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5 Athletes Who Struggled as Politicians

Getty Images
Getty Images

Once athletes are done dominating on the field, they're free to take their millions of dollars and go enjoy lives of golf and celebrity restaurant ownership. Some former sports stars, though, eschew this easy life in favor of entering an even more competitive arena: politics. While some achieve great triumphs in the political world, like basketball star Bill Bradley, NFL quarterbacks Jack Kemp and Heath Shuler, and retired Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, others struggle to find their niche as public servants. Here are a few of our favorite campaigns that didn't pan out:

1. Jerry "The King" Lawler Tries to Become Mayor

It's tough to knock anything about Jerry "The King" Lawler's professional wrestling career. The man boasts over a hundred title reigns across various promotions, has had a successful career as a commentator, and even feuded with comedian Andy Kaufman.  Throughout his career, he maintained strong ties to his hometown of Memphis, and in 1999 Lawler made a bid at becoming the city's next mayor. His platform was largely predicated upon what he called "common sense," and included cutting costs, making streets safer, undertaking beautification projects, and improving schools.
Although Lawler's platform and status as a favorite son may have been appealing to some voters, he wasn't able to deliver one of his trademark piledrivers to incumbent Willie Herenton, who grabbed 45.7 percent of the vote to win a third term. Lawler came in at a distant third with 11.7 percent of the vote. Of course,  he probably didn't help his chances when he attacked a police officer during a dispute on airport parking. He did, however, make some terrific campaign ads:

2. Another "King" Tries to Become Secretary of State

Maybe there's something about having the nickname "The King" that makes retired stars want to run for office, but Lawler's fellow "King," NASCAR legend Richard Petty decided to run for North Carolina Secretary of State in 1996. The state's Republican party thought this idea sounded like a perfect fit for NASCAR-crazed North Carolina, and Petty's signature cowboy hat, shades, and mustache hit the political trail. However, pundits soon learned that an old racer's habits die hard. Petty became embroiled in a scandal when he used his racing knowledge to deal with a slowpoke who wouldn't let him pass on I-85; like any good stock car driver would, Petty allegedly sped up and gave the driver a little bump. Petty paid a measly $65 fine for the incident, but it probably didn't help his campaign. He ended up losing to Democratic candidate Elaine Marshall 53.48-45.17.

3. Lynn Swann Runs a Gubernatorial Route

Likewise, former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann had a football career almost beyond compare. The Hall of Famer boasts four Super Bowl rings, three trips to the Pro Bowl, and a spot on the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s. He could not, however, catch the political hearts of Pennsylvanians when he ran for governor in 2006.
Swann, a Republican, squared off against incumbent governor Ed Rendell, a popular former mayor of Philadelphia. Swann's hope seemed to be grabbing the conservative middle section of the state and swinging in some Steelers fans from his native Pittsburgh. His platform included changing the property tax structure and "reforming" Harrisburg through "change." Nobody seemed to know what these ridiculously vague notions meant, though, and Swann quickly fell in a large fundraising hole to Rendell. By the time the election rolled around, Rendell handily thumped Swann, who collected just under 40 percent of the vote. Great campaign ads for football fans, though

4. Olympian Tries to Swordfight With FDR

Henry S. Breckenridge may not be the most instantly recognizable name on this list, but he was a world-class athlete in his day. Blessed with a privileged upbringing, Breckenridge graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law and found himself sitting in the position of Assistant Secretary of War under Woodrow Wilson at just 27 years old. He was also a terrific fencer who competed in the 1912 Olympics before captaining the American squad at the 1928 Olympics. Breckenridge, who was a member of the Army Officers' Fencing Club, was tough to beat with a sword, but unfortunately for him, he was a bit less intimidating at the polls. He made an unsuccessful run at a Senate seat from New York as part of the Constitutional Party in 1934; his efforts garnered less than one percent of the vote.
Following this defeat, Breckenridge, who opposed the New Deal, took on an even more Herculean task: he actually ran against Franklin Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination for president in 1936. Roosevelt, who was wildly popular at the time, didn't file for the New Jersey primary. It ended up being the only state in which Breckenridge made a respectable showing. By the time the votes were counted, FDR had racked up close to five million supporters, while Breckenridge only had 136,000, or a margin of victory of roughly 93 percent to three percent.

5. Sports Prodigy Fails to Nab Parliament Seats

C.B. Fry's legend in the U.K. is almost on par with Jim Thorpe's mystique in the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, Fry wasn't just a standout in one sport; it seemed like he was dominating them all. He excelled at cricket in a way that no one had ever really seen before, including a stunning six consecutive first-class centuries in 1901. He was strong enough at soccer to play both professionally and on England's national team. On top of all that, Fry also held the world long-jump record!
All of these facts may it tough luck for Fry that England didn't elect its MPs via decathlon, in which case he would have been a lock. He ran as a reforming Liberal for a seat from Sussex, but fell 5,000 votes short. Undeterred, Fry later unsuccessfully tried to win a set from Banbury and then took another close loss for a seat from Oxford.  After gracefully accepting these three defeats, Fry quit campaigning for Parliament. He did, however, finally get a little bit of political love when he became delegate to the League of Nations for three years during the 1920s. According to rumor, he was even considered as a candidate to be king of Albania during this period.

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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