New York Jets owner Woody Johnson (center) has donated more than $115,000 to the GOP since January 2009.
By now, we've grown used to seeing gridiron stars transition into politics when their playing days are done. And whether it's former Buffalo Bills quarterback (and George H.W. Bush-era housing secretary) Jack Kemp or Hall of Fame wide receiver (and four-term Oklahoma congressman) Steve Largent—to say nothing of Rep. Heath Shuler (a Blue Dog Democrat in North Carolina)—these politically engaged former players have tended to lean right.
So perhaps it's no surprise that, according to a new study by the Center for Responsive Politics, the majority of contributions by NFL teams in the past couple of years have gone to the GOP. Of the more than $1.4 million donated by team executives, players, and coaches since January 2009, some $970,000, or 67 percent, has gone to Republicans, while Democrats have received $420,000.
Here's a look at the NFL's top political contributors, by team:
Courtesy Center for Responsive Politics
Yet, despite the fact that the average NFL player's salary is nearly $2 million, it's the billionaires—i.e., the owners—and not the millionaires who are most active with political money. As you can see, the Houston Texans were the NFL's biggest political donor, giving over $293,100 since 2009—the majority of which was donated by team owner and energy magnate Bob McNair, who has tossed $185,700 to the GOP during that time. Overall, just 2 percent of the Texans' political contributions have gone to Democrats in the past three years or so. (The only team to donate a larger percentage to Republicans was the Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones' club has given 100 percent of contributions to GOPers, but it has donated just $17,366.)
The next four teams on the list—the San Diego Chargers, the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals, and the Miami Dolphins—all have given more than $100,000. Considering that the Chargers' owner, real estate billionaire Alex Spanos, has given more than $2 million since 1990 (mostly to Republicans), it's no surprise to see them near the top of the list. Also of note: Jets owner Woody Johnson—the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune who once put together a New York City fundraiser for John McCain that raised some $7 million in one night—was the second-largest individual donor, at $130,550 (88 percent of which went to GOPers).
Meanwhile, the Dolphins were the only team among the top five to give more to Democrats ($52,450) than to Republicans ($45,500); their owner, real estate mogul Stephen Ross, donated more money to Democrats ($37,200) than any other NFL-related donor. Ross was joined by the league's wealthiest exec, Seattle Seahawks owner and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who sent $36,000 to Democrats (and none to Republicans), and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who donated nearly $29,000 to Dems.
That said, players and coaches barely showed up in the study. Linebacker Dhani Jones, who has played with the Giants, Eagles, and Bengals, has given more than $25,000; Cincinnati safety Gibril Wilson, $15,000. Both players have donated exclusively to Democrats. No word if either is considering a second career in politics.