Ed Rendell Still Thinks We’re a Nation of Wusses

In an excerpt from his spirited new memoir, A Nation of Wusses, the former DA, mayor and governor dishes on the cheesesteak that changed his career, his buddy Bill Clinton, and why exactly the U.S. seems to be losing its mojo.

In my 30 years in public life, I believe I have done many cutting-edge things, taken real risks to make change happen, and surely said things that created great controversy (a few of which I’d like to have back). But incredibly, nothing I have done or said gained as much worldwide attention, created as much controversy, as what I said about a football game.

On December 26, 2010, the Eagles were scheduled to play an important game against the Minnesota Vikings. If the Eagles won, it could help them secure a bye in the playoffs. Unbelievably, the game was canceled that morning before one flake of snow had fallen, based on forecasts of a significant storm. One hour before game time, the city had less than six inches on the ground. The western suburbs had less than three inches, and Wilmington had less than two inches. Good grief! Canceling a game because of that amount of snow—unthinkable! Vince Lombardi must have been rolling over in his grave.

At about five o’clock that afternoon, the producer of Comcast’s Eagles post-game show, Rob Kuestner, called me at home and asked if I would do a phone interview about the cancellation. I said sure, and when he asked me on-air what I thought of the decision to cancel the game, I blurted out that we were becoming “a nation of wusses” and that this was just further evidence of the “wussification of America.”

I never thought these comments would set off controversy or gain the attention they did. The Washington Times asked me to write an op-ed piece about the “wussification,” and they put it, unbelievably, on the front page.

The NFL explained that the forecast called for perhaps a foot or more of snow, and they didn’t want thousands of fans to be trapped after the game in stadium parking lots. Conditions never got close to that dire prediction.

Yet the NFL thought it had to protect the fans. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? Simple. We seem to have lost our boldness, our courage, our sense of adventure, that frontier spirit that made this country the greatest nation in the world. A little snow, a potential traffic tie-up, a long trip home, caused us to cancel a football game? Will Bunch, a writer for the Daily News, said that if football were played in China, 300,000 Chinese would have walked through the snow to the stadium, doing advanced calculus as they went. He’s probably right, and it’s no secret why the Chinese are dominating the world stage.

Second, the NFL didn’t trust the fans to use their own judgment about whether going to the game in the snow was worth the risk they might encounter. We all hear talk about the “nanny” state, but now we have the “nanny” NFL, so concerned about the welfare of the fans, and perhaps potential liability, that it feels it has to protect us from ourselves. Today it seems like everywhere you look, you find an army of lawyers advising us against doing things, and a flotilla of worrywarts right behind, cheering them on, telling us we can’t take that risk.

But what is so desperately important is that our newfound “wussiness” is affecting big things that really do matter to our country and our people.

If we are to continue to lead the world, economically and in other ways, we must regain that American spirit, that boldness and courage, that willingness to take on challenges no matter how hard or how great the risk, if the reward makes that risk worth taking. We need leaders with the courage to risk the thing that matters most to them: their own jobs!

No wusses need apply.