The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Walker lacks the reputation and credibility that runoff voters need to see

GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker speaks at a campaign stop at Battle Lumber Co. on Oct. 6, in Wadley, Ga. (Meg Kinnard/AP)
5 min

If, by some cruel fate, Herschel Walker wins the Georgia runoff election, it won’t be the first time a prominent athlete has reached the U.S. Senate.

New Jersey’s Bill Bradley (D) did it in 1978, when he was elected to the Senate, where he served from 1979 to 1997. That followed an illustrious career on the basketball court that featured an Olympic gold medal and 10 years with the New York Knicks, including two NBA championships.

And Jim Bunning (R) represented Kentucky in both the House and the Senate over the course of a political career that stretched from 1987 through 2011. His life as a politician came on the heels of 16 years as a major league pitcher, which was capped with his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Walker might be counting on his celebrity athlete status as a University of Georgia Heisman Trophy winner and an acclaimed former professional football running back to land a coveted spot in Washington.

But Walker, I believe and hope, is destined to fall short of the finish line.

Follow Colbert I. King's opinionsFollow

He woefully lacks what Bradley and Bunning had when they sought office. It’s the same thing other standout athletes — former pro-football star quarterback Jack Kemp, former top National Football League receiver Steve Largent and former University of Oklahoma star quarterback J.C. Watts — had when they won election (all as Republicans) to the House: namely, credibility based upon honorable reputations earned before seeking public office.

Except for memories of his on-field gridiron heroics — during three seasons with the Donald Trump-owned New Jersey Generals of the original U.S. Football League, followed by 12 seasons in the NFL — Walker brings to public service very little that commands respect.

Truth and Walker are too often strangers.

For instance, Walker has claimed to be a University of Georgia graduate and said he was his high school’s valedictorian, both of which CNN found to be untrue. CNN also debunked Walker’s references to his military career and having “trained with the FBI.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reviewed hundreds of pages of public records tied to Walker’s post-college business ventures and found a record that included “exaggerated claims of financial success.”

“In repeated media interviews,” the AP reported, “Walker claimed his company employed hundreds of people, included a chicken processing division in Arkansas and grossed $70 million to $80 million annually in sales.”

But upon checking further, the AP found that when Walker’s company applied for a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during the pandemic, it reported just eight employees. And it received about $182,000 in covid-19 aid.

Were that all.

What on earth can be said about Walker and abortion?

He has campaigned as an opponent of abortion, including in cases of rape, incest and the protection of a mother’s life. He has embraced Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) proposed national ban on abortion at 15 weeks.

However, two women have separately said Walker pressured them to have abortions during their affairs with him. He has strongly denied both claims. One of the women claimed he paid for the abortion that he wanted her to have. When confronted with a copy of a $700 check given to her in 2009, Walker acknowledged writing a check, but he continued to deny the woman’s claim that the money was provided to pay for an abortion.

At bottom, it’s his word against theirs.

And who knows what to make of the Walker who sat for an interview in 2021 with conservative social media personalities and said, “The father leaves in the Black family. He leaves the boys alone so they’ll be raised by their mom. If you have a child with a woman, even if you have to leave that woman — even if you have to leave that woman — you don’t leave that child.”

Yes, that is the same Walker who once cited absentee fathers as a “major problem.”

That same Walker also confirmed during the campaign in June that in addition to having a 22-year-old son, with whom he is close, he has another son, 10 years old, whom he financially supports but does not see, and two additional grown children. “I have four children,” Walker said of the revelations. “Three sons and a daughter. They’re not ‘undisclosed’ — they’re my kids. I support them all and love them all. I’ve never denied my children.”

“You don’t leave that child,” said Walker a year ago — but that was when conservative cameras were rolling.

Walker’s entry in the Senate race was stoked by Trump, who used his Tuesday night reelection bid to praise Walker as “a gentleman and a great person … a fabulous human being.” Good grief.

Walker is counting on Trump’s endorsement, his own celebrity and a pious search for redemption pitched to social conservatives to deliver him victory in the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff.

If the people of Georgia haven’t lost their minds, Walker’s wishes won’t be enough.

There is no single ingredient essential to transitioning from a prominent career — in sports or anything else — to a Capitol Hill job. But a reputable public persona, such as that offered by Bradley, Kemp, et al., can help.

Herschel Walker has little of that to offer.