Barack Obama spoke in front of several hundred people yesterday at a sports conference.
We don’t know what he said.
That’s because Obama’s session at MIT’s Sloan Sports Analytics Conference was off the record — conference organizers prevented attendees from tweeting, livestreaming or reporting on any part of Obama’s appearance during or after the event.
The penalty for breaking the rules, per Sloan: You couldn’t come back to Sloan.
Former President Obama is scheduled to speak this afternoon to an MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. We're not supposed to tell you what he says. pic.twitter.com/4zsEXzosJD— Lana Jones (@Lanawbz) February 23, 2018
Sloan is a conference dedicated to the Moneyball wing of sports business and fandom. It’s the kind of place you can go to see Nate Silver chatting with Steve Ballmer.
It makes sense that Sloan would want Obama to come and discuss “a wide range of subjects ... from his most memorable moments in the White House to his post-presidency plans,” along with Kraft Analytics CEO Jessica Gelman and Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
But I can’t fathom why that talk would be off the record. I’ve asked a Sloan rep for comment; a rep for ESPN, which is the lead sponsor for the event, declined to comment.
It looks like Reporters For Sports Outlets You’ve Heard Of complied with Sloan’s rules, which isn’t surprising. Complying with rules of the events you attend is the kind of thing you do when you’re a Reporter For Sports Outlets You’ve Heard Of.
ESPN had a pre-write of Obama’s appearance (and obliquely referenced the off-the-record part in the headline and spelled it out in the last graph), but nothing else. And if there was any coverage at all from Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report or my Vox Media colleagues at SB Nation, I missed it. Ditto for the bad boys at Deadspin and Barstool Sports. (Barstool does not like Obama’s portrait, though).
Still: It’s 2018. There’s no such thing as an off-the-record event, especially not one held in the United States, in front of hundreds of people with internet-connected phones, right?
One or two people here in line to see Obama. Eat your heart out, Hall H at Comic-Con. #SSAC18 pic.twitter.com/CP7MuVpQzp— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) February 23, 2018
A few people showed up to see Obama. #SSAC18 pic.twitter.com/nYdqbcBquz— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) February 23, 2018
People sitting down to hear 44 speak #ssac18 #potus #Obama pic.twitter.com/tQzXObzQWQ— Fredson Gomes (@FredsonGomes) February 23, 2018
Thanks, Obama #SSAC18 pic.twitter.com/mPZLTfcw6a— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) February 23, 2018
Maaaaybe. Here’s a post from Justin McMahon, whose bio describes him as a student at UNC Chapel Hill and the CEO of Daily Insider, a fantasy sports site.
Awesome experience witnessing Barack Obama talking sports at Sloan today. In 10 minutes he detailed exactly what has to happen to fix these NCAA problems. NBA and NFL need minor league systems to draft high schoolers into. The guys who are good enough should get paid right away— Justin MacMahan (@JustinMacMahan) February 23, 2018
I’m not sure Justin was actually at the Sloan event, though some of his preceding tweets were about other Sloan speakers. I’ve asked him for more information.
And here are a couple from someone who controls the Twitter account for Women in Sports Tech, whose Twitter stream suggests they were also at the event:
“Getting diversity around you isn’t hard if you are intentional about it. If you say you can’t diversify your team, you just aren’t trying hard enough.” @BarackObama @SloanSportsConf #SSAC18 #changetheratio— Women in Sports Tech (@WomenSportsTech) February 23, 2018
“In today’s culture, if you aren’t deliberately working towards diversity and innovation, you will fail.” @BarackObama #diversitybreedsinnovation @SloanSportsConf #SSAC18— Women in Sports Tech (@WomenSportsTech) February 23, 2018
@Simon_pouliot’s timeline has three tweets. This is one of them.
Barack Obama: “Play sports with people to discover if they are self-aware, and whether they are a TEAM-first person or a ME-first person” #SSAC18 #POTUS44— Simon Pouliot (@simon_pouliot) February 24, 2018
Alanna Astion’s bio says she’s getting a master’s degree at UMass in sport management. This is one of the two Sloan tweets she published today:
#athleteactivism Obama spoke yesterday about the trend of disagreement about proven facts. How do you handle the prevalence of that issue while trying to accomplish your goals? #ssac18 #talkdatatome— Alanna Astion (@LanniAstion) February 24, 2018
And ... that’s it?
All those people? Nothing else? Really?
If I’ve missed something, please let me know. And if you attended and want to share something confidentially, that would also be great. My email is on my bio page.
(Update: Heard from one bold attendee who passed along this assessment of Obama’s comments: “It was the kind of stuff that you would say at a high school graduation. I don’t know why it would have to be off the record.” Thank you, bold attendee! Happy to hear from others.)
But to recap:
- Anyone can go to one of Donald Trump’s private golf clubs and come away with photos of the the president of the United States watching TV or discussing his North Korea strategy.
- The last president of the United States spoke at a public forum yesterday where he may have discussed: The importance of playing team sports, his support for diversity in sports and the need for reform in college sports.
- But we don’t know that for sure, because there was a surprisingly effective media blackout.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.