Top 20 Athletes Turned Politicians of All Time
Mixing Politics With Sports
The realm of politics and sports have always been inexplicable intertwined, as events such as the Olympics and the World Cup have brought world leaders, political statements from athletes and even demonstrations from fans. Whether it is Muhammad Ali making comments both in the boxing ring and out of it, Jesse Owens winning four gold medals with Adolf Hitler in attendance at the 1936 Olympics or Nelson Mandela coming out in support of the South Africa rugby team at the 1995 World Cup, it is impossible to separate sports and politics.
While these two seemingly different realms of life come into play with each other on a daily basis, it is a completely different event when a top-notch athlete switches over to being an everyday politician. It is not that a job in politics is above athletes that we watch on television, but more that athletes are often viewed as being heroic individuals while politics are seen as being somewhat grimy in the way they operate.
While these stereotypes are often proven to not be true, there is little doubt that the general public has a much different view for athletes than those that make the laws. Nevertheless, there have been a decent number of athletes who have decided to go into politics after their short athletic lifespan has played itself out, and in fact many of those that have switched over have made a bigger difference through legislative power than they ever could have in an athletic venue.
Keeping in mind the mix of athletics, politics and those who make the switch from the former to the latter, I have formed a list of the top 20 athletes turned politicians of all time.
20. Sebastian Coe
Sebastian Coe represented Great Britain at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics, and he combined to win two gold medals in the 1500-meter sprint and two silver medals in the 800-meter event. After hanging up his sneakers, Coe became a member of the British parliament from 1992 to 1997, when he lost a reelection bid. Since then, he has helped campaign for the Conservative party and played a big part in London getting the 2012 Olympics.
19. Walter Johnson
Walter Johnson is one of the best MLB pitchers in history, compiling 110 shutouts and picking up 531 complete games for the Washington Senators between 1907 and 1927. Once Johnson left the mound, he managed the Senators and the Cleveland Indians from 1929 to 1935 before being elected commissioner of Montgomery County in 1938.
18. Jon Runyan
Jon Runyan played in the NFL from 1996 to 2009 for the Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers, and wasted little time entering politics after retiring from football. Runyan ran for the 3rd Congressional District in New Jersey during the 2010 cycle, and won both the Republican nomination and then the general election.
17. Dave Bing
Dave Bing is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame because of his prowess as a shooting guard, but he never had a tougher job than when he became the mayor of Detroit in May of 2009. Bing was not able to get the city to avoid going into bankruptcy, but he did serve through 2013 and was able to get the city going in the right direction.
16. Jim Ryun
Jim Ryun won a silver medal in the 1500 meter sprint for the U.S. at the 1968 Olympic Games, and even won the 1966 Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year for his exploits in running. Ryun took time off out of the public limelight after quitting competitive running before re-entering the spotlight by winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996. The former sprinter went on to serve five terms, where he became one of the most conservative members in Congress.
15. Jim Schwantz
Jim Schwantz played linebacker and was a force on special teams during his NFL career, which lasted from 1992 to 1998. After leaving football, Schwantz then went on to become the mayor of Palatine, Illinois in 2009, and he went on to win a re-election in 2013.
14. Jack Kemp
Jack Kemp made his name in the sporting world in the AFL as a quarterback for the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, and he went on to make seven All-AFL teams. Kemp would go on to enter the House of Representatives as a Republican from New York in 1971 and kept his job until 1989. Afterwards, he became the Secretary of Housing from 1989 to 1993, although he was never elected into office again.
13. Manny Pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao is currently one of the best boxers in the world, but he also finds time to be a member of the Philippines House of Representatives, a role he has held since 2010. Pacquiao has become incredibly popular with his constituents, and he has also helped in the election campaigns of Harry Reid and Jerry Brown stateside.
12. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger was once the strongest man in the world, winning seven Mr. Olympia competitions from 1970 to 1980. He went on to become a hugely successful actor after quitting bodybuilding, and he then became governor of California from 2003 to 2011. The Austrian-born Schwarzenegger entertained the thought of trying to make a run for the U.S. Presidency, although he would have faced a constitutional fight to get the office because he wasn't a natural born citizen.
11. Steve Largent
Steve Largent had a Hall-of-Fame career for the Seattle Seahawks as he made seven Pro Bowls, and left the NFL in 1989 as arguably the greatest wide receiver ever. Largent went on to run for Oklahoma's 1st District Congressional seat in 1994, which he won and held until deciding not to run for the office in 2002.
10. George HW Bush
George HW Bush was the captain of the Yale baseball team while in college, and helped lead the team to their to the first two College World Series ever in 1947 and 1948. Bush went on to achieve greater fame after leaving college as he became a member of the House of Representatives, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the RNC, Director of the CIA, Vice-President and then President of the U.S.
9. Imran Khan
Imran Khan is regarded as the greatest captain of the Pakistan cricket team to have ever lived, and led the nation to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup. After retiring from cricket, Khan went on to politics in 1996 as the founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and then joined Pakistan's Parliament from 2002 to 2007. Khan remains active in Pakistani politics today, and he helped form the provincial government for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an area that had been ravaged by military activity.
8. Gianni Rivera
Gianni Rivera is a legendary figure in Italian football as he brought a brand of exciting and attractive play to both AC Milan and the Italian National Team in the 1960s and 1970s. After retiring from football, Rivera would go on to become active in politics, and he has been a member of the Italian parliament and the European parliament.
7. Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson was a dominant figure at point guard for the Phoenix Suns in the 1990s. He made three All-Star Games, and later went to have his number retired by the organization. Since retiring, Johnson went on to become the mayor of Sacramento in 2008 and won a re-election back in 2012.
6. Jim Bunning
Jim Bunning is one of only 23 men to have thrown a perfect game in MLB history, and his totals of 224 wins and 2,855 strikeouts earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. He entered politics after retirement, becoming a member of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1999 and then a senator from Kentucky from 1999 to 2011.
5. Magglio Ordonez
Magglio Ordonez was a force to be reckoned with for the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers from 1997 to 2011. He compiled a .309 batting average with 2,156 hits, 1,236 RBIs and went to six All-Star Games. Since retiring from baseball, Ordonez has moved back to Venezuela and became mayor of the Juan Antonio Sotillo municipality in December of 2013.
4. Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura was a member of the WWE from 1975 to 1976, where he made a livelihood out of throwing around opponents with ease. Since retiring, Ventura has entered the realm of politics, as he became the mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, from 1991 to 1995 and then the governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.
3. Bill Bradley
Bill Bradley had a very successful professional basketball career with the New York Knicks, winning two NBA Championships. His number was even retired by the organization after 1977. Bradley went on to have a hugely successful political career as he won election to the U.S. Senate in 1979 and held the seat until 1997.
2. Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford played football at Michigan from 1932 to 1994, and he was the team's star linebacker as they went on to win the 1933 and 1934 national championships. He then went into politics and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Vice President and then President of the U.S. after Richard Nixon resigned from the office.
1. Ken Dryden
Ken Dryden was a great goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens from 1970 to 1979, winning six Stanley Cups, making five NHL All-Star Games and eventually becoming a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. After his retirement Dryden entered the House of Commons in Canada back in 2004, and he held the seat until losing a re-election bid in 2011.
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