President John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963
Shortly before he took office, President-elect John F. Kennedy identified physical fitness as a defining principle of his administration. The first media-savvy president to cam*paign extensively on television, the president-elect mobilized the power of the mainstream media by publishing an article, “The Soft American,” in Sports Illustrated (Dec. 26, 1960) less than a month before his inauguration. It was a first – a president-elect writing an article in the popular media to announce public policy before taking office.
In his Sports Illustrated piece, President Kennedy outlined four points as the basis of his physical fitness program: a White House Committee on Health and Fitness; direct oversight of the initiative by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; an annual Youth Fitness Conference to be attended by state governors; and an unambiguous assertion that physical fitness was the business of the federal government. He concluded the article by laying the foundation for reorganizing the Council. Within a month of his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke at the Conference on Physical Fitness of Youth. Under President Kennedy, the President’s Council would not only spread the word to Americans about the importance of physical fitness for youth but would also conduct youth fitness surveys, publish fitness information, and offer technical advice to schools and communities about how to improve physical fitness not only for youth but for Americans of all ages.
Although the Council did not have the authority to impose a national physi*cal fitness program, state and local leaders indicated to the Council that they would welcome guidance. President Kennedy selected Charles (“Bud”) Wilkinson, athletic director and football coach at the University of Oklahoma, as the first Physical Fitness Consultant to the President. Wilkinson assembled a professional staff that included Richard Snider (administrator), C. Carson Conrad, and Glenn Swengros.