Craig James’ 50,000 votes (out of 1.4 million cast in the June 6 primary) would barely fill half the seats in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium.
James’ saga offers a cautionary tale for any sports superstar looking to trade on-field glory for an elected office. The two don’t always mix well.
After a stellar high school career as a running back, James brought his talents to Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, a program that later became known for big-time talent and corrupt pay-to-play practices. After college, James spent a handful of seasons in the pros.
Like many former jocks, James went into broadcasting after his playing days. By late last year when he stepped down from a job with ESPN to run for the U.S. Senate, James was a frequent on-screen presence on the network’s college football coverage.
In theory, the math should have been friendly for James — telegenic, well-known and a legend of Lone Star State football. In a nine-candidate field, all that must count for something.
What could go wrong? Plenty.
In a state like Texas (which is similar to Alabama on this count), fans come in different flavors. So, while a former star may have a built-in fan base, he’ll also have a set of potential voters still carrying a grudge over what he did to those fine boys at State U. back in the day.
A public and particularly nasty feud between James and his son’s college football coach — Mike Leach, now formerly of Texas Tech — may have soured the voters on the candidate.
Also, the mood of voters didn’t mesh well with James. In other times, a former football star could win elected office and amble his way into a lengthy career as a senator, congressman or governor. In Texas, Republican voters had little patience with such sentiment. The two candidates in the runoff are serious politicians promising to carry the conservative banner for the people of Texas; both vow to repeal Obamacare, cut spending and drastically reduce the size of government.
Glory days of yore on the gridiron don’t always cut it, which former athletes from Alabama might recall if they ever get the itch to run for office.