Fit to Serve

High-Profile Athletes Toss Their Jocks, and Sports Bras, Into the Political Ring

Joetta Clark Diggs—Track & Field
A four-time Olympian, Diggs was one of three members of the same family to compete for the U.S. in the women's 800-meter competition in Sydney. The 38-year-old Republican is now considering running for a local or state elective office. She is the daughter of Joe Clark, the notorious no-nonsense, bat-wielding former Paterson, New Jersey, high school principal. Diggs has worked as a state drug enforcement investigator and was appointed by former governor Christie Whitman to the New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority. A frequent motivational speaker, Clark is also involved with charities that help mentally and physically impaired children.

John Elway—Football (retired, 2000)
Elway talked to Colorado Republican officials about running for Congress in 2000, but decided to pursue business opportunities—including a sporting-goods Internet venture with Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan (mvp.com, which is now kaput). He certainly has the right position for Denver voters—Broncos quarterback. The ruggedly handsome, All-American coach's son is the most popular person in the state after a 16-year career that culminated in two Super Bowl victories. His endorsement contract with the Coors beer company might be a potential political liability in some places, but not in Colorado. Some are calling the new congressional seat that state will gain as a result of the 2000 census the "Elway seat."

Julie Foudy—Soccer
Foudy, the co-captain of America's most popular and admired squad has been nicknamed "the President" by her fellow players on the U.S. National Soccer Team. The Stanford graduate has taken a leadership role both on and off the field. She helped organize the team's successful job action last year for higher salaries and took a fact-finding trip to Pakistan to check child-labor conditions at factories before endorsing Reebok products. Foudy was the first woman to earn the coveted Fair Play award from FIFA, soccer's governing body, and was selected to sit next to Hillary Clinton at the State of the Union address in 1999. The incoming president of the Women's Sports Foundation, Foudy will play for the San Diego Spirit of the WUSA, the new women's professional soccer league.

Kevin Johnson—Basketball (retired, 2000)
Both Republican and Democratic leaders, including President Clinton, have recruited Johnson, a moderate Democrat, to run for office. KJ is deeply involved in charitable activities in Phoenix, where he played for 11 years as the star guard for the NBA Suns, and in Sacramento, where he grew up. He has lent public support to an Arizona ballot initiative that would raise the sales tax for education funding. A political science major at Cal-Berkeley, Johnson told The Washington Post he is undecided on whether to enter electoral politics: "I need to make sure you can do more inside the process than outside."

Brent Jones—Football (retired, 1998)
One of Steve Young's favorite receivers—and his roommate on the road for 10 years—the 49ers tight end was recruited by Republican leaders to run for Congress in the East Bay in 1998. But Jones, who has two small kids, decided against it. "You're young, (37)," Steve Largent told him. "You can always do this later." Now a CBS color commentator and partner, with Young, in a venture capital fund, Jones is involved in a number of faith-based charitable activities.

Michael Jordan—Basketball (retired, 1999)
Jordan is the most popular athlete—and perhaps, person—of his generation. He declined to publicly support North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Harvey Gantt against Jesse Helms in 1990, noting, "Republicans buy sneakers too." But he took a high profile in support of Bill Bradley's presidential campaign, even starring in a TV ad. Also, he's gaining some presidential experience in Washington with the NBA's Wizards. Asked by Tim Russert on Meet the Press about a possible run for office, he said: "You never know. I can never say never. I've learned not to do that. Politically, I've never really considered it, but you never know when I'm fiftysomething years old."

Nancy Lieberman-Cline—Basketball (retired, 1998)
The outgoing president of the Women's Sports Foundation, Lieberman-Cline has been a gregarious spokesperson for women's sports over the past two decades and has been a regular presence on Capitol Hill. She made a remarkable comeback in competitive basketball at age 39 during the WNBA's first season, then became the coach and general manager of the Detroit Shock. She's a moderate Republican who is friendly with George W. Bush, but campaigned last year on behalf of Bill Bradley. Ultimately, if she ran, Lieberman-Cline might have to explain a couple of other striking conversions (the ex-Jew is now Christian and a member of the evangelical Athletes in Action; a once-out lesbian, she's currently married to a man).

Nick Lowery—Football (retired, 1999)
The son of a career State Department and CIA official, Lowery grew up in Washington, D.C., and served as a Capitol Hill aide after graduating from Dartmouth. He has worked for three presidential administrations on national-service issues. The All-Pro place-kicker was one of the leading scorers in NFL history and among the league's most community-oriented players. In Kansas City, where he played for 14 years, Lowery launched the Kick With Nick campaign for cerebral palsy, the longest-running player fundraising project in NFL history. He also created NativeVISION, an empowerment, sports, education, and training project for Native American youth. Lowery is currently studying for a Master's in Public Administration at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

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