Throughout history, there have been many politicians who played high school, college, and even professional sports. Many athletes have used what they learned from sports to propel themselves towards success. Many have proved to be triumphant on the field or court, as well as in the political arena. Although sports and politics usually are not linked, many athlete-politicians have cited their sport as being a major factor in their political careers.
Jack Kemp began his career in the National Football League before playing in the Canadian Football League and then became well known while playing for the Buffalo Bills in the American Football League, originally a separate league. As a quarterback for the Bills, Jack Kemp led his team to a surprising victory in the 1965 AFL Championship against the San Diego Chargers. After Kemp’s athletic career ended, he served in Congress as a Republican representing New York. Under President George H. W. Bush, Kemp served in the cabinet as the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Kemp was then nominated to run with Senator Bob Dole as his vice president in 1996.
“Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter politics: I’d already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded and hung in effigy,” stated Kemp when he was asked about how football helped him.
Kemp is just one of the well-known political athletes.
When most people think of Sarah Palin, basketball is not what comes to mind. Before she was the mayor of Wasilla, governor of Alaska, and vice presidential candidate in the 2008 campaign, Palin was the starting point guard for the Wasilla High School Warriors Varsity basketball team. Co-captain of the team, Palin led the Warriors to victory by scoring the winning point. Nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda,” Palin played the whole game on a fractured ankle.
These politicians began honing their skills for their future careers long before they ran for public office. Palin thinks back to how she played the whole game with a broken ankle and realizes that she can get through any situation she is faced with.
“Everything I ever needed to know, I learned on the basketball court,” Palin wrote in her book Going Rogue.
President Gerald Ford, the only president that was never elected President or Vice President, is considered by many to be the most athletic president in the White House. As center for University of Michigan football team, he steered the Wolverines to back-to-back undefeated championship seasons in 1932 and 1933. After winning MVP his senior year Ford was offered contracts from at least two NFL teams but passed up on the offer to go to law school, paying his way by coaching football and boxing.
“During 25 years in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, I often thought of the experiences before, during, and after that game in 1934. Remembering them has helped me many times to face a tough situation, take action, and make every effort possible despite adverse odds,” Ford reflected on a game against heavily favored Minnesota.
The benefits of competitive sports also apply to student athletes. At Chaparral, many students must learn to balance their academic and athletic careers. Junior Spencer Gilbert has learned how do this, as he has been playing baseball since he was four.
“[I] have to prioritize and manage [my] time well…and [I have] eliminated a lot of procrastination,” Gilbert says.
Senior Braden Bailie has been playing football for four years and excels both in the classroom and on the field. Bailie implicates football in teaching him valuable skills.
“It’s taught me how to persevere…and overcome adversity.”
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