A brief guide to pro athletes in American politics.
During a presidential election year in which drawing real-life comparisons to certain central plot elements from 2006’s satirical dystopia Idiocracy has become something of a national pastime, it’s important not to forget that even the most bizarre revelations have historical precedent. It’s why your favorite Sunday morning news program invites Doris Kearns Goodwin on every other week—a not-so-subtle reminder that, as weird as Cruz v. Trump v. the entire world may seem, there was, for example, that one time Thomas Jefferson’s first VP killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel.
Or, more recently, there was the time when the once liberal-minded star of Bedtime for Bonzo went on to become conservative pundits’ gold standard for a modern presidency. Which is to say that maybe the real estate mogul turned reality star and democratic socialist from Vermont aren’t all that crazy—historically speaking, at least. Nor, for that matter, is all of this talk about former professional athletes holding our nation’s highest offices. After all, if you can’t trust a pro wrestler, who can you trust?
Granted, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has done little more than leave the door open to the possibility of a future in the Oval Office, stating “Maybe one day” on Twitter. And Derek “The Captain” Jeter brushed off Trump VP talk telling Maureen Dowd, “that sounds like too much work.” But in a year when John Kasich has made it further in the race than the latest Bush, a jock tossing his or her cap in the ring doesn’t seem too farfetched.
Remember what we said about history? There are plenty of examples of athletes-turned-politicians—and we’re not even counting that eight-year period when a former Mr. Universe ran California.
In 1990, Ah-nold’s fellow Predator hunter shunned the squared-circle and the lights of Hollywood for a run at political office. “The Body” ousted the 25-year incumbent mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, rising through the ranks to become Governor eight years later—the first and only Reform Party member to hold the national office. Ventura ultimately opted not to seek a second term, but the former WWF wrestler has stayed active in politics and has even threatened to run for the nation’s highest offices should his man Bernie not get the Democratic party nod.
Seven years after his passing, one-time AFL MVP Jack Kemp is the rare example of professional athlete turned politician who is much more widely recognized for the latter. The former quarterback’s time in the political spotlight long outlasted his journeyman 13-year playing career, representing Buffalo in Congress for 18 years and serving as George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for another four. Along with a failed bid for the presidency in 1988, Kemp is probably best known as Bob Dole’s progressive Republican running mate in the 1996 election that ultimately earned Clinton a second term.
Four years later, would-be Clinton successor Al Gore faced primary competition from a candidate who had quite a bit of running in his own background, thanks to 18 years as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, a pair of NBA championships with the Knicks and an Olympic gold medal. While Bill Bradley was cementing his spot in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, the Princeton Tigers small forward was also majoring in history and watching history in the making, including a spectator spot in the Senate chamber during the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2000, Bradley failed to win any primaries, despite endorsements from NBA legends Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. But hey, all the hanging chads in the world can’t take away that spot he scored in the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.
Until we create that cyborg police officer we’ve all been waiting for, a seven-time NBA All-Star will have to keep the streets of Detroit safe for its citizens. After a 12-year Hall of Fame career that found him playing for the Pistons, Celtics and Washington Bullets (now Wizards), Dave Bing started working at a steel company warehouse. Two years later, he opened his own, parlaying the business into the Bing Group, a Detroit-based conglomerate that supplied material to the local auto industry. In 2009, he ran for mayor, winning the election to complete the term of mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who stepped down due to a perjury charge. Bing was re-elected to a full term later that year.
A year before Bing scored his big win in Detroit, fellow former NBA All-Star Kevin Johnson handily beat incumbent Sacramento mayor Heather Fargo in a runoff election, becoming the first African-American to hold the office. After launching a slew of government programs focused on arts, community volunteering, literacy and environmental causes, among others, the former Cavaliers/Suns point guard won reelection by an even wider margin in 2012. You know, he’s still only 50: Maybe the 29-45 Kings should recruit him to play the point in his free time.
There are three primary career paths for former pro QBs: ESPN commentator, product spokesperson or public official. Of course, you can always just live out your days counting your millions on your own sun-drenched tropical island, but where’s the fun in that? In 2005, the same year Joe Montana was selling Tombstone Pizzas and McCormick spices, former Redskins/Saints QB Heath Shuler sought the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Representative for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, a post he held for a half-dozen years. Things didn’t work out quite as well when Shuler ran against Nancy Pelosi as the House Minority Leader, however. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.