After their athletic careers, a surprising number of athletes and sports figures pursue political careers. Some aspire to be members of parliament or congressmen, while others eschew the legislature in pursuit of becoming Mayors, Governors or even Presidential candidates. What draws athletes to the world of politics is a mystery. Maybe it is the need to stay in the spotlight after their careers in the sports world. Maybe it is the ability to impact a mass of people that draws them to the political arena. Maybe its a combination of the aforementioned motives along with countless others. What is apparent is that a good many athletes turn to politics after their careers are over.
This article lists ten athletes who later on became politicians. The athletes listed were all professional athletes and not politicians who excelled just on the collegiate level. It was difficult narrowing down the list to ten athletes because of the sheer amount of successful sports figures who have entered the political arena. The list has left out some prominent names such as Jesse Ventura who was Governor of Minnesota, Dave Bing who is the Mayor of Detroit and George Weah who was a candidate for the Liberian Presidency. These are just a few of the athletes who did not make this list. The athletes who are on the list come from a variety of sports and a variety of countries. The list tried to focus on prominent athletes who have name recognition. The list also did not really take into account the level of success they had in their political careers, just the fact that they pursued political careers.
10. Andriy Shevchenko – Football
Andriy Shevchenko has had a sterling career in football. The Ukrainian striker was once one of the most feared goal scorers in the world. He played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe including Dynamo Kiev, Chelsea and AC Milan, where he won a Champions League title in 2003. Shevchenko also was the captain of the Ukrainian national team and captained the squad on home soil during Euro 2012. The magnitude of Shevchenko’s success as an athlete is only matched by his failure as a politician. In 2012, Shevchenko ran for a seat in Ukraine’s parliament under the banner of a little known party called Ukraine Forward. Sadly for Shevchenko, he did not achieve his goal and the party received only 1.6 percent of the vote.
9. Jim Bunning – Baseball
Jim Bunning had a distinguished baseball career that resulted in him being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1996. Bunning played 17 years and was a seven time All-Star who threw no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues. In 1964, Bunning recorded the first perfect game in the National League since 1880. Bunning enjoyed a long career in politics and went from a Kentucky state senator in 1979 to a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1998. Bunning’s tenure in the Senate has been criticized, notably by Time magazine in 2006. Bunning was named one of “America’s 5 Worst Senators.” Bunning served two terms before retiring in 2010.
8. Lynn Swann – Football
In his Hall of Fame NFL career, Lynn Swann made a series of acrobatic catches that helped lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s. Swann was one of the NFL’s best receivers during the 1970s which was a period in which teams preferred to run the ball. Along with teammate John Stallworth, Swann made one half of one of the best receiving tandems in NFL history. In addition, Swann was also named the MVP of Super Bowl X. Swann’s political career was not as successful or as long. He held the office of Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and in 2006 won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania’s governor race. Swann ended up losing to Pennsylvania incumbent Ed Rendell by 20 percentage points.
7. Ken Dryden – Hockey
Ken Dryden had an NHL career that lasted eight years. It was an incredibly successful eight years in which the goaltender won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. Dryden also had an eight year career as a member of the Canadian parliament from 2004-2011. In addition to being a member of parliament, Dryden also served in the cabinet as minister of social development. Despite his contributions as a politician, Dryden will always be remembered as a NHL goaltender. Even his political slogan “the puck stops here” alluded to the fact that he was one of the most successful goaltenders in NHL history.
6. Romario – Football
Romário is one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football. The Brazilian striker played for a host of successful clubs, both in Brazil and Europe, and consistently found the net. He was instrumental in Brazil winning the 1994 World Cup and was named the player of the tournament. In 2010, Romário entered the arena of politics when he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies is a federal legislative body and the lower house of the Brazilian National Congress. Politically, Romario has made waves with his criticisms of the 2014 World Cup scheduled to be held in Brazil this summer. He has repeatedly stated that the preparation for the event has been marred by corruption.
5. Steve Largent – Football
Despite the recent successes of both Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman, Steve Largent remains the best player in the history of the Seattle Seahawks. The former Seahawks wide receiver played 14 seasons in the NFL and holds virtually all the Seahawks’ receiving records. Largent’s prowess on the field earned him an induction into the Hall of Fame in 1995. After retirement Largent served in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1994 and 2002. Largent was a Republican congressman from Oklahoma. In 2002, Largent had aspirations of becoming Governor of Oklahoma and was thought of as the favorite in some circles. Largent lost by just under 7,000 votes to Democratic candidate Brad Henry in a closely contested election.
4. Kevin Johnson – Basketball
Basketball fans remember Kevin Johnson as the point guard on those 1990s Phoenix Suns teams that were perennial contenders in the Western Conference. Johnson had a 12 year NBA career where he played for both the Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Johnson was an explosive point guard who was instrumental in the Suns making the NBA Finals in 1993. Currently, Johnson is the two term mayor of Sacramento, California. Johnson was first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2012. Johnson is the first African American to serve as mayor of Sacramento. Among Johnson’s many contributions to the city was his role in making sure the NBA’s Sacramento Kings remained in Sacramento amidst fears the team would be relocated to Seattle.
3. Bill Bradley – Basketball
No surprise to find Bill Bradley on the list of athletes who turned to a life in the political arena after their careers ended. Bradley is probably the most famous former NBA player to pursue a career in politics. His career in the NBA lasted 10 years. All of those season’s were spent playing for the New York Knicks. Bradley was part of the two iconic championship teams the Knicks had during the 1970s. The Knicks won the NBA title in 1970 and 1973 and those teams are often talked of in glowing terms, especially by Knicks fans. Bradley became a U.S. Senator from New Jersey in 1979 and was reelected two more times to the Senate. Bradley left the Senate in 1997 and was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2000.
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger – Bodybuilding
Before starring in highly successful action movies such as The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a very successful bodybuilder. In fact, Schwarzenegger is considered the most famous bodybuilder ever. He won several accolades, including the title of Mr. Universe and he is also a seven time winner of the Mr. Olympia award. Surprisingly, as Schwarzenegger was not born in the US, he was elected as a two term Governor in California. Schwarzenegger has returned to his acting career as his approval rating when he left the Governor’s office was below 30%. Yet Schwarzenegger was responsible for passing a Greenhouse gas emission cap in California, which was the first emissions cap in the country.
1. Manny Pacquiao – Boxing
The number one athlete turned politician is none other than Manny Pacquiao. The Pac-Man, as he is affectionately known, is the only person on this list who is currently both an athlete and a politician. What is extraordinary is the fact that Pacquiao can juggle politics with a sport as grueling as boxing. Pacquiao just defeated Timothy Bradley on April 12th to become the WBO Welterweight Champion of the World. Pacquiao’s boxing career is highly decorated and he has won a world title in eight different weight classes. In May 2010, Pacquiao was elected to the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress of the Philippines, representing the province of Sarangani. He was re-elected in 2013 to the 16th Congress of the Philippines. It seems that Pacquiao intends to continue in his dual roles for the foreseeable future.