On Monday, Politico published an in-depth story about our state’s junior senator Ted Cruz examining his post-presidential campaign efforts to repair fractured relationships with his colleagues in Washington. It’s a fairly interesting piece for a few reasons. First, that this story even exists seems to suggest that Cruz thinks his presidential hopes are still alive. Second, Cruz has always purposefully situated himself as an outsider in D.C., so the idea of him “playing nice with the GOP establishment” is new and exciting (if you’re into that kind of thing).
But there is one anecdote in particular that really jumps out. From Politico:
Cruz appears intent on building—and in some cases repairing—personal relationships with Republican senators. He started a weekly basketball game in the Russell Building, for example, and has been urging colleagues to attend. (Cruz is said to be a surprisingly good jump-shooter with miserable form.) Tim Scott has played, and Marco Rubio is said to be joining soon.
The notion of Cruz suiting up to play a real, live sport match set off quite an uproar on the Internet, leading to a pretty bizarre turn of events on Twitter on Tuesday that involved Cruz, plucky digital media outlet Deadspin, Duke University basketball star Grayson Allen, pretty solid meme usage, and, ultimately, a request that Cruz, uh, “go eat shit.”
But we’ll dive into all that later. First, some background. Cruz’s record on sports is somewhat contradictory—according to ABC news, in Cruz’s book, A Time For Truth, he wrote: “I refused to play sports as a child. That of course, made me even worse. That mix—excelling in the classroom, being too competitive and cocky about academics and being lousy at sports—was, needless to say, not a recipe for popularity.” But his high school yearbook biography indicates that Cruz did, in fact, participate in sports during school, playing varsity basketball, football, and soccer, among a litany of other less-athletic extracurriculars.
He rarely makes public comments on sports, but the few times he has, it was usually catered to whatever audience he faced on the campaign trail. In July 2015, Cruz was in Massachusetts when he chimed in on the NFL’s “Deflategate” scandal, joking in a speech that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was “framed” by the league (he was accused of tampering with the inflation level of footballs in the 2015 AFC Championship game). The punchline of the joke didn’t quite land, according to CBS News: “And I will say this: I have it on good authority that Hillary Clinton did it. Why do you think she deleted her emails?” The attempt at humor earned Cruz the dubious honor of being named sports and politics commentator Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person In The Sports World” for that week. But, hey, at least the designation meant Cruz was officially in the sports world!
Later that year, in November, Cruz turned his acquired-taste comedic eye toward his home state’s Texas Longhorns football squad. It happened during a speech in Iowa, shortly after Iowa State shutout Texas. Cruz fawned in his speech that Iowans take politics as serious as Texans take football. Someone in the crowd made a comment about the Longhorns’s loss, and, according to the Houston Chronicle, Cruz responded, “I was with [Iowa Representative Steve King], physically, not too far away when y’all whipped the Longhorns, and I didn’t even have anything to defend myself. I think they canceled their football program and brought in a girls junior high team instead.” An off-color comment, for sure, but one that actually seemed like an accurate explanation for how the Longhorns could get shutout by Iowa State. Was Cruz finally revealing his true sports expertise?
Then came Indiana. In a last-ditch effort to save his flailing 2016 campaign, Cruz headed to the basketball-mad state. Cruz held a rally in the same gym where the movie Hoosiers was filmed and attempted to recreate an iconic scene from the movie in which Gene Hackman, playing the role of the coach of an underdog high school basketball team competing in the state championship, tells his players to measure the height from the basket to the floor (it’s ten feet everywhere). Why did Cruz do this? Who knows. Perhaps Cruz was hoping to channel the magic of Jimmy Chitwood to pull off an upset victory in the primary election. Regardless, it didn’t go quite as planned. Observe:
Yes, you heard that right. In the mecca of American basketball, Ted Cruz pointed at what is very clearly a basketball hoop and called it a basketball ring. Just look at how the faces in the crowd behind him react after he says “ring”—they look visibly upset. Like an unforced turnover, he threw away any basketball credibility he may have had that day. Shortly after the incident, Cruz dropped out of the presidential race. We’re not saying he quit the campaign exclusively because he couldn’t correctly identify a basketball hoop, but we’re not saying he didn’t quit solely for that reason, either.
Since then, Cruz has been pretty silent on sports. But the sports world hasn’t quite let him go just yet. Take, for example, the popular meme comparing Ted Cruz with his doppelganger Grayson Allen, who plays for Duke’s basketball team. In short, they look alike. A deeper examination might show that the two share the exact same facial structure, the same smile, the same eyes, and even the same temperament. Allen, like Cruz, is fiercely competitive, almost to a fault. He’s regarded as an extremely unpopular figure in college sports. He has a track record of tripping opponents, and a tendency to “flop,” which means dramatically overreacting to slight physical contact in order to draw a foul, something viewed by establishment basketball folks as tantamount to throwing yourself in front of a bus to collect insurance. Cruz, of course, is widely regarded as one of the most unlikeable men in Washington, and, like Allen, is also known for flopping, after saying he wouldn’t support Donald Trump before eventually endorsing him. But for as long as the meme has been around, Cruz never once acknowledged it. That is, until Tuesday.
Like all of us, the sometimes-snarky sports news website Deadspin wondered what, exactly, Cruz looks like while playing basketball (we also reached out to Cruz’s office for more information here, but have not received a response). On Monday, Deadspin published a story asking people to come forward with any existing video evidence of Cruz on the court. As per usual, Deadspin posted the story on its Twitter feed. No one could have expected what happened next.
@Deadspin what do I win? pic.twitter.com/9XuRmmIkJS
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 25, 2017
Cruz (or at least the person who handles Cruz’s social media account) actually responded to Deadspin’s tweet. Not only did Cruz respond, but he actually responded with the Grayson Allen meme. It was an objectively good tweet, funny without being insensitive or obscene (a miracle in the Twitter world), and surprisingly self-aware for the senator. Deadspin’s response was, uh, this:
@tedcruz Go eat shit.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) January 25, 2017
It’s weird to tell a sitting senator to go eat shit, for sure. It’s weird to tell anyone to go eat shit. But this is Deadspin, a part of the now defunct Gawker family, so it’s not entirely expected. After all, they memorably pulled pretty much the same out-of-left-field move on Donald Trump way back in 2013. Cruz (or, again, whoever is running his Twitter account) once again responded with an even-keeled, family-friendly meme:
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 25, 2017
Another pretty good tweet. Perhaps this is all part of Cruz’s plan, per Politico, to make people like him. Anyway, if you have footage or photographs of Cruz playing basketball, we would, of course love to see it too. And we promise we won’t tell anyone to eat poop.