Athletes From Ohio Who Went into Politics

News May 2, 2022

From playmakers to lawmakers – which Ohio stars made the leap?

The crossover between sports and politics is a hotly debated topic these days, but some former ballplayers and coaches put their money where their mouth is, and campaign for office once their on-field days are over!

The state of Ohio has been home – either personally or professionally – to many of these players-turned-politicians. In this article, we rank the Ohio sports figures who’ve made a turn into politics after their playing days.

Athlete/CoachSportPolitical PositionBackground
8. Wayne MessamNFL football (Cincinnati Bengals)Mayor of Miramar, FL; ran for U.S. President in 2020Messam starred at Florida State University as a wide receiver and spent a brief time with the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1997 preseason.   His post-playing days took him to Miramar, FL where he spent four years on the City Commission before being elected Mayor in 2015.   In 2019, his campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination for U.S. President was cut short when he failed to qualify for the first debate. He continues to serve as mayor of Miramar.
7. Chris DudleyNBA basketball (Cleveland Cavaliers)Ran for governor or Oregon in 2010Dudley was drafted in the 4th round by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1987. His career stats were modest (four points, six rebounds per game) but he played 16 NBA seasons.   After retiring, he settled in Oregon (home of his final NBA team, the Trail Blazers) and ran for governor in 2010.   Dudley raised more money than any gubernatorial candidate in the state’s history but would lose the general election by a mere 22,000 votes.
6. Tommy TubervilleCollege football coach (University of Cincinnati)U.S. SenatorTuberville’s storied coaching career spanned 21 seasons and ended with a four-year stint at the University of Cincinnati from 2013-2016, where he amassed a record of 29-22 and won a share of the American Athletic Conference title in 2014.   In 2018, Tuberville moved to Alabama and ran against incumbent Doug Jones for a U.S. Senate seat.   As he often did on the football field, Tuberville pulled the upset in the primary, toppling U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions before beating Jones in the general election. He will next be up for re-election in 2026.
5. Alan PageCollege/NFL Football Hall of FamerJustice of the Minnesota Supreme CourtPage played collegiately at Notre Dame and professionally with the Minnesota Vikings but was one of the highest-rated high school football prospects ever in the state of Ohio.   His combined sports/political career may be the most impressive on this list. After winning a national title and being recognized as an All-American at Notre Dame, Page was drafted by the Vikings in the first round in 1967.   As a stalwart of the vaunted “Purple People Eaters” defense, Page played in three Super Bowls, winning Defensive Player of the Year and league MVP in 1971.   In 1988, he entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, followed by the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.   In between, he began his ‘second’ career as an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992. He won re-election three times before taking retirement when he turned 70 in the year 2010.
4. Sam WycheNFL football (Cincinnati Bengals)County Councilman in Pickens County, South CarolinaWyche’s NFL career as a quarterback began with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1968.   It was an undistinguished eight-year journey in which he threw for only 12 TDs, but he’d make his name known when he returned as head coach in 1984, leading the Bengals to a pair of division title and the 1988 AFC championship.   After four seasons coaching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Wyche spent some time as a broadcaster before getting into the political arena as a county councilman in Pickens County, South Carolina in 2008.   Wyche served one term, and actually briefly returned to coaching at the high school level before his passing in 2020.
3. Kevin JohnsonNBA basketball (Cleveland Cavaliers)Mayor of Sacramento, CAThe Cavaliers’ first-round pick in 1987 didn’t see his career in the NBA take off until he was traded to Phoenix, where he became a three-time all-star, averaging 18 points and nine assists per game over a 12-year career.   He would return home to the capital city of California and become the first African American mayor of Sacramento in 2008.   Johnson served two terms and distinguished himself by launching several educational initiatives designed to benefit inner-city students. He also played a pivotal role in keeping Sacramento’s NBA franchise, the Kings, from accepting offers to relocate to Anaheim or Seattle.
2. Anthony GonzalezCollege football (Ohio State University)U.S. Representative, Ohio’s 16th DistrictBorn and raised in Cleveland, Gonzalez starred at St. Ignatius High School and was first-team All-Big Ten during the Buckeyes’ conference championship 2006 season.   Drafted in the first round by the Indianapolis Colts, Gonzalez’s injury-plagued NFL career featured 1,307 receiving yards and seven touchdowns before his 2011 retirement.   He earned his MBA from Stanford and returned home to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018, an election he won easily becoming the first person of Latino descent to represent Ohio in Congress.   He was re-elected in 2020 but announced that he would not seek a third term this coming fall.
1. Jim JordanCollege wrestling (Ohio State University)U.S. Representative, Ohio’s 4th DistrictOne of the greatest college wrestlers of all time, Jordan amassed 156 career victories at the University of Wisconsin, winning two NCAA title and receiving All-American recognition three consecutive years.   Jordan was an assistant coach for Ohio State wrestling from 1987-1994 before going into politics.   He served in the state’s General Assembly before winning a seat in the state Senate in 2000, and finally moving into the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007.   Jordan is now serving his 8th term and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2021.

Ohio Sports Figures with a Future in Politics?

Here are a few more Ohio sports figures who we think could make a successful move into politics:

Kirk Herbstreit. The former Ohio State quarterback has seen his media profile grow during his 25 years on ESPN. He now stars in TV commercials, and his personality and approachable reputation makes him a natural for public office.

Jim Tressel. Jokingly called ‘Senator Tressel’ by rival fans while he coached at Ohio State because of his spiffy sideline apparel, Tressel had to publicly deny interest in running for Senate as recently as last year. It’s clear Ohio sports fans think the current Youngstown State University president would be a natural.

LeBron James. ‘The King’ has never been shy to discuss social issues, and last month’s NBA All-Star Game in Cleveland proves his popularity remains as high as ever in the Buckeye State.

Joe Burrow. He’s only 25 years old, and clearly has a prolific NFL career to enjoy. But he’s outgoing, gives great interviews, and might be the most popular athlete in Ohio in 2022 after the Bengals’ Super Bowl run. If he wants to run for office in the future, he’d be tough to beat.

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