugby team did, in fact, represent a college or university, even if it wasn’t an NCAA-sanctioned team, the term “varsity” applies to it.

  9. Marty Heyman says:

    Thanks to all for the glimmer of humanity. One does suspect that the anti-defeatist Republicans would be a bit louder on the topic. I doubt that anyone will be able to make hay out of Bush’s proclivity for a sport where hurting others is an important sub-text. It’s consensual and, at some level, they were considered adults.