Sen. George Mitchell on Syria, the Senate, and Sports

mitchell

Former Senator George Mitchell

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell visited Philadelphia today to attend the Beyond Sports Summit where he gave a speech on integrity and ethics and the roles sports plays in both.

In a one-on-one interview before his address Mitchell discussed several issues – from disfunction in the Middle East to disfunction in the Congress. He also addressed the recent ethics problems in sports and how they relate to our society as a whole.

Syria

Sen. Mitchell served as President Obama’s Special Envoy to the Middle East from 2009 to 2011 and was integral to ending the dispute in Northern Ireland during the Clinton Administration. He defended the President’s approach to the situation.

“I thought the President gave an effective speech last night, presenting the reasons why we should be concerned,” he said.

“It’s a extremely complicated situation that certainly doesn’t lend itself to an easy or simple solution,” he explained. “When you get to be President you very rarely face decisions in which there’s a clearly good answer or clearly bad answer. Usually there are several; often they’re all bad. The question is which one is worse than the others.”

Senate

Given the contentious debate over Syria in the Congress and over pretty much all pending legislation, the man who spent fourteen years in the Senate said that in the upper chamber it has become harder for Senators to form personal bonds.

“Well, I thought it was tough when I was there,” he said with a laugh before concluding “but it’s clearly much tougher now.” He recalled meeting with then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole the day after he became Majority Leader to discuss their way forward. He told Senator Dole that, “If there’s no trust between us then nothing’s possible.” He asserted that from then on they had a productive relationship.

“To this moment, never has harsh word passed between Bob Dole and me,” he stated. When asked whether such a relationship could happen again he was cautiously optimistic.

“I think it can be done, but it’s harder now.”

Sports

Thanks to his work on the famous “Mitchell Report” into steroid use in baseball, Sen. Mitchell has an unique perspective on the lack of integrity in sports.

Asked whether the recent Biogenesis and Oklahoma State scandals reflected a culture of permissiveness in sports, he said that such scandals are no different from lawbreakers in other segments of society.

“It’s a normal part of society, you have to deal with rules and some people break the rules,” he said. “You have to figure out what the response should be. It’s as old as civilization itself. I think it’s unrealistic to believe there will become a time when all this just stops.”

Finally, asked for a World Series pick, the Senator demurred – although he said that he is a lifelong Red Sox fan and he’ll be rooting for them all the way.

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