Former athletes becoming politicians is not an unusual leap. Many examples exist in American history, including Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford who were football-stars-turned-presidents. In the realm of Congress, Heath Shuler and Bill Bradley are likely familiar. Another example is Lynn Swann, a four-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer.
Those old enough to remember know Swann played for USC in his college years, then joined the celebrated Pittsburgh Steelers in the ’70s and ’80s. After his football years ended, he tried his hand at politics, but it didn’t quite work.
A look back at the golden Steelers years
Those who know their football history know the ’70s and early ’80s era of the Steelers were as good as it gets. Swann often shows up in tributes to the team as a reminder of how many Super Bowl rings he has.
In Swann’s debut year with the Steelers in 1974, he managed two touchdowns playing offense, but exploded to 11 the following year. This took him to fast stardom, including ABC hiring him to do football commentary only two years into his Steelers contract.
By the end of his football career, reports Pro-Football-Reference, he managed a total of 51 touchdowns, 336 receptions, and 116 games. Many critics thought his football skills were akin to watching ballet, reports the NIH, ironically an interest of Swann’s. His prowess in the broadcasting booth, though, already proved he was made to do more beyond football.
Thanks to a winning personality, Swann stuck with ABC Sports doing commentary for many years after, including for the Olympics. However, by the time George W. Bush became President, Swann (a Republican) found himself looking toward political ambitions.
Lynn Swann’s political attempts
In 2002, then-President George W. Bush appointed Swann to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Swann was perfectly fit for this role if seemingly providing the spark to go further on a political path.
In the interim, he helped create national physical fitness programs to promote kids and adults doing exercise programs for their physical health. Within a couple of years, he found himself considering running for governor of Pennsylvania on the Republican ticket.
Sure enough, he made his announcement in 2005, soon becoming the only Republican candidate after his conservative competitors quit the race. He managed to build substantial momentum with many thinking he had a good chance to win.
Democrat Ed Rendell was far too popular, however. By the 2006 election, Swann lost to Rendell after his competitor put together an expensive ad campaign. Money is always a factor in politics, something Swann’s campaign ran dry on during the campaign.
Swann becomes USC’s Athletic Director
Swann’s attempt at running for governor was not his only political ambition. He considered running for the U.S. House of Representatives representing Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he never filed to run, if still being actively involved in promoting other Republican politicians.
In 2008, he promoted John McCain for President and joined the campaign. For the 2012 election, Swann campaigned for Mitt Romney during Barack Obama’s reelection bid.
By the mid-2010s, Swann found himself being useful in sports again by becoming athletic director at the University of Southern California. This took him full circle to where he began in college.
It seems like this would be where Swann would end his career, reports the New York Times. When an FBI investigation took place about whether the school’s donor gave Swann personal preference in hiring him, the legend had to step down. No one wanted to see his career end like that, but his entire career is one still bringing smiles when thinking about a gilded age of football.