Some players go from ballfield to the ballot after athletic career

Though local athletes do not seem to be overly involved in politics, there have been many athletes who have pursued a career in politics after their athletic careers had run their course.

Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks became a U.S. senator and ran for president in 2000, drawing an endorsement from Michael Jordan. Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp became a U.S. congressman and served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development before becoming presidential candidate Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.

Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning is a senator from Kentucky, and Olympic track star Jim Ryun is a congressman from Kansas. Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell was captain of the 1964 U.S. Olympic judo team, and Nebraska Rep. Tom Osborne used to coach the Nebraska football team. Former Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent and former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts both served as congressmen in Oklahoma, and former NBA player Tom McMillen was a congressman from Maryland.

NFL Hall of Famer Alan Page is a Minnesota Supreme Court judge, while former Browns linebacker Dick Ambrose is running to retain his position as a judge in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Former Browns linebacker Sidney Williams was the ambassador to the Bahamas.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura became governors in California and Minnesota, respectively, after careers in bodybuilding and professional wrestling, both of which might be more theater than sport.

Former minor-league baseball players have played key roles in Ohio politics. Frank Lausche was Cleveland’s mayor, a U.S. senator and Ohio’s only five-term governor. Ron Mottl led the push for a state lottery and served as a state representative. John Kovacic was a Cleveland city councilman and district director of customs.

President George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale, and President Gerald Ford played football at Michigan, although both are more accurately described as athletic politicians rather than athletes who became president. The late President Ronald Reagan played football at Eureka College, although he was much better known for playing the dying George “The Gipper” Gipp in the movie “Knute Rockne: All American.”

According to Bryan Flannery, who went into politics after an outstanding football career at St. Edward High School and the University of Notre Dame, there are many carryovers from one field to the other.

“One is the teamwork aspect,” said Flannery, a former Lakewood city councilman and state representative who lost to Ken Blackwell in the race for Secretary of State in 2002. “On the administrative side, you have to learn to work with people. It’s the fundamental basis of politics. Practice teaches you the importance of preparation. There’s a lot of scrutiny in both. You learn how to win, and you learn how to lose.”

Now working as a consultant in the health care field, Flannery also is responsible for the “Flannery Education Act,” a petition drive designed to address the statewide problem of school funding. He does not rule out another run for public office, and he continues to make public appearances to keep his name in front of voters.

“When I go out to speak, I always use a lot of sports analogies,” he said. “I think they’re something people can relate to and understand.”

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:, 216-999-4668

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