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Why Pro Athletes Make Lousy Public Officials

Old sportswriters are always being asked for tips on big games. Here’s one for the big game of life: never vote for a jock.

Old sportswriters are always being asked for tips on big games. Here’s one for the biggest game on the schedule: never vote for a jock.

This is particularly good advice in a political season whose starting line-up includes Chris Dudley, a former NBA back-up center running for governor of Oregon; Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment running for senator from Connecticut; and Heath Shuler, a former NFL quarterback, scrambling for a third-term as a member of the House from North Carolina. They are already campaigning to fit into the woeful tradition of Jim Bunning, Jesse Ventura, Tom Osborne, and Vinegar Bend Mizell, athletic role models whose narcissism, ignorance, and conservatism helped them make a seamless transition from entertaining people to exploiting them.

Keep in mind that the sports-industrial complex tends to produce narrow-minded, self-centered, ethically-challenged mercenaries who are deeply submissive to established authority while being fiercely dedicated to winning by any means possible.  Or as one of my old political advisors, Sam Hall Kaplan, a former New York Times and Los Angeles Times reporter, puts it: “A pol who learned as an athlete just who ultimately butters his bread can be counted on to continue to wave to the crowds while doing the bidding of the owners.” And the owners these days, thanks to the umpires (, Supreme Court) are likely to be unnamed billionaire warlords donating to rightwing candidates through dummy organizations that have no requirement to open their books to the voters.

Let’s get this year’s rare exception to my No-Jock mandate out of the way right now. Alan Page, running again for Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, is that rare all-star on the field and on the high bench.

As Jay Weiner, author of This Is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount, reminds us: “One of the wisest and most pointed legal opinions to come out of the recount” of that embattled 2008 election was written by “a picture of Black Robed Dignity” who had once been a “Purple People Eater.” Defensive tackle Page had a 15-season National Football League Hall of Fame career, mostly with the Minnesota Vikings on that fearsome purple-uniformed defensive line.

Two other Democrats, both out of office now, once earned my own grateful votes -- New York Governor Mario Cuomo (minor league baseball) and Senator Bill Bradley (two championships with the New York Knicks). 

But after that, a team of losers.

Mostly Republican, Mostly Busts

Leading off our sorry starting line-up for 2012 is Heath Shuler, a Blue Dog Democrat and real-estate investor.  He was also a former Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints quarterback, rated by ESPN in 2004 as the fourth-biggest NFL draft bust of all time and the 17th biggest “sports flop” of the past 25 years. Of course, those are not good enough reasons to vote against him (unless you happened to root for one of his teams).

But here’s a good reason: his vote against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because health-care reform could be detrimental to the economy. He was for what he termed “common-sense incremental change” which, in reality, meant slowing the game down until time runs out.

Of further concern is Shuler’s membership in “The Family,” that creepy D.C. frat of evangelical Christian right-wingers like Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint, and Congressmen Zach Wamp and Bart Stupak, and such hypocritical God-Squadders as John Ensign, Chip Pickering, and Mark Sanford. Shuler has bunked down in their infamous locker room, the so-called “C Street house.” Jeff Sharlet, author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, writes about The Family’s “explicit dedication to the ruling class” in America and abroad, and also links the group to Uganda’s murderous anti-homosexuality bill.

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