The 2016 U.S. presidential election has spiraled into an epic tale of an outsider looking to knock over the established leaders of his party and the queen of a family dynasty being challenged by a seasoned Senator with nothing to lose. Whatever the outcome will be, it will never be forgotten, so it’s only fitting we collate the greatest athletes to ever step into politics.
Sports and politics isn’t the ideal marriage. Most people don’t want to deal with politics or political statements when watching a sports program and politicians usually face plant themselves when trying to gain votes by acting like they know sports. Just watch Senator Ted Cruz’s speech in Knightstown, Indiana (where the famous movie Hoosiers was filmed). He referred to the hoop as a basketball “ring” and Twitter exploded. Sure, Obama looks like he’s cool when he makes his picks for March Madness or you see him shooting hoops, but it can still be cringeworthy when it looks too staged.
So, even though most people either prefer one or the other subject, it’s still remarkable how much traction a political candidate can gain if they were a professional athlete. If they had an excellent career in their respective sport, then they definitely have gained followers. All those followers can turn into potential votes, depending on the proximity of where the athlete played and where they’re running for office. They can be the worst candidate ever but having a voting block of sports enthusiasts can propel them into an election victory. Some of the athletes on this list prove this suggestion, however, others have far exceeded their expected limitations in the political realm.
In order to qualify for the list, they had to be a professional athlete at some point or another. Otherwise, President’s Ronald Reagan and Dwight D. Eisenhower would be on this list for their collegiate sports careers. This list is also about the best athletes and not the best politicians. For example, former NFL quarterback, Heath Shuler, cannot make this list because he’s considered a bust in football.
Here’s the top 15 greatest athletes that became politicians.
15 Jon Runyan
Drafted into the NFL in ’96, Runyan became one of the more physical and aggressive offensive lineman of his generation during his career. A year after he earned All-Pro Honors in ’99, he became the highest paid offensive lineman at that time when the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a six year contract worth $30 million. He started in 192 games which is impressive (health wise) for a lineman. After he retired in ’09, he decided to run for New Jersey's 3rd congressional district seat in the 2010. He was successful and was re-elected in 2012 but decided not to run again in 2014.
14 Kevin Johnson
As the current mayor of Sacramento, California, he helped keep the local NBA basketball team, the Sacramento Kings, from leaving. His love for basketball didn’t come as a surprise because he was a three-time NBA All-Star for the Phoenix Suns. His skills as a point guard had helped him claim numerous records for the Suns. He announced that he would run for mayor in ’08 and won with 54 percent of the vote. When he ran for re-election in 2012, he flew past the three other nominees, gaining 58 percent of the votes. Recently, Johnson said he would not pursue a third term as mayor in the 2016 elections.
13 Steve Largent
The Seattle Seahawks have been loaded with superstars such as Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and Richard Sherman but Largent is still considered one of the greatest to ever put on the uniform. His contributions to the team and city as a wide receiver was so significant that the Seahawks created the Steve Largent Award in his honor. He pretty much holds every receiving record for the team. The Hall of Famers' greatness on the field transferred over to politics when he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Oklahoma in ’94. The Republican stayed in office until 2002.
12 Bill Bradley
He was part of two NBA championship teams as a member of the New York Knicks and became a Hall of Famer in ’83. Any basketball fan knows the Knicks have been absolutely atrocious since the ‘90s, which makes Bradley’s success more meaningful for the Tri-State area. Bradley, along with Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, and Dave DeBusschere are practically immortalized among the New York Knicks fans, even considered Gods of Basketball. When he retired in ’77, the New Jersey resident had the backing of thousands of supporters when he decided to run for U.S. Senator in '79. He won the seat and kept the position until 1997.
11 Imran Khan
He was the heart and soul of Pakistan’s National Cricket team, guiding them to their first and only World Cup title in ’92. Becoming a professional at the age of 16 in 1969, he went on to have a glorious career and is considered one of the greatest cricketers of the 20th century. In ’96, Khan created the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party.
He was elected to represent Mianwali in Parliament in ’02 but in ’07 he resigned with other Parliament members in protest of general Musharraf running for presidential election without resigning as army chief. Musharraf put him under house arrest but he escaped and went on to address his grievances to hundreds of thousands of supporters. He still is a direct threat to the Pakistani establishment today while still spear heading the U.S. anti-drone movement.
10 Jim Ryun
Ryun was an absolute cheetah on the track by setting world records at 880m and Mile in ’66 and 1500m and Mile again in ’67. He also held the U.S. record for the outdoor Mile four times, the first time he broke the record he was in high school. He won the silver medal in the 1,500 meter run at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He eventually left the amateurs and ran professionally in the early 70s. There wasn’t any race he couldn’t win and the same could be said in politics. In ’96, he ran under the republican banner, winning the U.S. House of Representatives seat in the 2nd District of Kansas.
9 Jack Kemp
Before the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, Kemp was considered the best player in the history of the league. He was Peyton Manning, Steve Young, and Dan Marino all rolled up into one gigantic stud of a quarterback. He was there for all 10 years of the AFL’s existence, leading the league in career passing yards, touchdowns, completions and yards gained after the pass. He won two AFL Championships for the Buffalo Bills and was named MVP in ’65. A hero in Buffalo, he was elected into the House, representing the 31st Congressional District in New York from 1971-’89.
8 Jim Bunning
He was the only man in politics that could say he threw a perfect game. Not only did he pitch a perfect game but he also threw no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues. He was drafted in ’55 and during his 17-year career, he racked up 224 wins and appeared in seven All-Star games. The Hall of Famer started his political career serving on the city council of Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Over the years he moved up the ladder, from the House of Representatives all the way to the Senate in ’98. The publication Times magazine named him “Top Five Worst Senators,” in ’06. It seems he wasn’t that perfect after all.
7 Dave Bing
He had an outstanding career in the NBA before getting into politics. Drafted by the Detroit Pistons in ’66, he went on to play for the Washington Bullets and Boston Celtics. MVP of the ’76 season, he averaged over 20 points for his career and performed in seven All-Star games. A Hall of Famer and considered one of NBA’s 50 Greatest Players of all-time, Bing entered the political court when he announced he was running for mayor of Detroit in ’08. He won the election but decided to not run for re-election in 2013. Can you blame him? Detroit became the largest city in the United States to declare bankruptcy under his watch.
He gets lost in the shuffle when talking about the greatest footballers to ever come out of Brazil. How could he not when the list includes talents like Neymar, Zico, Ronaldo, Garrincha and Pele. The striker was named FIFA Player of the Year after winning a World Cup for Brazil and helping Barcelona gain the national league title in ’94. During the 2010 general election, Romário won a seat in the Chamber of Deputies on the Brazilian Socialist Party ticket. After condemning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he was elected to the Brazilian Senate, representing the state of Rio de Janeiro.
5 Vitali Klitschko
Klitschko rose through the ranks in the late 90s but became a household name when he put on a stellar performance against the top guy in the heavyweight division, Lennox Lewis, in ’03. Klitschko was ahead on the card when the fight was stopped due to damage to Klitschko’s eye, giving Lewis the win. It would be Lewis’ last fight and was symbolically a passing of the torch.
Klitschko would have one of the greatest careers of this century but his ultimate success came in politics. During his short political career, he created the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform and represented his party in Parliament during 2012. In 2014, he was elected Mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine. That same year, his party merged with Petro Poroshenko Bloc and he became the new leader. With civil unrest in the country for several years, we hope Klitschko can knock some sense into them.
4 Fedor Emelianenko
There was no one more feared in mixed martial arts than Fedor during the prime of his career. When the names of mixed-martial artists Anderson Silva and George St-Pierre were just starting to come up in discussions about the greatest of all time, you already had The Last Emperor. During his reign, he won countless awards, titles, and tournaments (which took place in one night).
His title defense against Mirko Filipović at Pride Final Conflict in ’05 is arguably the greatest MMA fight ever. He sported a record of 31-1 before entering into politics in 2010. He was elected to a five-year term as a deputy of the Belgorod Regional Duma in Russia. In 2012, he became a staff member of the Russia's Council of Physical Fitness & Sports. President Dana White has tried to acquire his services on several occasions. His last fight was in 2015 and the prospect of him having his first fight in the UFC is still possible.
3 Ken Dryden
Even though his hockey career was short (a little over seven seasons), he was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in ‘83. A member of the Montreal Canadians, his achievements as a goal keeper includes six Stanely Cups, five Vezina Trophys, five All-Star appearances, one Conn Smythe Trophy and earning rookie of the year. It wasn’t until 2004 when Dryden decided to enter into politics. Born in Hamilton, Canada, Dryden was elected into Parliament and was named to the Cabinet as Minister of Social Development. He was re-elected in ’06 and ’08 but lost his seat to Mark Adler in the 2011 federal elections.
2 Arnold Schwarzenegger
This is what the United States is all about. The American Dream, a set of ideals, such as prosperity, success, and freedom. It’s no surprise that a boy from Austria would grow up to become the Governor of the State of California. Few people can match Schwarzenegger’s legacy and fewer can match his records in bodybuilding.
He became the youngest Mr. Olympia at the age of 23 in 1970 (a record he still holds today). He would go on to win the competition six more times before making a name for himself in Hollywood. In 2003, he announced that he would be running for Governor of California. He won the position and was re-elected in ’06. Even though his approval rating dipped southward during his tenure, we’re pretty sure he would run for president if he could.
1 Manny Pacquiao
Love him or hate him, Pac Man has put an entire nation on his back during his tenure as a professional boxer. The Filipino champion is 58-6-2, with his last win coming against Timothy Bradley for the vacant WBO International Title and vacant Lineal Welterweight Titles in April. Pacquiao has left a trail of destruction in his wake, winning numerous awards, becoming the only boxer to win eight-division World Championships, and the first to win Lineal Championships in five different weight classes.
It’s no surprise that his love for the Philippines transferred over to politics. In 2010, he was elected to the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress of the Philippines and was re-elected to the 16th Congress of the Philippines in 2013.
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