After his debut on "Dancing With the Stars" the other night, Evan Lysacek was asked about Johnny Weir... and skated down the middle with his answer. He said, "We're just acquaintances really. I think I've only had two personal conversations with him in my life. But he's a great skater, an incredible skater obviously." That compliment was gracious of Lysacek, considering that he's about to make his debut with the now-famous Stars on Ice tour where Weir isn't wanted. The tour will be kicking off in Florida in a few days.
Lysacek will have to watch his step, politically, while on tour. Ari Fleischer himself will be keeping his eye on Evan.
The other day on Buzzflash, Bill Berkowitz was tracing the emergence of Fleischer as a neocon sports figure. Once upon a time Fleischer was White House press secretary, defending Bush's sticky positions on torture and war in Iraq. He helped put forth the Bush policy that "homosexual groups, gay groups, should not have special rights." Fleischer's political profile also included being implicated in the CIA Plame outing.
When he resigned his White House job in 2003, Fleischer was recruited by IMG, who saw a place in sports for the man's image-massaging-and-crisis-managing skills. Today his PR firm, Ari Fleischer Sports Communications, has a 50-percent partnership with IMG. And IMG produces Stars on Ice. So Fleischer's influence at IMG is probably yet another reason (in addition to the conservatism of Smucker's, the tour sponsor) why we won't be seeing Johnny Weir skate in Stars on Ice. Indeed, Fleischer is no doubt helping IMG to "manage" the controversy about their snub of Weir.
Along the way, in 2007, Fleischer started a neocon lobby group, Freedom's Watch, that has strong ties to Dick Cheney and the Christian right. He is also a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition. In 2007, Fleischer was compelled to "manage" the RJC's crisis when it got caught doing an anti-Muslim mailing. The material was aimed at getting U.S. Jews to be tighter with the Christian Zionist movement. Part of the mailing was sent out on the Christians United for Israel postal permit. This puts the RJC, and Fleischer, in the lap of CUFI's founder and national chairman, Bible-thumping preacher John Hagee. And we all know how much Hagee likes "homosexual sinners."
In the sports world, Fleischer has helped a variety of individuals and organizations to try cleaning up their messy images. For example, Bud Selig of MLB hired him to manage the steroids scandal. He has advised NASCAR teams and the Green Bay Packers. But Fleischer's visibility as a PR figurehead can be problematical. In May 2009, the U.S. Olympic Committee took him on as an advisor. As Philip Hersh commented, "That choice of an advisor showed what a tin ear the USOC leadership had about relating to its constituencies and the OIympic world, which generally detested the Bush administration's policies." Within months the USOC had replaced Fleischer with the less problematical Patrick Sandusky.
More recently Tiger Woods hired Fleischer to stage-manage his comeback. But Fleischer has just quit -- or was fired, depending on whom you talk to. Reason: Ari's own messy image evidently wasn't doing Woods' image any good.
At the 2010 National Sports Forum in Baltimore last month, Fleischer was one of the keynote speakers. The Forum gets together to discuss everything from marketing to social issues -- and of course crisis management. It is heavily attended by organizations operating in pro baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, men's golf and auto racing -- all of them sports noted for their conservatism and homophobia.
All in all, Ari Fleischer is yet another example of the growing grip that neocons have on sports -- and that apparently now includes a growing grip on U.S. figure skating.
Hat tip to Bill Berkowitz at Buzzflash.com