5 Athletes Who Struggled as Politicians

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Once athletes are done dominating on the field, they're free to take their millions of dollars and go enjoy lives of golf and celebrity restaurant ownership. Some former sports stars, though, eschew this easy life in favor of entering an even more competitive arena: politics. While some achieve great triumphs in the political world, like basketball star Bill Bradley, NFL quarterbacks Jack Kemp and Heath Shuler, and retired Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, others struggle to find their niche as public servants. Here are a few of our favorite campaigns that didn't pan out:

1. Jerry "The King" Lawler Tries to Become Mayor

It's tough to knock anything about Jerry "The King" Lawler's professional wrestling career. The man boasts over a hundred title reigns across various promotions, has had a successful career as a commentator, and even feuded with comedian Andy Kaufman.  Throughout his career, he maintained strong ties to his hometown of Memphis, and in 1999 Lawler made a bid at becoming the city's next mayor. His platform was largely predicated upon what he called "common sense," and included cutting costs, making streets safer, undertaking beautification projects, and improving schools.
Although Lawler's platform and status as a favorite son may have been appealing to some voters, he wasn't able to deliver one of his trademark piledrivers to incumbent Willie Herenton, who grabbed 45.7 percent of the vote to win a third term. Lawler came in at a distant third with 11.7 percent of the vote. Of course,  he probably didn't help his chances when he attacked a police officer during a dispute on airport parking. He did, however, make some terrific campaign ads:

2. Another "King" Tries to Become Secretary of State

Picture 314.pngMaybe there's something about having the nickname "The King" that makes retired stars want to run for office, but Lawler's fellow "King," NASCAR legend Richard Petty decided to run for North Carolina Secretary of State in 1996. The state's Republican party thought this idea sounded like a perfect fit for NASCAR-crazed North Carolina, and Petty's signature cowboy hat, shades, and mustache hit the political trail. However, pundits soon learned that an old racer's habits die hard. Petty became embroiled in a scandal when he used his racing knowledge to deal with a slowpoke who wouldn't let him pass on I-85; like any good stock car driver would, Petty allegedly sped up and gave the driver a little bump. Petty paid a measly $65 fine for the incident, but it probably didn't help his campaign. He ended up losing to Democratic candidate Elaine Marshall 53.48-45.17.

3. Lynn Swann Runs a Gubernatorial Route

Picture 59.pngLikewise, former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann had a football career almost beyond compare. The Hall of Famer boasts four Super Bowl rings, three trips to the Pro Bowl, and a spot on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s. He could not, however, catch the political hearts of Pennsylvanians when he ran for governor in 2006.
Swann, a Republican, squared off against incumbent governor Ed Rendell, a popular former mayor of Philadelphia. Swann's hope seemed to be grabbing the conservative middle section of the state and swinging in some Steelers fans from his native Pittsburgh. His platform included changing the property tax structure and "reforming" Harrisburg through "change." Nobody seemed to know what these ridiculously vague notions meant, though, and Swann quickly fell in a large fundraising hole to Rendell. By the time the election rolled around, Rendell handily thumped Swann, who collected just under 40 percent of the vote. Great campaign ads for football fans, though

4. Olympian Tries to Swordfight With FDR

Henry S. Breckenridge may not be the most instantly recognizable name on this list, but he was a world-class athlete in his day. Blessed with a privileged upbringing, Breckenridge graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law and found himself sitting in the position of Assistant Secretary of War under Woodrow Wilson at just 27 years old. He was also a terrific fencer who competed in the 1912 Olympics before captaining the American squad at the 1928 Olympics. Breckenridge, who was a member of the Army Officers' Fencing Club, was tough to beat with a sword, but unfortunately for him, he was a bit less intimidating at the polls. He made an unsuccessful run at a Senate seat from New York as part of the Constitutional Party in 1934; his efforts garnered less than one percent of the vote.
Following this defeat, Breckenridge, who opposed the New Deal, took on an even more Herculean task: he actually ran against Franklin Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination for president in 1936. Roosevelt, who was wildly popular at the time, didn't file for the New Jersey primary. It ended up being the only state in which Breckenridge made a respectable showing. By the time the votes were counted, FDR had racked up close to five million supporters, while Breckenridge only had 136,000, or a margin of victory of roughly 93 percent to three percent.

5. Sports Prodigy Fails to Nab Parliament Seats

Picture 68.pngC.B. Fry's legend in the U.K. is almost on par with Jim Thorpe's mystique in the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, Fry wasn't just a standout in one sport; it seemed like he was dominating them all. He excelled at cricket in a way that no one had ever really seen before, including a stunning six consecutive first-class centuries in 1901. He was strong enough at soccer to play both professionally and on England's national team. On top of all that, Fry also held the world long-jump record!
All of these facts may it tough luck for Fry that England didn't elect its MPs via decathlon, in which case he would have been a lock. He ran as a reforming Liberal for a seat from Sussex, but fell 5,000 votes short. Undeterred, Fry later unsuccessfully tried to win a set from Banbury and then took another close loss for a seat from Oxford.  After gracefully accepting these three defeats, Fry quit campaigning for Parliament. He did, however, finally get a little bit of political love when he became delegate to the League of Nations for three years during the 1920s. According to rumor, he was even considered as a candidate to be king of Albania during this period.

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July 31, 2008 - 4:39am
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