Fit to Serve

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

John McEnroe—Tennis (retired, 1992)
Big Mac told The New Yorker he would "like to try politics someday. Maybe starting with the job of Tennis Commissioner." McEnroe would have to overcome a bad-boy image and controversial statements. His outspoken criticism of women's tennis might also create a gender gap. "John is the most undiplomatic person you'll ever meet," says his wife, singer Patty Smyth. Still, his tours of duty in the patriotic role of Davis Cup team captain have helped him craft an elder-statesman image. But there are signs of limitations on just how much McEnroe can change: He is still quite cantankerous on the court as a popular member of the men's Seniors tour.

John Register—Paralympic Track & Field
A silver medalist in the long jump at the Sydney Paralympics, Register also finished fifth in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints. After an All-American career at the University of Arkansas, Register joined the army and served in the Gulf War. While training for the 1996 Olympic trials, he suffered a freak injury requiring an above-the-knee amputation of his right leg. The 35-year-old is a member of the International Paralympic Committee and currently works with the army's Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers retention program in Alexandria, Virginia. He is considering returning to Arkansas at some point and getting involved in politics.

Mike Richter—Hockey
A Democrat who is strong on defense, Richter is one of the city's most popular athletes; as the starting goalie, he led the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup in over 50 years. Knowledgeable, but not outspoken on public policy issues ("Does anyone want to hear the political views of an athlete?"), Richter says he will "definitely consider running for office even if it's for the school board" after retirement. With teammates from five different nations, Richter has already displayed international-relations skills. He's also an admitted "schmoozer" who is known to leave weddings last. "I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but people tell me I have the personality of a politician."

Cal Ripken Jr.—Baseball
Few athletes are as popular in their communities as Ripken is in the Baltimore area. He has been active in local charitable affairs and is building a $25 million baseball stadium for youth leagues. His "Iron-Man" streak of 2632 consecutive games played made him a national icon. Ripken would be an imposing candidate, and has expressed some interest in throwing his cap into the ring: "There's something about (politics) that fascinates me a bit," Ripken told Roll Call. He also noted that he has been watching C-SPAN more often.

Pam Shriver—Tennis (retired, 1997)
Shriver, the daughter of a Maryland judge, first became involved in Republican politics as a teenager after meeting President Reagan at the White House. She is an occasional tennis partner of former president George Bush and spoke briefly at the 1992 Republican National Convention. An early organizer of the Women's Tennis Association, Shriver is now a United States Tennis Association board member. Her popular Baltimore charity tennis event is in its 15th year and has raised $2.7 million for local children's groups. She has no immediate plans to run for anything, but would be a formidable candidate in Maryland if she chose to.

Tiger Woods—Golf
Quickly becoming one of the world's most admired sportsmen, Woods is a political consultant's dream candidate: intelligent, articulate, with a big personal financial war chest and roots in electorally rich Florida and California. "He's from four different ethnic groups, and he gets the corporate vote because he golfs, which is the unofficial religion of America," observes CNN's Jeff Greenfield. Woods may have lost some union votes by filming a Buick ad during the Screen Actors Guild strike. He has no political plans at present, which is OK because he only just recently passed the minimum age to serve in Congress (25).

Steve Young—Football (retired, 2000)
Young turned down entreaties from Republican leaders to run for Congress in Utah last year. His agent, Leigh Steinberg, says Young, a new father, will probably wait some time before entering politics. Young would probably run in California—likely for Senate or governor—where he played for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers and USFL's Los Angeles Express. Handsome and articulate, the three-time Super Bowl quarterback trained as a lawyer and is now involved in venture capital and TV broadcasting. Young and former favorite target Brent Jones could be the first pro teammates to serve in Congress. Young throws left but would vote right; he is a moderate Republican who spoke at the national convention in Philadelphia. Jay Leno suggested another option: "He suffered four concussions over the past year, and the doctors said that with one more he could be a Reform Party candidate."

« Previous Page