HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
November 6, 2006

The next president – Matt Birk?

By Aaron Schultz

With the mid-term elections this Tuesday, I thought I’d take a look at the various former athletes that have thrown their hats into the political ring.

Before I began researching this topic, I knew of several, including Steve Largent, Bill Bradley, and Jack Kemp.

I also knew that our current President, George W. Bush, had owned the Texas Rangers, at one time, and that his father played baseball at Yale.

And while I hate to bring his name up, our former Governor, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, was kind of an athlete – a professional wrestler.

Then, you had the likes of the departed Paul Wellstone, who was an outstanding high school and college wrestler in his time.

Wellstone wrestled at the University of North Carolina, and is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

As I kept trying to think of politicians that were former athletes, my mind began playing tricks on me.

I basically talked myself into thinking that our governor was a pretty good college hockey player.

But, unlike the previous names that were mentioned, I wasn’t 100 percent sure of T-Paw , so I looked it up, and I’m glad I did.

It turns out that Pawlenty did play hockey in high school, and still does in pick-up games, but never played college hockey.

Maybe I was thinking of Senator Norm Coleman – so I checked it out.

Nope, couldn’t find anything to confirm that good old Norm played college hockey.

However, while not the point of this column, all of us hockey fans do need to thank Norm for bringing professional hockey back to Minnesota.

In case some of you have forgotten, Coleman, as mayor of St. Paul, led the charge in getting the X-Cel Energy Center built, and getting the National Hockey League to award Minnesota the expansion Wild.

Alright, back to the point of this column – athletes that turned politicians.

The final name that is coming to mind is the outspoken former NBA great, Charles Barkley.

Barkley has never actually run for office, but there continues to be talk of him running for governor of Alabama one day.

Alright, so now, I turned to the Internet to find a few more that I missed.

The biggest names that I forgot to mention earlier, and really never really even knew were athletes, are a pair of former presidents.

The first is Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States.
Eisenhower didn’t have much of an athletic career after high school, but that can probably be attributed to a knee injury.

Prior to blowing out this knee, Eisenhower was considered a pretty good football player at West Point Military Academy.

At West Point, Eisenhower played just one year before getting hurt.

After injuring his knee, Dewey continued to help coach the team, before graduating, moving up the ranks, and becoming overall commander of the allies in the European theater during World War II.

The next president is also the oldest living president – that would be Gerald Ford.
Ford was an outstanding high school football player in Michigan, and then went on to play at the University of Michigan.

While at Michigan, Ford was a member of the Wolverines 1932 and 1933 national championship teams, and in 1934, was named the team’s MVP.

In August of 1935, Ford played with a college all-star team against the Chicago Bears.

After college, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers offered him contracts to play professional football.

Ford declined, and instead, took a job as the boxing coach, and assistant football coach at Yale.

Those are two pretty big names that were involved in athletics prior to jumping into politics, but neither used their athletic careers as springboards to a political career.

One who did just that was Largent, who was one of the biggest names in the NFL before his retirement in 1989.

After retiring, Largent was a congressman from his home state of Oklahoma for four terms.

In an interview in 2002, Largent talked a little about the positives and negatives a former athlete has jumping into politics.

“They (athletes) start with something that costs a lot of money,” Largent said.

That something Largent is talking about is name recognition.

“To be successful – that’s the lure of the political system – you have to understand the issues more, show leadership capacity,” Largent said.

While the name recognition really helped Largent, and other athletes moving into politics, it can also hurt your image.

“I’ve always said it’s a double-edged sword,” Largent said. “You have to overcome the stereotypes that others have (of professional athletes).”

With all this talk of former athletes turning to politics, I took a minute to think of which current Minnesota professional athlete would have the best chance of becoming our next president.

The first name that popped into my head, was St. Paul native, and current Minnesota Viking, Matt Birk.

Birk, a Harvard graduate, would seem like the perfect politician – well-spoken, well-educated, and has good name recognition.

Some of Birk’s other credentials include no big off-the-field incidents, which excludes most of the Vikings’ roster; good citenzenship (born here in Minnesota), which excludes most of the Wild roster; a college degree (graduated from Harvard), which excludes most of the Twins; and as for the Timberwolves, see Vikings’ explanation.

Yep, I’m pretty sure that I have just launched Birk’s run for the presidency in 2008.

So, Matt, when you win the presidency in 2008, I’ll be expecting a cushy job in the cabinet, maybe as Undersecretary of the Interior.

Don’t worry though, I’m not picky, I’ll let you decide.

Vote for Birk in 2008, and send me to Washington.