Herschel Walker’s cynical, insulting campaign for U.S. Senate


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It’s difficult not to pity Private C.J. Memphis in Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “A Soldier’s Play,” which examines prejudice and racial stereotypes — on both sides of the color line — through a segregated Army unit at a base in the pre-civil rights movement Deep South. C.J., who is Black like all but a couple of the characters, suffers all the side effects of being purposefully miseducated in a Jim Crow America. But he’s likable as a standout on the baseball team. For playing his guitar. For singing to everyone’s delight.

Except in the eyes of the unit’s Black sergeant, Vernon C. Waters, who subscribes to a strident, no shuckin’-and-jivin’ approach to Black liberation, C.J. is an unwitting tool for a recalcitrant White America, a means for it to invalidate calls for Black advancement.

It’s reminiscent of a real-life Black man revered for his athleticism and heretofore seen as just happy-go-lucky: the great running back from the University of Georgia, Herschel Walker.

I feel as similarly sorry for Walker as for the fictional C.J. Memphis, for Walker — a good ol’ product of some small Southern town like C.J. — is no less an unknowing device for a part of White America attempting to nullify Black arguments for continued progress.

What Walker represents is the worst of our idolatry of sports stars.

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This is a revelation about Walker that comes about as he makes the rounds as a U.S. senatorial candidate propped up by former president Donald Trump and reactionary republicans in Georgia in an attempt to unseat Sen. Raphael G. Warnock, the state’s first Black senator and the first Black Democratic senator from the South. Ironically, Warnock was swept into office in January 2021 with a boost from athletic bona fides. Not his own but those of WNBA players. They openly campaigned for Warnock against the senator he defeated, Kelly Loeffler, who at the time was a co-owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream, where she caught the ire of league players for denouncing Black Lives Matter and backing antiabortion causes.

Walker’s sole qualification for Georgia’s electorate, however, is his athletic achievement. He isn’t like Warnock, an ordained minister who pastors at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church made famous by a former pastor, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., or thrice graduated — first from Morehouse and then Union Theological Seminary, where Warnock was awarded a master’s and a PhD.

Indeed, Walker’s campaign managers late last year quietly scrubbed his biography of the claim he graduated from Georgia. He earned a Heisman Trophy there but not a degree.

Walker is embarrassingly unqualified to be an elected official at any level, let alone in the U.S. Senate.

He is hardly the first American athlete to pursue elected office. Just in the past couple election cycles, Burgess Owens, who played safety for the Jets and then for the Raiders’ 1980 Super Bowl champion team, won a House seat from Utah as a Republican. Anthony Gonzalez, who caught passes from Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, won a House seat from Ohio as a Republican. Sharice Davids, who twice fought professionally in a mixed martial arts octagon, in 2020 won her second term as a Democrat representing Kansas’s 3rd Congressional District.

But Walker doesn’t measure up to the seriousness they displayed for the offices they sought. Last month, Walker appeared on a Fox News show and demonstrated all but complete incoherence while trying to repeat the talking points of the party that has adopted him like a pet. He failed to show up for a debate three weeks ago against the other Republican hopefuls for Warnock’s seat, and then repeated that dodge this week.

In contrast, Colin Allred, a Democrat and onetime NFL linebacker before hitting law school (from which he graduated), not only demanded a televised debate in 2018 with longtime Texas Republican congressman Pete Sessions, he got it — and impressed voters so much he defeated Sessions in the aftermath.

Walker hasn’t even voted more than once in the past two decades. He was a resident of Texas until tapped by the GOP to run against Warnock. The Associated Press reported Walker’s ex-wife secured a protective order against him in 2005 and cited “physically abusive and extremely threatening behavior” in her filing for divorce. In his 2008 memoir, “Breaking Free,” Walker admitted to violent episodes, including hunting for a man in Dallas who he said was reneging on a business deal, and playing Russian roulette.

But none of that history, new or old, has stopped Walker from leading most primary polls or from being given a toss-up chance to defeat Warnock. How? There is no other explanation: Walker is a former star from the field of athletics. What he doesn’t know and how he has behaved matter not.

Sadly, it is not surprising. Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, with no political experience but a winning record against in-state rival Alabama and Trump’s backing, two years ago defeated Democrat Doug Jones to represent Alabama in the Senate. He did so without debating and by largely avoiding public questioning. Shortly after he was elected, Tuberville misidentified the three branches of government, said World War II was fought to liberate Europe from socialism and communism and fanned the flames of the lie engulfing democracy that Trump won the 2020 election.

I don’t know if Walker knows government is divided between the legislative, executive and judicial branches or if he understands the reason the Second World War was fought. But he, too, questioned the legitimacy of the last presidential election despite no evidence to do so. It wasn’t until just the other day that he changed his tune, albeit slightly.

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“I don’t know if there were problems with the 2020 election,” Walker said on a radio talk show. “What I do know is that, right now, I’m going to win this seat, and, you know, everyone has complained, even Stacey Abrams complained that her race wasn’t fair. And I’ve heard a lot of people saying a lot of things. One thing that I’ve got to worry about right now, that I’m going to have a fair election, that people can believe in our election when I run.”

The viability of Walker’s candidacy is insulting. To Black voters, if it’s assumed they would vote for Walker merely because he was an exceptional Black athlete. And to sports fans, if it’s assumed they would vote for Walker merely because he was an exceptional athlete, one of the greatest. Because he is a three-time all-American. Because he scored 61 touchdowns and gained 7,115 yards in three seasons in the short-lived USFL, where he played for the Trump-owned New Jersey Generals. Because he had 82 touchdowns, 8,225 rushing yards and 4,859 receiving yards in a dozen NFL seasons.

Walker should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But that shouldn’t make him, or anyone, a legitimate candidate for elected office. His unearned political candidacy threatens calamitous consequences.


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