“In 2020, I plan on running for sheriff,” he told Atlanta’s NBC affiliate WXIA this weekend.
O’Neal has residency in both Georgia and Florida and could potentially run in either state. He calls Henry County home. The county, with about 215,000 people southeast of Atlanta, has a sheriff’s race in 2020.
“This is not about politics. This is about bringing people closer together,” O’Neal said. “You know, when I was coming up, people love and respected the police, the deputies. And, I want to be the one to bring that back, especially in the community I serve.”
It wouldn’t be a particularly shocking move for the former basketball star, who has long shown a deep interest in policing. He’s already a deputy marshal in Lafayette, La., as reported by Southern Living.
“He loves the police. He loves to support the police,” Lafayette Clerk of Court Louis Perret said after swearing O’Neal in two years ago.
While the title is mostly honorary, Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope told the Daily Advertiser, “There are times when he does come in and work with us. He’s worked warrants with us before.”
He’s also a reserve police office in Florida, where his duties include “doing community work in which he will serve as a role model for kids,” the Miami Herald reported. Finally, last December, he was sworn in as a Clayton County sheriff’s deputy in Georgia.
And last January, as The Washington Post’s Nick Eilerson reported, he “paid a surprise visit to the Gainesville Police Department on Saturday to praise Officer Bobby White, who responded to the report of kids playing basketball ‘loudly’ in the street last Friday by approaching the teenagers and asking them, ‘Can you believe someone’s calling to complain about kids playing basketball in the street? Can you believe that?'” White proceeded to shoot hoops with the kids for a while.
When O’Neal arrived to thank him, White brought the star out to play a pickup game with the kids.
Furthermore, O’Neal has slowly achieving an almost folk hero statues around the Atlanta area for reasons having nothing to do with sports. When the beloved 60-year-old Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta was going out of business much to the chagrin of the city’s residents, he bought the store and kept it open.
It’s not all doughnuts and hoops, though. Syrai Sanders, 5, made the local Atlanta news when she was hospitalized after being mauled by two dogs. O’Neal reportedly saw the news and, upon Sanders’s release, visited the girl’s family and bought the young girl new bedroom furniture.
Just last month, after an Atlanta-area 13-year-old fatally shot himself on Facebook Live, O’Neal visited the family and offered to pay for all funeral expenses.
“We wasn’t prepared to bury him this young. We didn’t have insurance for him,” the boy’s godmother, Shantirea Bankston, told Sports Illustrated. “So to have that from Shaquille O’Neal; it was a blessing and very touching, and we appreciate everything he do[es] for the community.”
“No mother should have to go through this,” O‘Neal said in a statement. “I can only imagine the pain that she and all of family must be feeling. I just wanted to do what I could to help them at such a terrible time.”
Indeed, O’Neal has worn many hats over the year, a versatility he pointed to when announcing a potential run for sheriff.
“I can put on a suit and have a conversation with Bill Gates,” O’Neal told WXIA. “I can go in the ‘hood and talk to the homies, and talk to the children.”
He teamed up with Gates and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to create online safety programs for disadvantaged children, while also spreading the technology into classrooms.
As Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly wrote in 2000, “Thanks for being big-time generous. You gave $1 million to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, which inspired Bill Gates to pony up enough for 30 new clubs, which sparked AOL chairman Steve Case to provide 30,000 computers and 30,000 Internet accounts for Boys and Girls Clubs around the country. And they say one person can’t make a difference.”
And the big man can certainly wear a suit, evidenced when he received his PhD from Barry University in 2012 and when he conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a rousing rendition of “Sleigh Ride” at Boston’s Symphony Hall in 2010.
Only time, of course, will tell if O’Neal truly follows through and runs for sheriff. After all, he still hasn’t achieved his dream of being an underwear model, which he announced on Twitter in 2009.
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