“The Sunday Political Brunch”—February 5, 2017

Sunday, February 05, 2017


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I chuckled the other night when U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch paid tribute to the Justice for whom he had clerked, the late legal (and football) great, Byron “Whizzer” White. Gorsuch said White was “the only Justice who ever lead the NFL in rushing!” It reminded me of the columns I’ve written on Super Bowl Sundays for the past six years, honoring great athletes who went on to stellar careers in the political arena. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Here Comes the Justice” – In college and then in the NFL, he was known as Byron “Whizzer” White and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. In Washington, D.C., they called him Justice Byron White, the only NFL player ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court (photo above). He was also Deputy Attorney General to Robert F. Kennedy, and administered the Oath of Office to Vice President Al Gore. Like Gorsuch, White was a Colorado native, who - in fact - led the NFL in rushing in 1938 and 1940. White is the only person from Colorado yet to serve on the high court.

“Here Comes the Judge” – Alan Page was one of the greatest defensive lineman in NFL history, and is in the Hall of Fame. A Notre Dame graduate, Page went to the University of Minnesota Law School in the off-seasons and was a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2015. Page played in four Super Bowls, and his team lost them all.

“Ford Motors” – Certainly the most athletic of our Presidents was Gerald Ford. He was an All-American in football at the University of Michigan, and was drafted to play in the NFL by both the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. But Ford chose to go to Yale Law School instead and helped coach the Ivy League football team. He also was an assistant football coach at my alma mater, St. Mary’s College of California, which was a national football powerhouse back in the 1940s and 50s. Like most modern Presidents, Ford was an avid golfer.

“The NFL in Congress” – There have been several NFL players who later turned to politics and won seats in Congress. They include Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks, Heath Schuler of the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints, and Jon Runyan of the Philadelphia Eagles. Canadian Football star J.C. Watts served eight years in Congress from Oklahoma.

“That’s Quite a Class” – New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick will be coaching his seventh Super Bowl team this year. Belichick is a 1971 graduate of the prestigious Phillips Academy Andover. His classmates included former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), a candidate for President in 2016, and former Governor Lincoln Chafee (D-RI), also a candidate for President in 2016. Patriots executive Ernie Adams was also in that class. At one of his White House Super Bowl receptions, Belichick posed with President George W. Bush, who graduated from the same prep school in 1964.

“A Close Second” – Nineteen ninety-six Republican Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp was an NFL quarterback for the New York Giants, but did not get to play in the 1957 NFL Championship. He also played with the San Diego Chargers and the Buffalo Bills in the old AFL, playing in five AFL Championships games, winning in 1965 and taking home the MVP trophy. Kemp served 18 years in Congress and was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George H.W. Bush.

“Player; Coach; and Congressman” – Tom Osborne had quite a career. After graduating from Hastings College in Nebraska, he went on to play in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins. Later he would be one of the most successful coaches in college football history, winning three national championships at the University of Nebraska. While that’s enough of a career for one lifetime, Osborne turned to politics, winning three terms in Congress before retiring in 2007.

Who is your favorite athlete-politician? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.


Related Slideshow: Trump’s National Advisers with RI Ties

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Ken McKay

Chief of staff to former Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri, McKay has woven a trail of key GOP appointments for himself that have led him to his latest position, when he was brought on board the Trump campaign in April as one of his top advisers. 

McKay was former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s chief of staff, and was the Political Director at the Republican Governors Association’s under Chris Christie’s chairmanship -- and was a key Christie consultant this presidential cycle until the the NJ Governor stepped down and threw his support behind Trump.

“McKay’s a huge asset for Trump. He’s got both the national ties, and he’s got the inside the beltway relationships that Trump doesn’t have,” said Rhode Island political operative Jeff Britt. “McKay’s well liked and well-respected in a way that Trump isn’t, and I think that will have an effect.”

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Jim Murphy

A recent shake up in the Trump campaign has been the hiring of veteran operative Jim Murphy as its political director — who had served as advisor to former Rhode Island House Minority leader Brad Gorham when he ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General in 1990.  

Murphy has worked with other presidential candidates including Bob Dole and Mitt Romney, and is the former president of the Republican PR and lobby shop DCI Group.

Gorham's son Nick, who is a former state representative, remembers Murphy’s involvement in the race. Brad Gorham passed away in 2015. 

"Jim Murphy was a nice guy who helped my dad, but it was a tough year for Republicans, which is non unusual for RI," said Gorham.  

Photo: LinkedIn

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Paul Manafort

Trump's now top campaign strategist has GOP ties to Rhode Island, having been a top campaign aide for former Rhode Island Governor Ed DiPrete in the 1980s.

Politico mentioned Manafort's DiPrete connection when he joined forces with the presumptive GOP nominee in April; Manafort's presence on the national stage has been well documented.

"For Trump, who has cast himself as an outsider to the Republican Party firmament, there could hardly be a less outsider-y pick than his new hire. Manafort was uniquely predisposed to become an insider in Republican politics: His father, for whom he was named, served as mayor for three terms in New Britain, Conn. When the elder Paul Manafort died in 2013, his obituary noted that he had served as a delegate or alternate delegate at past Republican national conventions," wrote Rebecca Berg for RealClearPolitics.com.

Another DiPrete operative — Marc Palazzo — had been named in the press as having had recent conversations with Manafort, but Palazzo told GoLocal he is not involved with the campaign in any capacity.


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