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In Politics, Former Athletes Usually Lean to the Right

May 14, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Lynn Swann, campaigning to become the first black governor of Pennsylvania, was raised in Tennessee by parents scratching out a living. His father was a janitor, his mother a dentist's assistant. With that background, it might surprise some that Swann is a conservative Republican.

Except for one thing: He's a former pro athlete.

The vast majority of big-time sports personalities who enter the political arena do so as members of the GOP.

The party can stake a claim to football standouts Gerald Ford, Jack Kemp, Steve Largent and J.C. Watts, among others. There's a former college football coach, Nebraska Congressman Tom Osborne; and Sen. George Allen, a possible presidential candidate whose father made the name famous in coaching circles.

Legendary miler Jim Ryun is a Kansas congressman, and Hall of Fame baseball player Jim Bunning is a U.S. senator from Kentucky. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a world-champion bodybuilder. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, is a former high school wrestling coach. Even the Arena Football League has gotten into the act: Greg Hopkins of the Los Angeles Avengers is seeking the Republican nomination for state representative of the 50th District in Pennsylvania.

Democrats? There's Sen. Bill Bradley, the former New York Knick

Both parties have their theories about why the majority of athletes-turned-politicians lean to the right.

"What happens is, these guys, especially the good players, tend to be loners," said Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Clinton. "They tend to stay to themselves.... That makes them more insular and more into themselves, which is what Republicans are all about."

Not surprisingly, Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, sees it differently.

"These are self-made people, not people who inherited their money," Mehlman said. " ... Anybody who's earning their money and working as hard as these guys have worked is going to pay attention to things like taxes.

"These guys got where they got in sports literally by the sweat of their brow. They know that all things are possible if you work hard

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