Special Report

Athletes Who Went On to Become Politicians

Source: Chris Hondros / Getty Images

11. Bill Bradley
> Sport: Basketball
> Athletics background: Forward, New York Knicks: 1967-1977
> Served in: U.S. Senate
> Representing: New Jersey
> Political party: Democrat

A star basketball player at Princeton, Bill Bradley was selected second overall in the 1965 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks but deferred his debut two seasons because he was studying as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. Bradley was a key member of the Knicks teams that won the 1970 and 1973 NBA titles. He also won a gold medal in basketball in the 1964 Olympics. He played a decade with New York and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bradley retired from basketball in 1977 and got into politics immediately thereafter. Without holding any other offices, he ran for and won a U.S. Senate seat representing New Jersey in 1978. He served three terms in the Senate, before campaigning unsuccessfully for the 2000 Democratic nomination for president.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

12. Anthony Gonzalez
> Sport: Football
> Athletics background: Wide receiver, Indianapolis Colts: 2007-2011
> Served in: U.S. House of Representatives
> Representing: Ohio’s 16th district
> Political party: Republican

Anthony Gonzalez was born and raised in Ohio and starred at wide receiver for Ohio State. He was a member of the undefeated 2006 Buckeyes team that lost in the National Championship game. After college, he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, where he played for five seasons.

After the NFL, Gonzalez worked in the tech industry before turning to politics. He won the 2018 election to represent Ohio’s 16th District, and won reelection in 2020. Gonzalez announced in late 2021 that he would not seek reelection due to family considerations and the “toxic dynamics inside our own party.” After he was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach President Donald Trump, he and his family received death threats.

Source: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

13. Heath Shuler
> Sport: Football
> Athletics background: Quarterback, Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders: 1994-1998
> Served in: U.S. House of Representatives
> Representing: North Carolina’s 11th district
> Political party: Democrat

Though he was the third overall selection in the 1994 NFL Draft, Heath Shuler started just 22 games in his NFL career for the Washington Commanders and New Orleans Saints. He played poorly in his first two seasons with Washington and was eventually benched in his third season. Shuler never got his career back on track, as a litany of injuries forced him to retire.

Following his stint in the NFL, Shuler briefly worked in real estate before turning his attention to politics. He returned to his home state of North Carolina and won election in the state’s 11th District in 2006 as a Democrat, unseating incumbent Republican Charles Taylor. After serving three terms, Shuler opted against running for reelection.

14. Jim Bunning
> Sport: Baseball
> Athletics background: Pitcher, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers: 1955-1971
> Served in: U.S. Senate
> Representing: Kentucky
> Political party: Republican

Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning played 17 MLB seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Los Angeles Dodgers from 1955-1971. He made the All Star team in seven different seasons, leading the National League in strikeouts three times and innings pitched twice. Bunning also pitched one of just 23 perfect games in MLB history.

Following his time in the big leagues, Bunning slowly moved his way up the political ladder. Returning to his native Kentucky, he won a seat on the Fort Thomas City Council in 1977 and then moved up to the state Senate two years later. After an unsuccessful bid for governor, Bunning was elected to the House in 1986, representing Kentucky’s 4th District. After serving as a representative for 12 years, he won a seat in the U.S. Senate. Bunning served two six-year terms in the Senate before retiring.

Source: Phillip MacCallum / Getty Images

15. Ken Dryden
> Sport: Hockey
> Athletics background: Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens: 1970-1979
> Served in: Parliament
> Representing: Canada
> Political party: Liberal

Though he played just eight NHL seasons, Ken Dryden is one of the most accomplished hockey players of all time. The Montreal Canadiens goalie won six Stanley Cups, earned five Vezina trophies as the NHL’s top netminder, made six All-Star teams, and was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Dryden was active in hockey after his NHL career, working as a TV commentator for NHL games as well as the president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also wrote several books about the sport. Dryden entered the political arena in 2004, when he was elected to Canada’s Parliament as a member of the Liberal Party, representing York Centre, Ontario. Dryden served three terms before losing his seat in the 2011 election.

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