WASHINGTON – Landon Donovan finally returned to the public eye as a member of the LA Galaxy on Tuesday afternoon, but he didn't have much to say. To grown-ups and non-presidents of the United States, at least.
After some four months on hiatus from the game, Donovan was back at the heart of his club team as they were honored for their MLS Cup 2012 triumph at the White House, presenting President Barack Obama with a personalized Galaxy jersey and a ball autographed by the team.
After the ceremony, neither Donovan nor any other members of the Galaxy delegation addressed the media. He did, however, sit down with teammates Todd Dunivant and Mike Magee and three members of the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings – who were also honored by the Commander-in-Chief – to answer a wide range of questions from an audience of children under a huge oil portrait of President Abraham Lincoln in the White House's State Dining Room.
The kids didn't ask him about his up-to-the-moment fitness levels, or his sabbatical, or the burnout that prompted him to step away from the game he loved immediately after climbing the MLS summit with LA last fall. The closest he came to a revelation was his confession that avocados are his favorite healthy snack, and that walking his two dogs on the beach is his non-soccer exercise of choice.
But there were small hints at the complex musings that made Donovan feel the need to recharge his batteries over the winter after nearly two decades of pro soccer immersion.
“You guys don't realize it, but you're growing up in a little bit of a different time than we grew up in,” Donovan told the young crowd, “where you have more access to lots of different things, like I see a lot of you with cameras, phones, all these things at a young age, computers, stuff like that. So you guys have to make a conscious effort to go out and do things. And I think when you go out and do things, you realize, and we realize this as soccer players, we play with people from all parts of the world.
“So growing up, when I would go outside, I met people from all parts of the world, with all different backgrounds, all different abilities and sometimes disabilities. And you realize when you play, you learn something – that we're all the same, and we're all people in that way. So if you're sitting in front of your phone or your computer all day, those opportunities don't come to you. But if you go outside and play, you can see there's a lot more to life and a lot more to the world.”
Later, Donovan moved in another direction, wowing the children with a simple but profound gesture. During a discussion about teamwork, he took off his MLS Cup 2012 championship ring – joking that “I want you guys to remember there's a lot of security here, so if you try to steal it, we will find you” – and handed it to one of the kids to pass around as a rare kind of show-and-tell.
“We realized in sports that if you don't get along well and you don't cooperate on a team, that you don't have a good as a chance of winning,” he counseled. “It's very rare in any sport, in any company, in schools, in classrooms, it's rare that you see successful people that don't work as a team and don't do things together. So I want to give you guys an opportunity to see what teamwork can do ... I want to show you guys this – it's a symbol of what teamwork can do.”
It was hard not to think of Donovan when Dunivant concluded the Q&A with his own bit of advice.
“Find out what you love,” said the Galaxy defender. “Once you find out what you do, practice it as much as you can and try to be the best at it that you can ... Whatever that is, whether it's school or music or art, follow your passion.”