A brief and incomplete history of sports figures endorsing political candidates

The Chamber of Commerce unveiled a new TV ad in support of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran this week featuring former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bret Favre. Favre, who attended the University of Southern Mississippi, is seen sitting in the back of a pick-up truck at what appears to be a golf course. "I've learned through football that strong leadership can be the difference between winning and losing," Favre says over a Casio-keyboard-reminiscent soundtrack.

Athletes and sports figures are great proxies for politicians, allowing all sorts of analogies to victory and leadership and struggle and so on. Plus they're popular and rugged and (usually) handsome in a way that politicians (usually) aren't. Which means that there is a long, weird legacy of sports figures making political endorsements. (And then, of course, there is the broader world of political endorsements -- explained by the Fix's Endorsement Hierarchy.)

Let's start with an athlete endorsing himself.

Gerald Ford. President, 1976. Result: Loss.

In 1976, Gerald Ford led off a biographic campaign spot for his reelection effort by noting that he'd been "the most valuable player at Michigan." Americans never voted for him for President in the first place; this ad doesn't seem to have helped change their minds.

Clint Didier. Senate, 2010. Result: Loss.

Former Washington Redskins tight end Clint Didier weighed heavily on his football experience in an ad for his Senate candidacy in Washington state. It's a great, weird ad, that didn't work.

In 2012, Didier endorsed Ron Paul for president, which DailyPaul.com declared was "Huge!" Ron Paul didn't win the Republican nomination.

That presidential campaign was perhaps a high-water mark for athlete endorsements. Republicans scrambled for Tim Tebow's thumbs-up. Obama lured Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo to back him. Mitt Romney secured Alex Rodriguez.

Magic Johnson also backed Obama, but he endorses a lot.

Magic Johnson. Mayor of Los Angeles, 2013. Result: Loss.

Johnson endorsed Wendy Greuel when she ran for Mayor in 2013. (Eight years earlier, he'd backed termed-out Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.) Johnson avoided sports metaphors in his endorsement, instead praising Greuel's talent and experience. "You are going to be the next mayor!" he concluded. She was not.

Curt Schilling. Senate, 2010. Result: Win.

Scott Brown's unexpected victory in Massachusetts' 2010 Senate race was helped by his Democratic opponent, Martha Coakley, suggesting that beloved Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling was a Yankee fan. Schilling stumped for Brown. Brown won.

Doug Flutie. Senate, 2000. Result: Win.

Schilling was joined in backing Brown by Boston College and Buffalo Bills star Doug Flutie. Flutie had a good track record in endorsing candidates, having thrown his support behind Hillary Clinton in her 2000 New York Senate race. She won, too, giving Flutie an impressive win-loss record.


Flutie is right behind Bill Cosby. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The great thing about athlete endorsements, of course, is that there are a lot of athletes and a lot of candidates for office, leading to a lot of who-is-that players backing a lot of and-who-is-that politicians.

LeSean McCoy. Lt. Governor, 2014. Result: Loss.

Hey, look, it's LeSean McCoy of the (checks his notes) Philadelphia Eagles appearing in an ad (apparently filmed on a Laser Tag facility) for (shuffling through notes) Pennsylvania Democratic lieutenant governor Brad Koplinski! Koplinski came in fourth in the primary. The Eagles did better last year.

(ATTENTION: If you're looking for my email address to complain that I downplayed LeSean McCoy's fame, here you go. But you will want to wait until SportsCenter goes to commercial.)

Dale Murphy. County Commission District 7, 2014. Result: Loss.

Braves fans will remember Murphy, who endorsed Phil Smartt (campaign website, VoteSmartt.com) for County Commissioner because "[t]hey have known one another for many years," according to Chattanoogan.com. Smartt lost.

A quick aside to make an important point. Do not find people who share the names of athletes and get them to endorse you. You will be caught and made fun of.

Various college hockey players. Governor, 2010. Result: Loss.

This ad is the best ad in campaign history. So much sports.

"Bill Walker sets a goal, and he doesn't let anything get in his way," says Cassi Campbell of the University of Wisconsin. "Kinda like me," says Tyler Currier of the University of Alaska. "Yeah. You wish," says William Wrenn of the University of Denver as he looks off into the distance at a weird angle.

Walker won. Yeah, you wish! He came in second.

Now let's be amused at coaches doing endorsements.

Lou Holtz. Congress, 2010. Result: Win.

On a windy Florida day in 2010, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz gave his endorsement to Allen West. And we have this wonderfully edited video to prove it. (Holtz's first applause line is about how he just had neck surgery.)

Mike Ditka. State representative, 2012. Result: Loss.

Mike Ditka once said that the biggest mistake in his life was not running against Obama for the U.S. Senate in 2004, given that he thinks he would have won and Obama's career would have been derailed. Ditka took that lesson to heart, making sure he endorsed Susan Sweeney in her bid for the Illinois House, even recording a phone call for her, apparently using a cell phone while touring a loud noise factory.

And finally, there is this.

Metta World Peace. High school class president. Result: Unknown.

A reenactment of an actual phone call.

"Hello, is this Beverly Hills High School?"

"Yes."

"Hi, this is Philip Bump from the Washington Post. I was wondering who won the election for senior class president. I know it's kind of silly."

"You're from the New York Post?"

"Washington."

"Let me transfer you to the principal."

(Gets a voicemail message.)

The end.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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