Interview: Reggie Love, Author Of 'Power Forward' Reggie Love went from playing sports at Duke to working as Barack Obama's personal assistant. His new memoir, Power Forward, describes what he learned on the campaign trail and in the White House.
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Obama's 'Body Man' Looks Back On His Presidential Education

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Obama's 'Body Man' Looks Back On His Presidential Education

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Reggie Love was Barack Obama's body man. That's part personal assistant, part aid, part whatever the boss needs you to do. That unique experience is relived in his book "Power Forward: My Presidential Education." It began when Reggie Love met then-Senator Obama for a job interview.

REGGIE LOVE: I was 23 years old. And, you know, we have a, you know - a brief exchange, and he kind of tells me - he asks me, you know, what my ambitions are. You know, do I someday want to run for something? And I think I was - I think I was less than impressive - kind of overwhelmed and underprepared.

RATH: Now, at that point when you had that interview, you were - you were pretty fresh out of college. You'd been a star athlete at Duke. But...

LOVE: I don't know if I'd say star, but I played.

RATH: Well, you did pretty well, right?

LOVE: I spent some time with the Dallas Cowboys and a few months with the Green Bay Packers. I did. Yeah.

RATH: So at that point in your life, you're 23. You're sort of looking at sports as a career. What were you thinking about the rest of your life?

LOVE: I hadn't quite figured it out. It was a weird time for me because something that I'd spent so much of my time invested into, in terms of just being an athlete, was sort of coming to an end. I was kind of grappling with that a bit. But I think what - more importantly, what I really thought was that then-Senator Obama was very impressive. You know, I knew that I wanted to learn from him, and I wanted to participate in the political process and sort of - and serve.

RATH: Can you talk about what it was - what is it like being a body man? What does that entail?

LOVE: The biggest part about it is you want to be prepared to anticipate the needs that may come or arise as the candidate or the principal is making their way through the day. And, you know - and it's everything from, you know, making sure that they have a proper meal to eat at lunchtime or dinnertime or whatever to making sure that they are prepared with all the detailed information they need for an event. There are some days when I, like, would sit next to the teleprompter operator to make sure that while the candidate was on a riff, that the teleprompter operator didn't get too out of control with where he was scrolling the text. But it's - you're a problem solver.

RATH: And you're spending a lot of time with the - with him, and you start to experience a lot more human moments. When did you get a start to get a sense of Barack Obama, the man, as distinct from the senator and the candidate?

LOVE: You know, I think, as a whole - I think I always had a pretty good sense of, you know, what was sort of at his core. I also felt like we could identify with one another a lot because, you know, though we have a very diverse team and a diverse administration, you know, there weren't a lot of black men, you know, kind of hovering around in that first floor of the West Wing. And I thought that that, you know, was sort of a bonding issue. You know, we were kind of the only two guys who knew what it was like not to be able to catch a cab in New York.

RATH: (Laughter) And you talked about bonding over sports. I'm trying to imagine what it was like the first time you played basketball with Mr. Obama. It must have been kind of a weird mind game on you. Like, you don't want to be too good, right?

LOVE: Well, there was a little pressure to perform, and you know, you didn't want to be the guy who cost the candidate to lose a game. I've got to admit, I enjoyed playing with the president on the team, and I don't really like playing against him, but...

RATH: Why?

LOVE: 'Cause we always sort of get into it about calls. And it's like, oh, that wasn't a foul, or he was an out of bounds, or he double-dribbled. And so, you know, it's hard to push back at times.

RATH: (Laughter).

LOVE: And everyone is a little bit better when they play with the president.

RATH: You know, this book, although, obviously, it's taking place in the political arena, it's not an overtly political book. You're mainly focusing on the relationships and life and people, but race is a through line through this book you just can't avoid. And you had a really unique experience of being mentored by not only the most powerful black man in America, but the most powerful man in America. I'm wondering what that taught you about race and power and politics.

LOVE: Anything's possible. And when I was growing up, when I was 13 or 12 or whatever, like, I don't know that I could've said that, as a young African-American male in the South. And I think that's a very - it's a very powerful thing. And I think that is the reason why I noticed that there wasn't a lot of diversity on the hill. And I wanted to be part of - I wanted to be a part of that change.

RATH: Reggie Love's book about his time as President Barack Obama's body man is called "Power Forward: My Presidential Education." Reggie Love, thanks very much.

LOVE: I appreciate you guys having me on today. Thanks.

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