What is the history of NFL players seeking elected office? A look at some of the most notable

When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. went looking for a running mate to support his 2024 presidential campaign, one name on his short list grabbed the attention of football fans and political pundits alike. New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers is reportedly among the people Kennedy — who is running as an independent — is considering to be his vice president on an independent ticket, according to The New York Times. Kennedy will announce his running mate on March 26 in Oakland, Calif., his campaign announced Wednesday, and Kennedy told CNN he has “made up his mind” on the choice.

If Rodgers is Kennedy’s choice, it would be unconventional for a few reasons. First, every elected vice president in American history had previous political or military experience before taking the position. And while former NFL players have run — successfully — for political office, former is a key word. It’s not clear how Rodgers would balance a campaign season with playing quarterback for the Jets, if Kennedy asks him to join the ticket.

Going from the ticket to the White House is another story. In the latest polling data from Fox News, Kennedy garnered 13 percent of the vote when subjects were asked how they would vote if the election were today. That was far behind Donald Trump (41 percent) and Joe Biden (38 percent).


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But, as mentioned, former professional football players have run for political office, including one current U.S. representative in Texas. Here’s a look at some who made the jump from playbooks to politics with varying degrees of success:

Jack Kemp

Before he served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1971-89), representing New York, and worked as Housing Secretary during President George H.W. Bush’s lone term in office (1989-93), Jack Kemp was a quarterback struggling to make an NFL roster. He found success in the American Football League, leading the Buffalo Bills to AFL titles in 1964 and ’65.

Kemp launched his first campaign in 1970, but he dabbled in political circles during his playing career as a volunteer on presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign and Ronald Reagan’s 1966 California gubernatorial campaign. Following the 1967 AFL season, Kemp worked on Reagan’s staff in Sacramento.

After multiple concussions, Kemp retired from professional football in 1969 as the AFL’s all-time leading passer with 21,130 yards.

In 1996, Kemp made his run for vice president on the Republican ticket alongside Bob Dole. Incumbent President Bill Clinton won reelection.

Steve Largent

Steve Largent solidified himself as one of the best wide receivers in NFL history and a Seattle Seahawks legend over his 14 seasons with the franchise before returning to his home state of Oklahoma to pursue a political path. He ended his NFL career with 819 receptions for 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Largent, a Republican, won a special election in 1994 to take office as a congressman in Oklahoma’s first district and was reelected for three consecutive terms. After an Oklahoma gubernatorial bid in 2002 fell short, Largent has not sought any other political positions.



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Heath Shuler

Heath Shuler’s six-year stint in Congress as a Democrat representing North Carolina’s 11th congressional district followed a tumultuous NFL career that never quite got off the ground. He was a star for the Tennessee Volunteers, passing for 2,354 yards and 25 touchdowns during the 1993 season, and was subsequently drafted by Washington with the No. 3 pick in the 1994 draft. Poor performances and a foot injury hampered Shuler’s NFL aspirations, and he worked in real estate before running for Congress in 2006.

Colin Allred

Current U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) was first elected to his position out of Texas’ 32nd congressional district in 2018.

Initially an undrafted free agent signee with the Tennessee Titans in 2006, Allred was waived twice before making his NFL debut in December 2007. He appeared in 32 games as a linebacker for the Titans, recording 46 tackles over four seasons.

Following the 2010 season, Allred became a free agent but did not sign with another team, instead attending the UC Berkeley School of Law. He completed his J.D. in 2014 and worked as a voting rights attorney before seeking an elected role.

He launched a Senate campaign against Ted Cruz in May 2023. Allred won the Democratic primary in Texas and will face Cruz in the 2024 election.

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Colin Allred serves as the U.S. representative from Texas’s 32nd congressional district. (Photo: Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images)

Herschel Walker

A star running back out of the University of Georgia, Herschel Walker attempted to ride that name recognition to the Senate when running to represent Georgia in the 2022 midterm election. The Republican nominee, who played three seasons in the United States Football League and 12 seasons in the NFL, had no prior political experience and ultimately ended his campaign with a loss to current Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

His on-field accomplishments included leading the Bulldogs to the 1980 national championship, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1982 and being named USFL MVP in 1985 before the league folded.

Anthony Gonzalez

Anthony Gonzalez entered the House of Representatives alongside Allred in 2018 when he won his campaign in Ohio’s 16th congressional district. Gonzalez, a Republican, won reelection in 2020 but did not run again in 2022.

As a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Gonzalez spent five seasons playing wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts. He started 12 of the 40 games he played and caught 99 passes for 1,307 yards, which included seven touchdown receptions. Following his football career, Gonzalez earned a master’s of business administration from Stanford.

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Anthony Gonzalez represented Ohio’s 16th congressional district from 2019 to 2023. (Photo: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

Jon Runyan’s stint as a congressman representing New Jersey was relatively short compared to his 14-year run as an offensive lineman in the NFL. He played with the Houston Oilers through the franchise’s move to Tennessee, spent nine years with the Philadelphia Eagles and concluded his athletic career after five games with the San Diego Chargers in 2009.

He launched his congressional bid following the end of the 2009 season and served two terms as a Republican in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015.

Runyan found his way back to the NFL after concluding his political career, joining the league’s football operations team as vice president of the policy and rules administration in 2016. His son, Jon Runyan Jr., was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. He spent four seasons playing on the Packers’ offensive line and recently agreed to a three-year deal with the New York Giants.

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(Photo: Rich Storry / Getty Images)

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