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Athlete Politicos: Leave 'Em in the Locker Room

Strong sports professionals make lousy public officials.

| Tue Oct. 19, 2010 2:40 PM EDT

Sexy Bitch

Ventura may be gone from politics—he hosts a TV show about conspiracy theories—but wrestling is still trying to get a hold on us.

Linda McMahon is campaigning for the Senate in Connecticut as a savvy businesswoman who will bring fiscal restraint to a strapped, overblown state government through the usual Reaganomic supply-side measures, including—of course—various corporate tax cuts and the abolition of the estate tax and the gift tax. She may end up spending $50 million of her own money to join the senatorial ranks. No big deal. She and husband Vince built World Wrestling Entertainment into a billion dollar global enterprise, proving she can grow things, and to prove she knows how to enjoy her money, there is the McMahon's 47-foot yacht, Sexy Bitch.

Probably even more than pro football players—those other violent wide-bodies—wrestlers need steroids and pain medication to stay big, play hurt, and maintain their relentless schedule. (Many wrestlers, including Hulk Hogan, have admitted to steroid use.) One result may be that professional wrestlers are 20 times more likely than professional football players to die before the age of 45, according to a USA Today investigation.

Four wrestlers have died this year including, most recently, 29-year-old Lance McNaught (who fought as Lance Cade). His death of heart failure, after steroid and pain-pill abuse to keep himself in the game, brought up the issue of McMahon's culpability. How much did she know about her workers' drug use? Were her employees under so much pressure to perform—or lose their jobs—that the corporation should be blamed for their deaths? WWE conveniently deals with its wrestlers as independent contractors, offering no benefits, not even health insurance.

McMahon has successfully deflected confrontational campaign trail questions about McNaught's steroid use and the trail of dead wrestlers strewn behind the WWE. While she sometimes claims to know little about what she likes to call the "creative" side of wrestling—after all, she's the serious businesswoman—she has actually performed in the ring.

If you think wrestling is merely slabs of beef colliding in orchestrated mayhem, you haven't been paying attention. Big events include scripted mini-dramas that can play on for months among wrestlers, male and female, and even have included the McMahons. In one ongoing soap opera, Linda is being "emotionally abused" by Vince and falls into a "coma." When she awakes (in the ring), she accuses him of philandering and pretends to kick him in the groin.

You want that in the state house? We don't even need to go into whether or not she wants to decrease the minimum wage—as she once implied but now has backtracked on. My suspicion is that, if elected, she could well compete with the departing Republican Senator from Kentucky Jim Bunning for worst Jock Senator in history.

Last Pitch

As you might know, as a Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Bunning tossed a perfect game against the New York Mets in 1964. It was the high point of a 17-year Hall of Fame career. It also gave both sports and political writers license to hurl the word "imperfect" at his two-term senatorial record. In 2006, Time called him one of the worst five senators of his time. Time dubbed him "the underperformer." In their 2007 conservative/liberal rankings, National Journal had Bunning as the second-most conservative senator, trailing only that "Family" man, Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

In his final innings, Bunning notoriously prevented the Senate from extending unemployment benefits for more than 1.2 million workers for more than a month. When fellow senators begged him to halt his filibuster, according to Politico, Bunning's reply was: "Tough shit." Describing Bunning as "loutish, eccentric, and mean," Joe Conason in Salon accused him of using the Jim Bunning Foundation to shelter his fees from the baseball memorabilia shows at which he appeared to sell autographs.

It was the Republican Party that sent Bunning to the showers a couple of months ago. He decided not to run again because of lack of GOP support and funds. Score a rare one for the GOP. Bunning was my quintessential incumbent jerk-jock politician who you should never vote for. And he was stupid. Case in point: He said, "I watch Fox News to get my information."

Robert Lipsyte is a former New York Times sports columnist and Jock Culture correspondent for TomDispatch.com. His memoir, An Accidental Sportswriter, will be published next year. To catch Lipsyte discussing why jocks make such good candidates and poor politicians in a Timothy MacBain TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.

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