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10 Star Athletes Who Went on to Become Star Politicians [VIDEOS]

Athlete Politicians
Brendan Smialowski/Christian Peterson/Alex Wong, Getty Images

Former New England Patriots running back-turned-commentator Craig James failed in his bid for the Texas Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. In fact, James wasn’t even close in the race that left him a distant fourth place in the GOP primary.

James hoped to join other famous athletes who entered the political sphere in their post-playing years. It’s well-known that both Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush played college football and baseball respectively, but neither made it to the professional game. Here’s a look back at 10 politicians who did before turning themselves over to public office:


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When Kemp died in 2009, he was remembered for both of his prominent careers. He was a quarterback for the Buffalo Bills before going on to represent western New York for nine terms in Congress. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1988. In 1996, he finally made it onto the ticket, as Bob Dole’s VP choice. Even though Dole lost the election, Kemp had already tasted success in his lifetime — on the field. He led Buffalo to the 1964 and 1965 AFL championships. He was also MVP in 1965.


Bunning was another athlete who made a successful transition after a 17-year baseball career. He pitched a perfect game during his career and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996. Ten years prior, he had already turned himself over to a new career as a Congressman from Kentucky’s 4th congressional district. He went onto become a senator before deciding to not seek re-election in the 2010 campaign.


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A jack of all trades, Bradley could do it all. He was a hall of fame NBA player, a Rhodes scholar, and a three-term Democratic US senator from New Jersey. There was just one thing he couldn’t do: he ran for president in 2000, but lost. It was as a basketball player that Bradley made a name for himself, first at Princeton, then on the 1964 Olympic team, and then with the New York Knicks. During his 10-year career, he won two championships.


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Bing is not one to back down from a fight, and that’s what he’s taken on as the mayor of struggling Detroit. During his 12 seasons in the NBA, he made a name for himself with the Detroit Pistons, chosen as an All-Star seven times. After retirement, Bing stayed in Michigan and became a businessman. He was selected one of the 50 greatest basketball players of all-time by the NBA, and opted to seek office next. In 2009, he was sworn in as mayor.


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One of the greatest receivers of all-time opted to embark on a new career. The Seattle Seahawks receiver made in into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but then went on to serve in the US House of Representatives for Oklahoma from 1994 until 2002. Largent was immensely popular during his terms, and he made a name for himself as a conservative voice. He even made People magazine’s ‘Most Beautiful’ list in 1996. But his popularity eventually faded, and Largent had to look at another path in the third act: he’s a CEO in the nonprofit world today.


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This former point guard knows how to lead, and that’s what he’s been doing in recent years as the mayor of Sacramento. The three-time NBA All-Star has put together some impressive post-playing credentials. Johnson was a 2000 graduate of the Harvard Divinity School Summer Leadership Institute and he runs The Kevin Johnson Corporation, a company that does real estate development and management, among other things. Johnson is an active public speaker and prominent member of his community, all qualities that serve him well in his current position.


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This US representative for New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district carries some weight — literally. As a former offensive tackle in the NFL, Runyan, who spent 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, knows how to intimidate and bully, two things that politicians might have to do from time to time.


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Shuler probably wants you to forget that his NFL career sputtered after his time with the Redskins didn’t exactly pan out. But that doesn’t mean Shuler couldn’t achieve great things in Washington in other ways. After retiring, Shuler became US representative for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district. He’s one of the more important Congressmen as a member of the Democratic Party and the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. Earlier this year, though, Shuler announced this term will be his last in office.


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This Pittsburgh Steelers’ hero has had an unconventional and slow start to his political career. He first entered public office when he served as the chairman of the United States President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under President George W. Bush. After losing the race for governor of Pennsylvania, Swann turned his attention to the House of Representatives, but he ultimately didn’t run in 2008. He did endorse John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Since then, Swann seems to have ducked away from politics a bit in favor of business opportunities.


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This college football quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners never made it to the NFL, but he did play professionally in the Canadian Football League. From there, Watts made a name for himself in the US House of Representatives representing the 4th congressional district in Oklahoma. After leaving Congress in 2003, he began a consulting firm. During his political career, Watts delivered the Republican response to Bill Clinton’s 1997 State of the Union address. Not bad for a QB who didn’t quite make it.

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