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Jock Civil Servants: 9 Pro Athletes Who Made the Leap to Politics

by: Howard Cosmell On  Thursday, September 23, 2010

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Many athletes in team sports are natural born leaders. When measured with the high levels of exposure they get playing on TV and their fanatic fan bases, it’s hard to believe that there actually aren’t more athletes in leadership roles in state and national capacities. While none have risen all the way to president yet, there remains a fairly strong showing of athletes in political positions. Here are nine that have made the leap to getting (or at least came close to getting) elected to state or national positions.

9. Lynn Swann
Swann_Lynn_Head-150x150An All-American national champion at USC, Swann made a seamless transition to the NFL in 1974 where he amassed four Super Bowl rings during a laudable career. Predictably, he was elected to the pro football Hall of Fame in 2001.

Unfortunately, that was more success than Swann would experience in the political arena. After getting the Republican nomination for Governor in 2006, he lost to the incumbent by a 60-40 margin. In 2008, he disclosed his intention to run for the U.S. House of Representatives, but never ended up filing for the election. Though still very politically active, Swann is the one of the few members of this list to have never won a public election.

8. Chris Dudley
Screen shot 2010-09-22 at 4.13.56 PMUnlike Swann, Dudley has enjoyed more success in politics than in sport, but that’s really not saying much as his career-high scoring mark as a basketball player was an underwhelming 7.1 PPG. Despite some humanitarian recognition in the NBA, he was largely a journeyman, playing for five teams and averaging a meager 3.9 PPG for his career.

However, those humanitarian awards weren’t just window dressing. This year, Dudley is the Republican nominee for Governor of Oregon. While Oregon isn’t exactly known for being a red state, it’s likely that this will serve as a springboard into a political capacity. To be determined in November, 2010.

7. Heath Shuler
heath-shuler-official-portrait-cropped-proto-custom_6The youngest on this list, Shuler enjoyed success in college at Tennessee, coming in second in the Heisman race in 1993. His gridiron success seemed to stop there, as he became a journeyman QB and labeled one of the biggest draft busts ever.

Not content being a “never-was” in the NFL, Shuler took his talents to his home state of North Carolina 10 years after the end of his football career, getting elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in North Carolina’s 11th District.

6. Steve Largent
Screen shot 2010-09-22 at 4.06.01 PMA Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, Largent retired in 1989. He then sat on the sidelines of politics in his home state of Oklahoma for four years, before running as a Republican to fill a vacant US House of Representatives seat. He held the office until 2002, when he ran for the Governorship of Oklahoma, losing by less than one percent of the vote.

While his political career is matched by some on this list, Largent is certainly the most accomplished athlete on this list, having retired holding virtually every major receiving record in the NFL.

5. JC Watts
Screen shot 2010-09-22 at 4.07.16 PMOklahoma sure loves their football-playing U.S. Representatives. While Watts didn’t enjoy as much pro success as the aforementioned Largent, having only played in the lowly Canadian Football League, he was on par with Largent in the political arena, holding the same title for the exact same tenure. He also maintains the distinction of being the most recent black Republican in the House of Representatives.

Watts’ biggest athletic accomplishment was being named the starting QB of the Oklahoma Sooners, which may or may not absolutely guarantee your electability in any number of southern states.

4. Jack Kemp
Screen shot 2010-09-22 at 4.08.07 PMBefore becoming a politician, Kemp achieved the pro football trifecta, playing for 13 years in the NFL, the CFL, and the AFL, winning the MVP award in the latter in 1965. While his athletic resume may not be the best, his political achievements are pretty damned impressive, with tours in the House of Representatives, a presidential bid, a VP nomination, and a cabinet position under George Bush as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

3. Bill Bradley
Screen shot 2010-09-22 at 4.09.36 PMRivaling Kemp’s prestigious post-football career of public service would be Bill Bradley. After winning an Olympic gold medal, being named college basketball’s Player of the Year in 1965, and knocking out two championships with the Knicks, Bradley went on to serve three terms in the U.S. Senate, and ultimately launching an unsuccessful presidential bid in the 2000 election. Bradley is also a rarity on this list as he is one of the few Democrats making the transition from the field to politics. Still prolific, Bradley has released six non-fiction books, hosts a weekly radio show, and serves on the board of Starbucks.

2. Jesse Ventura
th_Jesse_VenturaBoth the athletic and political careers of Ventura have been markedly…different… than the others on this list. His athletic accomplishments were in the colorful world of professional wrestling, making a name for himself as “The Body.” While I’m not going to discuss his awards and accolades as a professional wrestler, suffice it to say, the the guy was an athlete.

After his “retirement,” Ventura launched a surprisingly successful campaign for Governor of his native Minnesota. Basing his campaign on “straight talk”, Ventura became a nationwide celebrity known for his brash ways and larger than life persona. Further, he was one of two men on this list to fight the Predator. Ventura lost that fight, but another athlete-turned politician was there to avenge him. Keep reading to find out who.

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold_SchwarzeneggerIn addition to being named Mr. Olympia as a bodybuilder in 1970 (and then again six more times), Schwarzenegger has emerged as one of the most notable characters of the past 30 years, through his bodybuilding, subsequent film career, and most recently, as the uber-visible Governor of California.

Despite being married to Maria Shriver since 1986, Arnold has always been a loyal Republican, having consulted on issues of physical fitness with both Ronald Reagan and George Bush. His big leap came in 2003 during the California recall election, when, mid-term, he was elected to replace Gray Davis by popular vote.

Not least of all, he was able to pick up where his Minnesota counterpart left off and kill the Predator and get to the chopper.




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