JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Competing in sports can be an exercise in character building as well as a springboard into politics. Commentator Frank Deford wonders why so many athletes-turned-politicians are Republicans.
Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Commentator; Columnist, Sports Illustrated; Reporter, WSHU, Fairfield, Connecticut): The Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler, Lynn Swann, is running for governor of Pennsylvania. Naturally, Swann is a Republican. He's a Republican even though he's African-American and only a small percentage of Republicans are black. But, you see, that doesn't matter, because almost all athletic politicians are Republicans. Now, how do we explain this?
The Democrats are always fighting the characterization that they're wimpy. Maybe that's because all the sports guys who run for office are Republicans. Bill Bradley is about the only famous athlete of the recent past to run as a Democrat. The Democrats finally thought they had another one in Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, who'd been a baseball player in school, and then it turned out that Richardson had lied about his baseball credentials. The Democrats don't even make good ringers.
The Republicans just keep churning out manly sports stars. President Ford, of course, was an outstanding football player. So was Jack Kemp, who was vice-president on the GOP ticket in 1996. J.C. Watts and Steve Largent were football players, turned congressmen. Tom Osborne, the former University of Nebraska coach, is in the House now, running for Cornhusker governor. And, Senator George Allen, a possible presidential candidate, is both an ex-quarterback and the son of a famous football coach. Pedigree!
But, it's not just football. Jim Bunning, the baseball hall of famer, is the junior senator from Kentucky. Jim Ryun, the last great American miler, is a Kansas congressman. Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the house, was a wrestling coach. Grunt! The former Colorado Senator, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, was captain of the U.S. judo team. And, leave us not forget a certain bodybuilder, who is the governor of California.
Good grief! Charles Barkley even periodically makes noises about running for governor of Alabama--as a Republican. Aren't there even any Democratic benchwarmers?
When the Republicans do make inroads into blue states, they do it with football players. The governor of Maryland and the governor of Rhode Island were Ivy League players. And then--and then when a Democrat Ivy leaguer does something athletic, everybody laughs at him. Remember John Kerry windsurfing? And what are the Kennedy's famous for? Touch football. Touch... the Republicans play tackle, man.
The Republicans even have the sidelines covered. Both Mississippi senators were college cheerleaders. So was Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. And, for that matter, so was a former Texas governor who moved on to lead cheers elsewhere. Mission accomplished! Give me a G, give me an O, give me a P, give me a G-O-P!
The Democrats haven't got a prayer.
It goes deep, too. Dwight Eisenhower was a West Point football player. Ronald Reagan was a baseball announcer and then his most famous acting role was as a football star. George Bush, the elder, was a fine first baseman. Even Richard Nixon played football at Whittier College. I interviewed him once. You know what Nixon most wanted to talk about? Bowling. He was very proud that he had bowling alleys built in the White House. Yeah. And then Jimmy Carter took 'em out.
It's plain to me that if the Democrats want to ever get back in power, they gotta nominate some jocks and start kickin' some butt.
YDSTIE: The comments of Frank Deford. His latest book, The Old Ball Game, is out in paperback. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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