White House Winces at Economist’s Words

Dual in the Sun by John Brant

There’s a lot more to life than sports and athletic competition in the name of glory. But when a sports-focused individual is on a roll and has either achieved fame, money, and championship level victories – or is in hot pursuit of those goals – most other aspects of that person’s life and the world surrounding that life can easily become lost in a wash of bright lights and a cloud of vapor.

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Meanwhile, the article “Dual in the Sun” by John Brant is an in-depth background piece ostensibly about the Boston Marathon in 1982, but that is only part of the story. A critically important portion of the article deals with the lives of the two principle stars that were co-protagonists in the race, Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley. Salazar, the odds-on favorite and an internationally respected long distance runner, went head-to-head against Minnesota farmer and journeyman-turned-upstart athlete Beardsley.

And what was going on in America during that time is the basis for this research paper on the article by Brant. There was much going on, indeed, in the Ronald Reagan era, which was a prelude for what was to come later in the lives of Beardsley and Salazar – and millions of others. Some of what was happening in America had to do with politics, sociology, history, and the search for spiritual inspiration. What is recognizable today – in an objective look back at the American popular culture in 1982 (and more generally the 80s) – is a society heavily immersed in a patriotic make-over, unending music, message movies, recreational drug and alcohol usage, the adoration of celebrities and yes, sports.

The Ronald Reagan Era: Popular American Culture

The 1982 Boston Marathon was run during the second year of the first Ronald Reagan Presidency, and America was hungry for some respect in the world. Reagan was elected in part due to his tough conservative campaign rhetoric and his promise to restore America to world prominence. The Reagan advertising campaign attacked President Jimmy Carter mercilessly, in particular over the economic slowdown in America; following the oil embargo of the late 1970s the economy suffered from inflation, high interest rates, and unemployment, and Carter received the sting from widespread complaints over the sagging economy. One of Reagan’s slogans was, “A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Reagan had a talent for using TV to his advantage; in the debate with Carter near election day, 1980, when Carter attacked Reagan the Republican would smile, turn his head slowly towards Carter, and utter, “There you go again…”

Carter took an enormous hit due to the hostage crisis in Iran. After the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, an Islamic cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini moved his country back to hard-core Muslim practices – away from the more Western style of the Shah – and radicals fomented violent anti-Americanism as a big part of that revolution. Indeed, when Americans on the U.S. Embassy staff in Tehran were held hostage for 444 days, Carter took the brunt of the criticism.

The spectacle of American failure in Iran will long haunt Americans,” Steven R. Weisman wrote in the New York Times (Weisman 1981), “…especially because it was driven home by yet another blow to their self-assurance.” Indeed, Weisman continued, “for a society that believes almost religiously in technology, the breakdown of three helicopters in a desert dust storm” – Carter’s desperate gamble to extract the hostages from Tehran – “was a bitter setback.”

Weisman speculates that “If President Carter had gotten the hostages out, he might well have won re-election.” But as history has recorded, the hostages were not rescued by Carter.

And so, wisely, Reagan’s strategy during the 1980 presidential campaign was to give the impression – very effectively through slick TV ads – that President Carter wasn’t tough enough on foreign belligerents. The Iranian hostage crisis became a symbol of America’s seeming international impotence; and it is worthy of mentioning that just 4 years earlier, Americans were in effect chased out of Vietnam by the communists, and Americans were still smarting from that experience of “losing” a war. Vietnam was the first war American had ever lost, and moreover, the Cold War was still very much on the international diplomatic agenda. Reagan talked tough, and used his acting talent and his photogenic TV stature to his best advantage, as citizens were worried about the possibility of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union that might lead to a global disaster with unprecedented consequences.

And so, the mood of the country during that 1982 Boston Marathon and throughout much of the 1980s was to “get tough” on communists and those terrorists in Iran, and to put America back on the map in terms of world power and influence. In other words, after losing the Vietnam war, being cuffed around by the radicals in Iran, having hundreds of thousands of people lose their jobs and be bitten by high inflation, winning and getting America back on track was the message of the day. That message translated seamlessly into entertainment, including sports and film.

Movies in the 1980s were very much a reflection of the new mood in America; it was get tough, kick ass and take names. Action movies in the 1980s, according to an article in the Journal of Popular Film and Television (Arnett, 2007), were reflective of a “certain mood” in the country. Heroes were needed, and while Reagan led the charge for that new American spirit and attitude, the 80’s “film noir” embraced the Reagan good guy beats bad guy theme and rejected “nostalgia, homage, [and] parody…” Arnett explains.

Instead of nostalgic and traditional themes, the film entertainment of the 80s reflected a “…significant and possibly solitary counter-current genre/cycle/movement to the mainstream genres of the time, all of which seemed to reaffirm the institutions of President Ronald Reagan’s America (government, military, family, religion, etc.),” Arnett writes. Exploring the “dark side of Reagan’s America” the action-adventure films of the 80s – with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris and Bronson – dominated the genres. “Provoked by a nemesis, usually non-American, the action-adventure hero reasserts and reaffirms the Reaganesque values,” Arnett continues.

In the Stallone movie “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” Reagan pardons Rambo, and in the film the “promise of masculinity itself” is revived. In Reagan’s 1980 campaign for the presidency, he called for a “return to a sense of national pride, strength, and purpose that would move the nation beyond ‘the Vietnam syndrome,'” according to the article. Other 1980s films, including “Top Gun” and “Die Hard” relied on the “conventional narrative structure of upsetting a status quo only to put it back together in ways that embraced the cultural hegemony of Reagan’s America,” Arnett continued.

In the movie “To Live and Die in LA,” the character Chance moves from “Reagan’s secret service agent to the aptly metaphoric underworld of counterfeiters,” the author explains, concluding that the “Eighties noirs excelled between 1984 and 1986, not coincidentally during the apex of Reagan’s presidency.”

The Ronald Reagan Era: Economics and Getting Tough

As he began his first term, with the Cold War still very much a part of the international political dynamic, Reagan called for “the largest ever peacetime build-up of American military and naval forces.” And in his next breath he announced tax cuts as a “stimulant to the economy” (Kubursi, et al., 1993). At the beginning of the 80s, American “was still a creditor state,” but at the end of the 80s American had become “the largest debtor state in the world,” according to Kubursi’s article in Arab Studies Quarterly. One of the reasons for that dive into debt was the Reagan Administration’s very open and very publicly-expressed ambition to move American back into world prominence with a massive military build-up – which cost about $300 billion to taxpayers – combined with the tax cuts. But Americans didn’t mind the red tape because it was time to stand up to our enemies.

It was indeed time to get tough. George Will, writing in Newsweek (Will 2004) explained that Reagan will be remembered for “…his restoration of American confidence that resulted in a quickening tempo of domestic life.” And one of the things Reagan did that restored confidence in leadership – and showed the American voters and the international community that he meant what he said – was to fire the nation’s air-traffic controllers. When the Professional Air Traffic controllers’ organization (PATCO) threatened to go on strike in August 1981, Reagan’s first year in office, he said they would be terminated in two days. “This has often…been called a defining episode of the Reagan presidency,” Will writes, because it “notified foreign leaders, not least of those the Soviet Union, that he wais what he meant and meant what he said.”

Reagan did indeed fire the air-traffic controllers, and, Will continues, it “altered basic attitudes about relations between business and labor in ways that quickly redounded to the benefit of the nation.” In fact that showdown with labor “produced a cultural shift, a new sense of what can be appropriate in business management.” The entire Reagan era, according to Will, a well-known conservative commentator – who wrote this piece at the time of Reagan’s passing – is remembered “more for the tax-cutting and deregulating that helped, with the information technologies, to shift the economy into a hitherto unknown overdrive.”

Another event that made Reagan a hero at a time when America needed heroes occurred in the spring of 1981, when Reagan was shot in an attempted assassination. The New York Times (Silk, 1981) reported that Reagan’s “unruffled demeanor” immediately after being seriously wounded, along with his “jokes to his wife and the medics” all helped to “turn fear into rising respect for Mr. Reagan himself,” journalist Leonard Silk reports. A “growing number of Americans decided that they had elected themselves a remarkably cool and gutsy president,” Silk continued. The opinion polls showed great support for Reagan, and as public confidence grew, so did belief that the billions proposed for a military build-up was a good idea; and all of this new-found public confidence “quickly affected the stock market” according to Silk.

One of Reagan’s campaign slogans as he sought to attack inflation and put people back to work was “Stay the Course.” Shortly after Alberto Salazar won the New York City Marathon in October 1982, the gifted long distance runner was called to the White House for a hand-shaking photo opportunity. Salazar “delighted the President’s political cadre,” the New York Times reported (Clines, 1982), “by uttering Mr. Reagan’s current campaign slogan, ‘Stay the course.'” Still, that positive pro-Reagan bump notwithstanding, the Times also noted that Reagan aides were “appalled to see the political advantage from [Salazar’s] remark slip crassly away” as Salazar then handed over “…a pair of running shoes prominently advertising the name of his equipment patron.” That “patron” was, of course, Nike.

The Ronald Reagan Era: Nike

At the time of their “Dual in the Sun,” Alberto Salazar wore Nike brand running shoes and Dick Beardsley wore New Balance shoes, a company that paid Beardsley $500 a month, according to Beardsley’s Web site (www.dickbeardsley.com).Reportedly, Salazar received $25,000 annually from Nike. Those two companies were like David (New Balance) and Goliath (Nike). According to the New York Times (Amdur 1981), Nike’s “superior product and the low-capital approach have produced soaring profits…” The “low-profit approach” Amdur refers to was Nike’s strategy of having its shoes built in Asian markets (Korea and elsewhere) where labor was very cheap. The scandal that was to hit Nike in the early 1990s – when evidence of poor women and children laboring up to twelve hours a day in Asian sweatshops to help make Nike famous and wealthy – was a long way away from the early 1980s. These production methods, along with enormously powerful sports-star advertising and the fact that Nike “limits its inventory risk by taking orders from retailers under a five-month futures program that accounts for nearly 60% of sales,” Amdur writes, “catapulted Nike into the big leagues with sales estimated at $885 million” for fiscal year 1981. That was an impressive amount of money in the early 1980s.

The Ronald Reagan Era: Sports Popularity and Drug Usage

George Vecsey, syndicated sportswriter for the New York Times, reported in 1983 (based on a survey by the New York-based “Research & Forecasts” firm), “96.3% of the country plays or watches or reads articles about sports,” or at least identifies with certain teams and certain athletes “at least once a month” (Vecsey 1983). In that survey Vecsey revealed that 70% of the 1,139 respondents “follow sports every day” and 42% participate in some sporting activity “every day.” The most popular participation sport in 1983 was swimming (20% of Americans swam once a week), and they did it for “improved health (39%), enjoyment (32%), relaxation (7%) and for competition (6%).”

The biggest sports winner in the survey (in terms of non-participant loyalty) was football; 39% of survey respondents watch football “always”; as for baseball, 28% watch it “always”; falling in behind those two sports were basketball (19%), boxing (19%), swimming and diving (14), ice skating (13%), horse racing (13%), tennis and track and field tied with 12% of the respondents saying they pay attention “always.”

It’s interesting to learn that when watching their favorite sports, some 45% of “the most ardent fans at least sometimes fantasize that they are the athletes competing…” according to the survey.

Other nuggets contained in the research touched on racial themes; 89% of African-American fans, for example, selected a black athlete as their favorite, while 72% of white fans chose a white athlete as their favorite. A great number of respondents said that players caught using drugs should be banned for life.

Meantime, middle distance running star Sebastian Coe was quoted in the Times (Wallace 1982) as saying that the indiscriminate use of drugs among world-class athletes is the major problem in international sports. “The use of such substances has the ability to destroy sports, to chip away at the foundations. We have to hit hard on this issue,” he went on, adding “life bans” against those caught using drugs would be a way of “saving sport.” Little could Coe or any others at that time know how serious drug use among athletes (i.e., steroids, cocaine, supplements like ephedrine) would become in the 1990s and into the 21st Century.

The Ronald Reagan Era: American Design & Fashion

Wallowing in Opulence and Luxury” is the headline in an article by Paul Goldberger in the New York Times, November 13, 1988. The writer is reviewing American design in the 1980s, and he contrasts the “Reagan era” as a time of “pause, if not of actual change, in architecture as well as in politics.” Whereas the previous decades – the 1960s and 1970s – were “looking…to remake the world,” the 1980s, Goldberger explains, reflects the fact that “…a belief in utopia has been replaced by a contentment with what is, by a willingness to say that our culture is all right so long as it can make us comfortable.”

There is a “strange and ambiguous, not to say ambivalent, relationship between the culture of architecture and the culture of politics right now,” Goldberger continues. Robert Venturi is a theorist who would be “appalled to think of any connection between his ideas and the conservative tastes of the Reagan years,” the writer explains; but indeed many designers in the Reagan era concentrated on corporate high-rise design and “single family homes for the rich.” A symbol of the “lavishness of the corporate architecture of the 1980s” was the IBM building in Atlanta (designed by John Burgee and Philip Johnson) Goldberger continues.

And the “best evidence” that creative young designers were also rolling up their sleeves in the 80s could be seen in the creatively designed homeless shelters in Virginia, the affordable housing in Boston, and “plywood huts for the homeless in Atlanta” (built by architecture students) in the very shadow of the Burgee and Johnson IBM tower.

Drugs and Society – Beardsley’s Problem

The Brant article (p. 159) reports that 7 years after that “Dual in the Sun” Beardsley retired from running; one day as he was operating equipment on his farm in Minnesota, he became entangled in the power take-off and was seriously injured. In the hospital, “that first rush of Demerol” was “unlike anything the straight-arrow” non-drinking Beardsley had ever experienced. He “rocketed into another world.” And soon he was addicted. By 1995, Brant writes that Beardsley was popping about “ninety tablets of Demerol, Percocet, and Valium” every day. He spent his waking hours thinking about and pursuing those drugs.

In the 1980s, many athletes got involved in the “recreational use” of cocaine and marijuana, but Beardsley had apparently avoided those temptations. Once introduced to prescription drugs, he couldn’t avoid those. He is not alone. A Wall Street Journal article (March 2, 2004) explains that abuse of prescription drugs “has exploded in the past decade.” In fact prescription medicine ranks number two behind marijuana, among the most abused drugs among adults and young people, the article explains, using data from the recent study by the Health and Human Services Department of the federal government. The abuse of prescription drugs has become so prevalent, the article continues, that “emergency-room visits from prescription-drug abuses have risen 163%” since 1995.

Meanwhile, on the subject of drug abuse, an article in USA Today (Leinwand 2007) points out that while “alcohol remains the favored substance of abuse on college campuses by far, but the abuse of prescription drugs and marijuana has increased dramatically since the mid-1990s.” The study reflected in this article was conducted by the national Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The first study conducted by CASA was done in 1993, and the most recent survey, juxtaposed against the 1993 research, shows “the situation on America’s campuses has deteriorated,” according to CASA President Joseph Califano. A total of 22.9% of students studied in the most recent research “meet the medical definition for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence,” the article explains. Dependence is defined as “a compulsive use of a substance despite negative consequences.”

And while nearly 23% of college students are abusers of alcohol and prescription drugs, only 8.5% of the general public (people 12 years of age and older) is dependent on alcohol and/or prescription drugs. The painkillers most popular with students, according to the U.S.A. Today piece, are Percocet (which is one of the pills Beardsley was hooked on prior to his rehabilitation), Vicodin and OxyContin. In 1993, about 1% of students were using those prescription drugs; but in 2005 that rose to 3.1% of students, the article points out.

The “binge drinking” problem on campuses, while still a serious issue, has not grown in percentages, the article concludes; about 40% of students in 1993 admitted to binge drinking “at least occasionally”; and in 2005, the same percentage admitted to binge drinking, which is described as “having five drinks for male students” and for females, four drinks, at “one drinking occasion” during the previous two weeks.

Works Cited

Arnett, Robert. (2007). Eighties Noir: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan’s America. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 34(3), 123-129.

Brant, John. (1983). Duel in the Sun. Runner’s World.

Clines, Francis X. (1982). White House Winces at Economist’s Words. The New York Times.

Retrieved May 9, 2007, at http://query.nytimes.com.gst/fullpage.html.

Goldberger, Paul. (1988). 80’s Design: Wallowing in Opulence and Luxury. The New York

Times. Retrieved May 9, 2007 from ProQuest Historical Newspapers the New York Times.

Kubursi, Atif a., & Mansur, Salim. (1993). Oil and the Gulf War: An ‘American century’ or ‘new world order’. Arab Studies Quarterly, 15(4), 1-18.

Leinwand, Donna. (2007). College Drug Use, Bing Drinking Rise. USA Today, Retrieved May 10, 2007 at http://www.usatoday.com.

Silk, Leonard. (1981). Random Events and Reagan’s Economy. The New York Times. Retrieved May 10, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Vecsey, George. (1983). A Nation of Sports Fans. The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2007,

From ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Wallace, William N. (1982). Coe Assails Drug Use by Athletes. The New York Times.

Retrieved May 10, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers

Wall Street Journal. (2004). U.S. Authorities to Target Abuse of Painkillers. Retrieved May 10, 2007, from ProQuest (Document ID 567240331) ISSN (00999660).

Weisman, Steven R. (1981). For America, a Painful Reawakening. The New York Times.

Retrieved May 10, 2007, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

Will, George F. (2004). Reagan’s Echo in History. Newsweek. 143(24). Retrieved May 8, 2007,

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