7 Pro Athletes Who Ran for Political Office

Many prolific athletes have successfully pivoted into politics.

BYDemi Phillips
Premiere Of Lionsgate Films' "The Expendables 2" - Arrivals

The pipeline from sports to politics in America is more popular than one might think. Indeed, several sportsmen have taken the leap from the field into the backbone of U.S. affairs. From the popular bodybuilder turned Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger to NBA All-Star-turned-Mayor, Kevin Johnson, many former athletes have found another career in politics. Surely, that won't end in the future, as former pro-wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne Johnson, has been at the center of political talks recently. On that note, we’ve outlined a list of former pro athletes who have also stepped foot in politics at one time or the other. 

Read More: 5 Rappers Who Have Run For Political Office

Jim Bunning

UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: CHANGING REGULATION OF FREDDIE MAC/FANNIE MAE/FHLBS--Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., during the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs markup of legislation to create an independent regulator to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Jim Bunning was an American legislator for 24 years, first serving in the House of Representatives and then the Senate. He was well known for his Republican, conservative views while in office. However, long before pivoting to politics, Jim Bunning was one of the most feared athletes in baseball. He played as a pitcher for top teams in the MLB including the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers. 

As an acknowledgment of his contribution to Baseball, Jim Bunning was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame in 1996. According to the Hall Of Fame, the pitcher enjoyed 17 years playing in the big league. He finally settled down as a politician following his tenure in the MLB. Senator Bunning was also involved in the union activities of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). Perhaps this was the precursor to his fulfilling political career. 

Arnold Schwarzeneggar

Governor-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger during California Governor Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger Holds Post Election Press Conference at Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, California, United States. (Photo by Steve Grayson/WireImage)

Arnold Schwarzenegger is popular for many reasons, specifically for starring roles in the Terminator series, but he also used to be a professional sportsman. Additionally, he won the most prestigious bodybuilding competition in the world, the Mr. Olympia, seven times. After gaining fame as one of the most famous athletes in bodybuilding, however, he went on to have an illustrious acting career, before venturing into politics. 

In 2003, after having become successful as an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California through a recall election. Moreover, he served in this post for eight years. In that time, he also achieved a good number of reforms, including environmental legislation. According to a report by the National Governors Association, his government was instrumental in signing legislation to reduce California’s greenhouse emissions in 2006. 

Read More: Arnold Schwarzenegger Condemns Trump, GOP Members After Capitol Riot

Bill Bradley

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 29: Former Presidential candidate and former three-time US Senator (NJ-D) Bill Bradley visits Fox Business Network's "WSJ At Large" exclusive coverage at Fox Business Network Studios on January 29, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)

Bill Bradley is well known as a senator who focused on tax reforms. But before he became a senator, he was a basketball player. Senator Bradley played for the New York Knicks for about 10 years. After retiring from the sport in 1977, he wasted no time in running for office. Bill Bradley’s political ambitions reached the highest political seat in America -- presidency. He ran against the incumbent president, Al Gore, for the Republican party seat. He, however, did not emerge victorious. Reaching great heights in both sports and politics, Bradley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. 

George Weah

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 21: President of Liberia George Weah during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between USA and Wales at Al Rayyan Stadium on November 21, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Harold Cunningham - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

George Weah dominated the world of soccer, playing for teams like Monaco, Chelsea, and Manchester City. Soon after, he achieved a stellar career in Liberian politics, becoming one of the most renowned athletes to make a successful pivot. The former African Footballer of the Year became incumbent President of Liberia in 2018. Weah will leave office come January 2024.

Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: (AFP OUT) Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California introduces U.S. President Barack Obama during an event for the U.S. Conference of Mayors in the East Room of the White House on January 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The conference marks the 82nd meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. (Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar - Pool/Getty Images)

Kevin Johnson had a successful career in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns, as well as with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, he left the basketball scene in 1998, deciding to pursue a career in public service. He remains one of the most famous former athletes in politics. In 2008, Johnson ran for the position of mayor in Sacramento, California, his hometown, and won. This achievement also made him the first African-American mayor of Sacramento. Moreover, Johnson was re-elected to this post in 2012, eventually serving until 2016. 

Heath Shuler

UNITED STATES – SEPTEMBER 14: Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., speaks during the Blue Dog Coalition news conference on the debt and the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. (Photo By Bill Clark/Roll Call)

Heath Shuler had a fulfilling NFL career where he played as a quarterback for about three years. The future US representative played for the Redskins and New Orleans Saints. Upon retiring from the NFL in the nineties, Heath Shuler focused on his real estate company for a while. Soon after, in 2006, he ran for Congress and became the representative for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District. In this role, he was proactive and even challenged Nancy Pelosi for the post of minority leader. Heath Shuler eventually announced his resignation in 2012. Shuler is one of the most famous former NFL athletes who had a stint in politics.

Jack Kemp

Former Representative Jack F. Kemp during the announcement of his nomination to the Cabinet post of H.U.D. Secy. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/Getty Images)

Jack Kemp is another former athlete whose political ambitions also reached the executive arm of the federal government. He ran as the Republican nominee for Vice President in 1996 alongside Bob Dole, the former presidential aspirant. Before running with Bob Dole, however, Jack Kemp was a US Representative for almost two decades. During his tenure, he was popular for tax reform and supply-side economics. 

As a professional football player in the 50s and 60s, Jack Kemp played for the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League (AFL). He originally tried to get into the NFL but to no avail. Senator Kemp eventually ran for office in 1970, and that began the political story of one of the most renowned former athletes to succeed in politics in America’s history. Kemp passed away in 2009.

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