In a lot of ways, the realms of sports and American politics mirror each other: Two teams and schools of thoughts working together to defeat the other. On their side is an army of supporters who show their support by sporting apparel of what side they are for, attend stadium rallies/games to cheer for the team they want to win, and at times, take it entirely too serious. When you go back and watch LeBron James at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship parade, where he was engulfed with fans of the team as he stood like a king, the scene reminded me of 2008 following the election of the newly elected President Obama.
The two also crossover not only with the fans, but also the politicians and athletes themselves. Athletes tend during their career to have a large hand in the community which they play for, making them more popular than they already are. A good number of these players turn to politics after their playing days are over. Here are just a few.
After being cut by the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers and spending a year in Canadian football, Kemp joined the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in 1960 and proceeded to becoming one of the top quarterbacks of the 1960s. In his ten years with the Bills, Kemp led Buffalo to its only championships in 1964 and 1965 while playing in seven Pro Bowls and winning the 1965 AFL MVP award. After football, Kemp became a fixture in the Republican Party for more than three decades. From 1971-1989, the Buffalo legend served in the House of Representatives and later, the Housing Secretary in George H.W. Bush’s cabinet. In 1996, Kemp was Bob Dole’s Vice President pick when he ran against incumbent President Bill Clinton.
From one New York legend to another (this time for the Democratic party). Bill Bradley entered New York in the late 1960s with all the lights in the Big Apple shining on him. Bradley had been an NCAA Player of the Year, 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist, and Princeton Graduate who spent two years working on his Rhode Scholarship at Oxford prior to joining the Knicks in 1967-68. In eleven seasons with the Knicks, Bradley was an important cog in a New York Knicks team that won two championships in four seasons (1970 and 1973). In 1977, he was elected to the National Basketball Hall of Fame. However, Bradley is more known for his political career. A year after retiring Bradley ran and was elected to the Senate in his home state of New Jersey, where he would stay until 1997. In 2000, he ended his political career after losing to Al Gore in the Democratic Primary for President.
When Steve Largent retired from football in 1987, he owned almost every major receiving record in the league. In his fourteen years with the Seattle Seahawks, Largent attended seven Pro Bowls, was named to the Decade team for the 1980s, and became the first player to have 100 receiving touchdowns. He was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility. In his home state of Oklahoma, Largent served as a House member from 1994-2002 before retiring from politics after 7,000 vote loss for the Governor of Oklahoma.
While Kemp, Bradley, and Largent’s pro careers are fondly remembered, the same cannot be said for Health Shuler. Selected third overall in the 1994 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Vols Quarterback would be out of the league in less than five season, doubling his intercepts to his touchdown passes. Almost all of his records at Tennessee would fall to the quarterback who replaced him, Peyton Manning. After football, Shuler, a moderate Democrat, was known for his six year run in the House of Representatives for North Carolina’s 11th District. Shuler would leave politics in 2012 and become a lobbyist for Duke Energy.
Donald J. Trump
Well, kind of. Though not a professional athlete (or professional politician) Trump in the early 1980s owned the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. As a powerful owner in the financially strapped league, in 1986, Trump convinced the other owners to move their league schedule from spring and summer to fall, in order to take viewership from the NFL and force a merger like the AFL in the 1960s. The USFL would sue the NFL under anti-monopoly laws, which saw a guilty verdict but it was too little to late. The USFL would fold after 1986.