Catchings Charged by State of the Union

By John Clayton
Indianapolis, Jan. 21, 2004

The third Tuesday of January had never held much significance for apolitical Indiana Fever All-Star Tamika Catchings.

At least it didn’t until this past Tuesday night when Catchings attended the State of the Union Address by special invitation of the White House.

“The whole thing was cool – just to be invited to the State of the Union is a once in a lifetime experience,” Catchings said.

The White House contacted USA Basketball officials late last week in an effort to reach Catchings with the invitation. As a representative of the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, Catchings flew to Washington, D.C. Tuesday morning and arrived on Capitol Hill by motorcade just prior to the State of the Union Tuesday night. She was part of a guest list that included District of Columbia Mayor Anthony A. Williams and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

While Catchings said she had never really sat down and watched a State of the Union Address on television – or even episodes of “The West Wing” for that matter – she easily found herself caught up in the event from the police escort to Capitol Hill to the address to informal audiences and photo opportunities with the President and First Lady afterward.

“I think actually being at the speech . . . being there and seeing it first hand and hearing right from (President George W. Bush’s) mouth the things he’s looking to do in 2004 was great,” said Catchings. “I learned a lot and just some of the stuff he said, I hope really happens. I got to see a lot of cool people and meet a lot of cool people. It was a great experience.”

Among the “cool people” Catchings got to meet were the President and First Lady.

Catchings, who visited the White House and met former President Bill Clinton after winning a National Championship at Tennessee, said she was particularly impressed that both President and Laura Bush knew who she was.

“Laura kind of turned around and said, ‘Hey, Tamika,’ and I was like, ‘she know me!” Afterward, we got to go take pictures with them and being able to talk one-on-one with them was a great experience,” Catchings said.

While Catchings has not dabbled in politics, Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, made a political statement concerning professional athletics, calling on players to stop using performance-enhancing drugs and fulfill their duties as role models for America’s children.

It was a call to action Catchings heard loud and clear.

“There’s a lot of athletes who take for granted where they are,” she said. “My thing is, you got to this level and somebody helped you get there. When I go out, that’s what I think. . . . When I was five, six, seven or eight (years old), people were there helping me to boost my confidence to give me self-esteem when I was on the court playing basketball and when I was in school.

“I think it’s important that he addressed that. You are a role model, whether you like it or not. . . . You might as well grasp it and try to help somebody else.”

Catchings has been recognized by the WNBA for her community involvement, but this WNBA offseason has far surpassed anything Catchings could have expected in terms of accolades and recognition on and off the court.

In December, the University of Tennessee retired her jersey, giving Catchings a meaningful end to 2003, year that included a pair of international championships in Korea and All-WNBA honors. An invitation to the State of the Union Address and hopes for a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics also creates an auspicious beginning for a year Catchings said she wants to make her own.

“This is going to sound crazy, but for my New Year’s resolution I said this is going to be the year of Tamika Catchings,” she said. “Basically, this is my year – the year I step everything up and get things done on my end. . . . And so far, so good. Right after I make that resolution, there I am at the State of the Union Address.”