NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal was on Capitol Hill Friday morning with the Century Council to promote awareness of binge drinking. Before addressing a packed Cannon Caucus room, Shaq had a private reception with members of Congress, who lined up for photos. (Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Tex., brought a hat for O'Neal to sign.)
The standing-room only crowd, which included Reps. Mike McIntyre, Lois Capps, Cedric Richmond, Charlie Rangel, and Bill Keating, along with a number of members of the building's custodial staff, ate up Shaq's brief speech at the event, which he began by saying, "My name is Dr. Shaquille O'Neal, and I accept your nomination for Congress."
Asked by Yeas & Nays if Shaq was surprised to see members of Congress act like regular fans, eagerly seeking photos and autographs, O'Neal said no. "I have a gift of bringing people together," he said. "I just try to use my gift in positive ways. They're here to see me, but hopefully it'll get the message out." (Indeed, seconds later, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., made a beeline for Shaq in the Cannon rotunda and stood grinning as he waited to shake his hand.)
Shaq, who earned a doctorate earlier this year, is no stranger to advocacy or to speaking on the Hill. "I think it's my third time," he said, though he struggled to remember what causes he had advocated for previously. "I'm not sure," he said, "but I know it was something positive." He mused for a moment. "I think it was childhood obesity."
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is working with the Century Council to address binge drinking at historically black colleges and also spoke at the event, anticipated this level of enthusiasm as soon as Shaq came on board. "I knew then that what we see here would happen," he said of the overflowing audience. "They came to get a photograph with him, but they also heard my story." Cleaver's best friend, who happened to be O'Neal's uncle, was killed in a car accident by a man who had been binge drinking.