You get a chance to speak to the greatest soccer player in American history, you have to get the obvious question out of the way: Landon Donovan, what do you think about the US Presidential age of candidacy restriction?
"Hahaha, the obvious?" The greatest soccer player in American history is relaxed, all smiles in dark slim-fit jeans and a long-sleeved, grey button-down. His mood is surprising because it's a hot Tuesday in Manhattan, he has slogged through traffic to get here, he missed lunch, there is a flight delay hanging over him, and now a stranger is bugging him about the US Constitution. He has every right to be at least a little annoyed.
Instead, Donovan apologizes for being late (he's not; he's early) and settles in amiably. The greatest soccer player in American history is at Bounce Sports Club at the invitation of Captain Morgan - the rum, not the Leicester City player - to lend support to the brand's Under 35 POTUS campaign. It is a proposal to revisit the constitutional restriction on the age of the President, get the bar lowered on the time you need to serve as a citizen before you can at least try to serve as Commander in Chief.
There is an online petition. There is a hashtag: #under35POTUS. There is a promotional video.
And, seemingly incongruously, there is the greatest soccer player in American history sitting in a Manhattan bar to talk about a campaign to push under-35s on the voting public. A campaign promoted by a pirate.
Oh, wait. Landon Donovan is 34. He has considerable leadership experience, he's pretty well known - maybe there is a big announcement to come?
"No, no, no. I don't want that, trust me."
What Donovan does want is to refresh the national political conversation, get some new ideas carried by fresh faces. He essentially sees #under35POTUS as switching the angle of attack, a cross-field pass that will catch an old, tired defense out of position.
"More than worrying about the age restriction, I think it's a kind of clever way to have a conversation with people about politics, with young people, and about the future of our country," he said. "I just had a kid six months ago so my view on all of this stuff changed drastically. I went from someone who would probably vote and care about these things to, well, this is the world my son is going to be living in soon and it's not really encouraging lately."
Talon Bartell Donovan has a life to live, and his father wants it to be lived in less troubling times. "Every day I read my Twitter feed there's another killing, another shooting, another racially-motivated crime and it's actually pretty discouraging. This was a clever way to have people talk about this. When I think about young people in our country, they're having a bigger influence than ever before."
He is not, to be clear, naively proposing that we hand over the keys to the country to a college freshman. Or even to, say, New York Red Bulls' reserve 'keeper Ryan Meara - who will turn 26 in November.
"Do I want a 25-year-old to be our President? No," Donovan chuckled. "But if Mark Zuckerberg said ‘I'm going to run for President I think I can make some positive changes,’ I'd say ‘okay, that could be an interesting idea.’"
He's self-aware. He's a retired soccer player sitting in a bar pontificating about politics on a platform provided by a pirate captain. There's a half-smile behind a lot of what he says. He's sincere, without being earnest: "I'm not stupid, I know one person is not going to change things. But I do think we have a responsibility as parents to try to do things to help this country. Like I said, I think we're reaching a tipping point. There's a lot of bad things going on in this country. It's really sad."
"I don't want to be a Debbie Downer but it's irresponsible if we don't at least attempt," said Donovan, successfully avoiding the appearance of a Debbie Downer. "I think you're seeing it this election, people are sick of the status quo. Bernie Sanders was getting all these young people riled up, Donald Trump is getting all of these people to talk about things that they wouldn't talk about before."
He may not be interested in being President, but a career's worth of media appearances has made Donovan a very polished speaker. He keeps his voice controlled, his thoughts coherent, his manner engaging. He started this chat more concerned about my time than his own. And now he has put Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the same sentence, without taking a jab at either. That doesn't happen...ever...these days.
He knows how to buy time as surely as I know my #DonovanDempsey2020 dreams are dashed.
Asked who among his peers might make a good Presidential candidate, he throws out an initial answer he knows won't cut it: "Traditionally, there's some very diplomatic guys I played with so in that way David Beckham was very diplomatic and politically correct and very smart in that way. I think people kind of see things differently. I try to think of people that are inclusive, that bring people together. I've had a lot of coaches that have done that, [I've known] a lot of players who do that well."
President Becks would need a different constitutional amendment than the one being pushed by The Captain. LD knows this. He's just presenting the qualities he's looking for in his candidate of choice.
After a moment of consideration, he finds his answer: "I played with a guy named Kyle Beckerman who was very much good in that way." And he throws out a bonus option, almost as if to confirm he didn’t just pick Beckerman because he's next to Beckham in the Donovan mental Rolodex, "Brad Evans...has good leadership qualities and is good at bringing people together."
Well, would Beckerman be able to navigate a debate with Trump?
"Hahaha, that's a good question, eh, yeah, probably," he said, with as much conviction as most fans of the national team do when arguing to see Beckerman’s name in the starting XI.
Perhaps sensing I was gathering the confidence to press him to fill out Beckerman’s cabinet, and then maybe the Supreme Court Justices, Donovan switches play away from such trivial matters.
"What I like to see when I'm watching debates, I want to see people who are real. I'm sick of watching politicians who are spewing off garbage that's been filled in their ear by their advisers," he said, bringing special emphasis to the more emotive words in that sentence. "If you feel something, if you feel a certain way, say it. ... Talk about it and be real. I think everybody feels the same way, we're just done with that. It's a bunch of BS."
He's right. It is BS. I catch myself. I might have been about to cheer. Somewhere along the way, Donovan has turned me into a representative of my generation: Millennials, as we're often called, usually as a prelude to being called lazy and entitled.
"People our—," It's Donovan's turn to catch himself. He’s not a kid anymore. "People your age, not my age, are much smarter earlier than we have ever had them, right. Kids are going to preschool at 18 months. I have a 12-year-old godson who literally knows more about politics and this election than 99% of people in this country. He's so fascinated by it, loves it.
It's [more] different than it's ever been. People are smarter earlier and they're sick of this BS," said Donovan. "They really are, right?"
I stifle another cheer.