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General News    H3'ed 10/29/08

More celebrity athletes put money on Obama

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I started my journalism career some three decades ago as a sportswriter, which was then my second choice as a career after a bum knee sidelined my dream of being a pro basketballer.

OK, I was good in high school and at a small Texas college, but I knew, deep down, my shot at the NBA was longer than the Republican Party’s litany of dirty tricks. All I wanted to do was play in Europe and maybe even warm the bench for an NBA team for a year or two, and then write a tell-all insider’s book that would launch my writing career.

Since that book opportunity didn’t materialize, I covered sports for newspapers for a few years before that bored me and I tried crime, politics, business and the arts. But I still watch sports, though perhaps not with as much passion as I did in my youth.

That’s why I don’t belittle what NBA superstar LeBron James and some other high-profile athletes are doing in their public support of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. I realize that such support by James, whose marketing appeal is close to that of Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, is really jeopardizing what he once said was his dream to become a worldwide brand.

At a Democratic rally in early October in Ohio, LeBron said, “I think we all want a change.”  He and and Grammy-winning rapper Jay-Z also will host a concert and rally for Obama on Oct. 29 in Cleveland.  

In addition, LeBron has put his money where his mouth is, giving $20,000 to the Democratic White House Victory Fund, a joint committee supporting Obama and the Democratic Party. That was the first-time James has made a donation to a political campaign or committee, according to federal election records.

You may say that is small change to an athlete making millions each year, but relatively few athletes give a dime to political campaigns. Other first-time celebrity athletic donors in a presidential race who were inspired to give to Obama this time include Grant Hill of the Phoenix Suns, Baron Davis of the Los Angeles Clippers, Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, Shawn Marion of the Miami Heat, and Stephon Marbury and Chris Duhon of the New York Knicks. Former NFL running back Emmitt Smith and former NBA All-Stars Magic Johnson and Kevin Johnson also contributed to Obama, the first time they have done so to a presidential candidate.  

Just to show that not all pro athletes giving to Obama are black, other first-time presidential donors include Luke Walton of the Los Angeles Lakers. His father, former NBA great Bill Walton, also gave to Obama this year, following donations to other Democratic presidential candidates in previous years.

Etan Thomas of the Washington Wizards, Chris Paul of New Orleans, Greg Oden of Portland, Chauncey Billups of Detroit, Adonal Foyle of Orlando and Derek Fisher of the Lakers are other public supporters of Obama, who have participated in Democratic events this year. Michael Jordan, who supported Bill Bradley in the 2000 primary, also gave money to Obama.

I couldn’t find many Obama supporters among former or present elite athletes who play, or have played, football, baseball and hockey, save for Emmitt Smith and Chris Zorich. More of those gravitate towards Republicans, although the bulk don’t give to anyone.  

McCain donors include Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, former NFL quarterbacks Roger Staubach, John Elway and Troy Aikman. Cleveland Browns QB Brady Quinn has campaigned for McLame. Colts QB Peyton Manning gave to Republican Fred Thompson in the primary and Bush in 2004, while Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez gave to Giuliani in the primary and Bush in 2004. 

Incidentally, Bush’s former Secretary of State Colin Powell gave $2,300 to McCain in the primary last year, but then endorsed Obama this year. What’s up with that? Obama must have really made an impression on Powell for that sudden switch. 

A lot of athletes don’t want to risk alienating fans and marketing opportunities by contributing to a candidate. Among high-profile athletes who haven’t given any money to any political campaign are Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, football players Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Brett Favre, hoopsters Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Steve Nash, Shaq, Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki, and baseball  stars Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez. Some take stands in other ways. Nash, for instance, took a public stand against the Iraq war in 2003. 

The inaction by the bulk of pro athletes makes the action by the few like LeBron James seem that much more impressive. In our sports-crazy society, such action by James could make a big difference in convincing people to register and vote, especially when James campaigns in a key swing state like Ohio. 

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Jackson Thoreau is the pen name of a Washington, D.C.-area journalist/writer. Books include Not Our President: The Movement for Democracy and Against GOP Fascism [updated in 2022], The King of the Internet [2019], and Born to (more...)

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