By Albert Samaha
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Last year, when Shane Battier was considering whether to leave college early for the NBA, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski suggested that staying in school would help him if he had to answer a question on education policy during a presidential debate. Coach K told him he would be able to say, "When I was 21, I had a chance to make $3 million in the NBA, but I decided my education was more valuable than that."
Now, the Naismith College Player of the Year will have a chance to improve his national political profile as captain of the NCAA tourney favorite. Battier describes himself as "complex and pseudo-intellectual yet laid-back and simple," which sounds a lot like another brainy All-American, who eventually went from the basketball floor to the floor of the Senate, Bill Bradley.
These days, many high-profile athletes are considering throwing their jocksand sports brasinto the political ring. And kingmakers from both parties are putting on a full-court press to recruit them. It's no wonder. Athletes bring bipartisan fan support and name recognition money can't buy. And they have access to the cashfrom both their own megabucks playing contracts and ready-made donor lists of courtside ticket holdersthat makes politics go round.
The higher tax bracket probably has something to do with why so many current players-turned-politicoslike congressmen Steve Largent (a former Seahawks receiver) and J.C. Watts (an ex-University of Oklahoma quarterback) and Senator Jim Bunning (a Hall of Fame pitcher)are Republican. As Charles Barkley pointed out when his grandmother asked why he had joined the party of the rich, "Grandma, we are rich."
Yet there are also a number of jocks with political views a little more out of left field who might follow in Bradley's size 13D footsteps, including such hometown stars as Mike Richter and John McEnroe.
Below, a roster of the top 20 current or recently retired athletes who would make the most viable candidates for political office.
In 1991, Anthony served as both the president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College Republicans and the starting point guard of the school's NCAA National Champion basketball team. Anthony says he is particularly interested in economic development and race-relations issues and counts both Jack Kemp and Bill Bradley as political role models. When President Clinton visited his locker room in Washington a few years ago, Anthony drew cheers from teammates by asking when the capital gains tax cut took effect. Now a backup point guard with the Trailblazers, Anthony is active in Portland-area charities. If he ran, however, it would likely be in New York, where he began his career with the Knicks.
Charles BarkleyBasketball (retired, 2000)
The nation's most famous African American Republican this side of Colin Powell has been promising to run for governor of Alabama for years. A perennial member of the NBA's All-Interview team, Barkley is currently a Turner Sports basketball analyst. In a future political campaign, he might have to explain away several incidents, including once throwing a fan through a window. Barkley also may have alienated a key demographic when he said he "hates white people," though he's married to one and supported Steve Forbes for president.
When he was three years old, Battier asked his mother, "Do you think I would make a good president?" It is a question that many believe might well be answered one day. An All-American center and A-minus religion major at Duke, Battier is fluent in German and an accomplished jazz trumpeter. The Michigan native was chosen last year to chair the Student Basketball Council, a new advisory committee made up of 48 men's basketball players, formed to give student-athletes more of a voice in the NCAA's governance of the game. Battier has been an outspoken advocate of providing college athletes with stipends and has testified twice in front of Congress on other sports issues. "If I didn't play basketball, I'd hope the people would still gravitate toward me and listen to what I have to say," he told USA Today, "because I think I've got some neat ideas."
Casey has already been nicknamed "the Mayor" by Cincinnati Reds teammates and fans for his charisma, friendliness, and community involvement after only two years in the Major Leagues. "Sean is one of the most sincere guys I've ever met," says veteran teammate Barry Larkin. The All-Star first baseman showed keen political instincts in a successful campaign for eighth-grade class president: "I ran against the most popular girl in school, and I was the fat kid. I passed out Tootsie Rolls to everyone. Actually they were Tootsie Roll wrappers, since I ate them all on the way to school. But I did win."
The 2000 Olympic Swim Team captain won two silver relay medals in Sydney after capturing three golds in 1996. He would likely run in his hometown of San Antonio, where his grandfather and great-grandfather were local judges. A polished speaker, the 28-year-old Davis has made more than 100 inspirational speeches in the past year. Then-governor George W. Bush named Davis to a list of the 18 Greatest Texans in 1998. He has All-American looks6-2 with blond hair and blue eyesand is the father of three young children. An "outspoken, unapologetic Christian," Davis advocates sexual abstinence until marriage and cites Steve Largent as role model.