Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate? Bad for Sports, Bad for Georgia, Bad for the Country--and especially Bad for African Americans
Haven't we learned the hard way that celebrity doesn't always translate into political competence?
The once-great football player Herschel Walker is running for the U.S. Senate seat from Georgia, and I can’t decide whether it’s a cosmic prank from Loki or the first sign of the impending zombie apocalypse.
For years I’ve been encouraging professional athletes to take an active role in bettering their communities through political and social activism. I’ve been soap-boxing about it so long that this year the NBA inaugurated the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award which they presented to the Maverick’s Reggie Bullock. Maybe just to shut me up.
I’ve always argued that it’s the responsibility of highly paid athletes to use their privileged platform to better the lives of others. That’s just the right thing to do. It also has the added benefit of elevating professional sports in the eyes of the public from being just greedy profit conglomerates raking in billions to being integral boosters of the communities that finance them. And it also elevates athletes from stereotypes of dumb gym rats with more bulging muscle than brain matter to grateful and compassionate neighbors. Sometimes that means promoting their charities and sometimes it means courageously standing up (or kneeling down) against systemic oppression in the form of peaceful protest.
When Athletes Run for Political Office
Yet, sometimes athletes and former athletes want to take advantage of their fame by running for political office. That’s where things get tricky because, depending on the office, that’s a lot of power suddenly in the hands of someone just because they could slamdunk a basketball, slug home runs, or run touchdowns. None of these skills preclude someone from doing well as a politician, but neither do they add anything.
Sure, there are useful qualities a professional athlete can bring to the political table: discipline, working with a team, negotiating contracts, the ability to thrive under enormous pressure. Yet, to hold an important political office we should demand much, much more. Integrity. (You listening, Ted Cruz? JK. You never do.) A well-developed platform of specific plans they intend to pursue in office. The ability to use evidence-based logic (not just party talking points) when forming opinions, especially when your decisions will heavily affect the daily lives of so many others.
Now, let’s take a closer look at Herschel Walker, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, one of the most powerful offices in the country. Is he the embodiment of “giving back to the people” or of using his fame so he can exploit the people? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter.
It’s painful for me to openly oppose an athlete of Walker’s stature, especially after all my preaching about athletes taking responsibility. It’s also painful for me to oppose an African American, especially running in Georgia, which has been full-speed ahead passing racist laws that restrict voting and restrict schools to discuss race. A Black U.S. Senator could help reverse the state’s enthusiasm for racist laws.
Just not this Black candidate.
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Walker’s Competency to Lead
Is Walker competent to lead? The answer can be found in his recent response to Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams criticizing Georgia for its low national ranking in addressing mental health treatment, maternal mortality, incarceration rates and wages. Walker’s answer: “If you don’t believe in the country, leave and go somewhere else. If it’s the worst state, why are you here? Why don’t you leave ― go to another? There’s, what, 51 more other states that you can go to?”
Yeah, he thinks there are 52 states. (Ok, candidate Barack Obama once said he’d visited 57 states when he meant 47. But that’s not really the same thing.)
Worse, he offered the cliched “love it or leave it” mantra. If you go to the doctor with an acute pain, the doctor doesn’t say, “Love your body the way it is or throw yourself off a bridge.” They identify the problem and try to cure you. Abrams stated verifiable Google-it facts about the state. Walker offered no solutions, just attacked the doctor for her diagnosis. Ignoring issues by waving a state flag doesn’t improve anyone’s lives.