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9 professional athletes who became politicians
Vitali Klitschko's bid for president of Ukraine puts him in a league with other power-hungry athletes
 
Let the boxing-themed political slogans begin!
Let the boxing-themed political slogans begin! (Steve Grayson/WireImage)

In a gift to headline writers everywhere, heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko has announced he will run for president of Ukraine. While we're sure he will KO the opposition, or at least be a serious contender, it's worth musing briefly on the well-worn passage from sports to politics. Athletes from every corner of the sporting world have pursued the higher calling of political office.

Klitschko isn't even the only boxer to take a swing at politics; former eight division world champion Manny Pacquiao was elected to the Philippines' House of Representatives in 2010, representing the province of Sarangani. However, Pacquaio is far from undefeated in the world of politics — a previous run for the Filipino congress ended in failure.

So it's fair to say sports personalities have a mixed record in the political sphere. Here are a few who gave it their best shot:

Soccer: Andriy Shevchenko

(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Sporting record: Shevchenko played for Chelsea, AC Milan, and Dynamo Kiev during his seventeen-year career, winning the Champions League tournament with Milan in 2003 and 111 caps for his country — many as captain.

Political record: "Sheva" surprised his countrymen by running for a seat in Ukraine's parliament under the little-known banner of the Ukraine Forward! party in last year's elections. Sadly, when the final whistle was blown, the party had collected only 1.6 percent of the country's votes.

Which was he best at? The record speaks for itself. Even Shevchenko seems to have realized sports are where his future lies; he is now attempting to become a professional golfer.

Wrestling: Jesse Ventura

(Facebook/Jesse Ventura - The Official Facebook Page)

Sporting record: Jesse "The Body" Ventura began wrestling in the 1970s, before the World Wrestling Federation turned the sport into soap opera-like entertainment. He won nine National Wrestling Alliance championships before becoming a WWF showman in 1980.

Political record: Ventura was mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., from 1991 to 1995, before shocking the state's political classes in 1999 with a surprise victory in the gubernatorial race. As governor, he reformed Minnesota's property tax and cut income taxes.

Which was he best at? Ventura has actually found his greatest success in conspiracy theorizing. His TV show Conspiracy Theory ran for three seasons and he is set to publish a book on President John F. Kennedy's assassination. His days in politics may not be over yet, either — Ventura says he is considering a run for president in 2016.

Basketball: Bill Bradley

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press)

Sporting record: "Dollar Bill" Bradley played as both a forward and a guard for Princeton before joining the New York Knicks in 1965. He went on to win two championship titles and was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1983.

Political record: Bradley was a three-term Democratic senator for New Jersey, ending his political career with a run for president in 2000.

Which was he best at? Bradley was a reasonably popular senator but will not be joining any political halls of fame for his performance as a presidential candidate. He ran as a liberal alternative to Al Gore, and failed to win a single primary or caucus. His b-ball accomplishments are more impressive.

Mixed Martial Arts: Chris Lytle

(Facebook/Chris Lytle)

Sporting record: Lytle retired from the UFC in 2012 after making $515,000 in prize money over a decade-long career.

Political record: The pugilist sought the Republican nomination for an Indiana state senate seat in 2012, but conceded defeat in May. "I finished 2nd," he told his Twitter followers. "It was a good fight."

Which was he best at? Given his senate run was over before it even began, Lytle's career in the cage was definitely the more successful.

Football: Jack Kemp

(Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Sporting record: Kemp's career as an NFL quarterback began badly, after the 17th round draft pick was cut by the Detroit Lions in 1957 before the season even kicked off. But he ended up flourishing at the Buffalo Bills, leading the team to two AFL championships and winning the league's MVP award in 1965.

Political record: Buoyed by his popularity in New York state, Kemp represented its 31st Congressional District for nine terms. Although a presidential bid in 1988 didn't work out, he ran as vice president alongside Bob Dole in 1996.

Which was he best at? Kemp's political legacy will endure for far longer than his bumpy sporting legacy. When he died in 2009, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) memorialized him as "a powerful voice in American politics for more than four decades," and NOT a middling quarterback who brought his team a pair of unlikely successes.

Cricket: Imran Khan

(Bob Martin/Getty Images)

Sporting record: Khan is regularly described as one of the greatest cricketers of the 20th century, whose extraordinary ability with both ball and bat — making him an "all-rounder" in cricket terms — transformed Pakistani cricket and won the country a World Cup title in 1992.

Political record: Khan launched his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party in 1996, and after a rough start he has grown it into one of the leading players on the country's political scene. It won 27 seats in this year's general elections, and turned Khan into a potential future prime minister.

Which was he best at? It's a tricky one, as Khan has genuinely thrived in both sports and politics. ESPN calls him "the finest cricketer Pakistan has ever produced," while The Economist says Khan "has helped to reshape politics" in Pakistan. Let's call it a tie — something cricket fans will be more than familiar with.

Hockey: Ken Dryden

(Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Sporting record: Dryden tended goal in the NHL for eight seasons in the 1970s, winning six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Political record: Dryden was elected to the Canadian parliament in 2004 — his motto? "The puck stops here" — and later served in the cabinet as minister of social development. He lost his seat as an MP in 2011.

Which was he best at? Hockey, hands down. Even articles about his political legacy begin with the words "hockey legend Ken Dryden."

Baseball: Jim Bunning

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Sporting record: A seven-time All Star and Hall of Famer since 1996, Bunning threw no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues during his seventeen-year career, and in 1964 recorded the first perfect game in the National League since 1880.

Political record: Bunning ascended through the political ranks after his baseball career, going from Kentucky state senator in 1979 to a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1998. He served two terms before retiring in 2010.

Which was he best at? While Bunning will be proud of his Hall of Fame nomination, he won't be crowing about some of the awards he won as politician — for example, he was named one of "America's Five Worst Senators" by TIME magazine in 2006, who said he "shows little interest in policy unless it involves baseball." Let's put it nicely: America will probably remember him as a sportsman.

 
Dan Stewart is a senior editor at The Week magazine. Originally from the U.K., he has been living in the United States since 2009.

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