WHEN A hundred or
so well-connected, well-heeled Barack Obama supporters attended a Silicon
Valley fund-raiser for the candidate at the home of Symantec CEO John Thompson
and his wife, Sandi, in June 2007, they were a bit shocked by the figure
greeting them at the door. There was the smiling face of Los Angeles Clippers
point guard Baron Davis, who later emceed the event and did everything that
night but serve the hors d'oeuvres. When it came time to introduce the
candidate himself, it was Davis who did the honors, not the hosts, who are
minority owners of Davis's former team, the Golden State Warriors. Before
handing the microphone over to Obama, Davis bellowed, "Without further ado,
the next president of the United States!" and presented to the candidate a
Warriors jersey with OBAMA 08 on the back. "That," says Davis, "was
definitely one of the highlights of my life."
A coast away,
Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling has taken a similarly active role
supporting John McCain. He has taped a series of ads for the Republican
nominee, and he has touted McCain's candidacy on his popular blog,
38pitches.com. "If you vote for someone just because a celebrity does,
you're an idiot," he says. "At the same time, if I can help draw
attention to McCain and get people to hear his message, I'm going to do that.
He knows I'm a phone call away."
Obama accepted the Democratic party's nomination at Invesco Field, home of the
Denver Broncos. This week McCain will be officially nominated by the
Republicans at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, the arena for the NHL's Minnesota
Wild. And this is fitting. Galvanized largely by the presidential election, the
intersection between sports and politics is increasingly busy. After years of
collective apathy, athletes across sports, from stars to scrubs, are speaking
out on issues and social causes, endorsing not just sneakers and cars and
sports drinks, but candidates and agendas as well. "Now, with everything
going on, if you care about the integrity of the world," says Davis,
"how can you not take a stand?"
DAVIS MET Obama
for the first time in 2006. During the NBA off-season Davis had addressed the
Congressional Black Caucus on the issue of health care for minorities, one of
his pet causes. He returned to Washington a few weeks later and met with Obama.
After a minimum of small talk, he began bending Obama's ear about what he calls
his "main cause": the lack of educational opportunities in the inner
city. Davis recalls Obama's response. "He was a human being who didn't have
clich�s and wasn't trying to sell me something," says Davis. "He had
strategic advice for me: Engage the community and use your platform. He saw
things from all angles."
announced his candidacy last year, Davis wrote a check for $2,300, the max an
individual may contribute to a single candidate. He then asked the campaign
what else he could do to help, and that led to his fund-raising activity.
"You know how, as an athlete, you want to be in the game, not on the bench
or the sidelines?" says Davis, who signed with the Clippers in July. "I
want my man to win, and I want to be involved."
to McCain go further back. When the McCain campaign contacted him about, well,
shilling for the Arizona senator, the decision was really no decision at all.
The two have been friends since 2000, when the pitcher joined the Arizona
Diamondbacks, and have worked together on issues pertaining to veterans'
benefits and melanoma. ( McCain and Schilling's wife, Shonda, are both
A few weeks before
last winter's New Hampshire presidential primary, McCain held a town meeting in
Manchester. Most of the crowd of 300 or so thronging the auditorium of a local
school had already gotten wind that Schilling would be introducing the Arizona
senator. Schilling spoke briefly and gave the obligatory intro: "Now I will
turn it over to the next president of the United States!" McCain appeared
on stage, and the two men exchanged some lighthearted, sports-themed yucks. But
it was what came next that astonished the crowd.
surrendering the microphone, Schilling stayed on the stage with McCain and took
questions from the audience. For upward of an hour, the pitcher and the
candidate addressed topics ranging from health care to the war in Iraq to
curbing America's reliance on foreign oil. Recently Schilling expanded on his
reasons for supporting McCain: "First and foremost, he's a quality human
being. [I'm] a military brat, [so] his service to the country is a big deal to
me. Unfortunately I think it's less of a priority for a lot of people nowadays,
but I think it matters.... He's accountable. He's experienced. He's going to be
the same person in the Oval Office as the person I voted for."
LIKE DAVIS and
Schilling, an increasing number of athletes are endorsing presidential
candidates and speaking out on issues. Ultimate Fighting Championship star
Chuck Liddell supports McCain, while Detroit Pistons guard Chauncey Billups
introduced Obama at a rally this summer. Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan,
a pious Catholic, has actively protested embryonic stem cell research. NBA
journeyman Ira Newble, the son of a civil rights activist, traveled to Africa
to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Houston Rockets forward
Tracy McGrady also spent a week in Darfur during the 2007 off-season at the
urging of teammate Dikembe Mutombo. McGrady was so moved by what he witnessed
that he financed the forthcoming Darfur documentary, Not a Game, and has plans
to establish a network of small schools in the refugee camps. ( Joey Cheek, the
gold-medal-winning speedskater at the 2006 Turin Games, would have attended the
Beijing Games as a Darfur activist had the Chinese government not revoked his
visa at the last minute.)
No longer is
politics the conversational equivalent of a no-fly zone. Says Martina
Navratilova, a first-team athlete-activist, "It's like athletes have woken
up to what actors and musicians have known forever: I have this amazing
platform—why not use it?"