Changing arenas: Athletes can play political game, too

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U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) played 14 seasons in the NFL for three teams, including the Eagles.

Upon hanging up their cleats, skates, or sneakers, many professional athletes walk off into the sunset and are rarely heard from again - except for an appearance at an old-timer's game or a reunion. Some head to the TV booth or become pitchmen for luxury cars or toil in the minor leagues or sit at the end of the bench as an assistant.

Then there are those who trade the dirt and grime of the trenches for the marbled hallways of Congress.

Jon Runyan, Steve Largent, Bill Bradley, Jack Kemp, and Jim Bunning have all made this transition from the sports arena to the political arena.

"There is no one answer to why athletes pursue careers in politics," said Stan Hochman, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. "Some want to maintain the life of media attention that politics provide. Others may have special interest, like environmental issues they want to pursue."

Not all former athletes are successful in their bid for political office. Former Steelers wideout and Hall of Famer Lynn Swann failed in his attempt as a Republican candidate to become governor of Pennsylvania in 2006.

Former Phillies great and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning decided to enter politics after his playing days were over in 1971.

"He was a hardworking pitcher and was always prepared for games," recalled Hochman.

With his playing days behind him, Bunning returned to his home state of Kentucky, where as a Republican he served as a U.S. representative and senator for many years.

Jon Runyan, who is completing his first term as a representative for New Jersey's Third Congressional District, was another athlete who went into politics.

Before calling it a career in 2010, the 6-foot-7 offensive lineman played 14 seasons in the NFL for three teams.

"Runyan was a tremendous player who never made excuses. He was effective and mean on the field, and played in unbelievable pain toward the end of his career," said Sam Donnellon, a Daily News sports reporter.

Who said there isn't life after sports?