Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mr. Mayor

Princeton, for those who don't know, is located in Mercer County. Actually, Princeton itself is really two different municipalities, Princeton Township and Princeton Borough.

Back when TigerBlog was in the newspaper business covering Princeton University, he had to put either "Princeton Township" or "Princeton Borough" in the dateline. It was understood that of Princeton's athletic facilities, the only one that was in the borough was Baker Rink. Of course, who knows if that was really true.

The two Princetons share Mercer County with such municipalities as Hopewell, Pennington, West Windsor, Hamilton, Lawrenceville and Ewing, as well as the New Jersey state capital, Trenton.

TB's introduction to the world of sports media was covering high school sports, mostly in Mercer County. One winter day in the early 1980s, TB was sent to cover the New Jersey high school wrestling championships, which at the time were held in Jadwin Gym (and TB believes it was the first time he ever walked into the building; little did he know how familiar he'd become with it).

Mercer County, to that point at least, had never produced a New Jersey individual wrestling state champion (TB isn't 100% sure, but he thinks that Lawrence High finally gave the county one). TB's assignment was to write about a wrestler from Trenton High who was undefeated to that point. Eventually, TB recalls, he reached the semifinals before losing.

That wrestler, who also was a standout in football and baseball, was named Tony Mack, who this week was elected the mayor of Trenton. Mack will take office on July 1, and he will succeed Douglas Palmer, who has been the Trenton mayor for the last 20 years.

Mack went from Trenton High to Howard University, where TB believes he played football and wrestled, though he could be wrong about that. According to Mack's website, he has a master's from FDU and is working on his Ph.D.

TigerBlog has always thought the jump from athletics to politics was a natural one, with the way both reward qualities such as leadership, teammwork and the ability to work best in the public eye.

As an aside, with the way politics is going today, they both also require a shower when the day's work is done.

Going back in history, several U.S. Presidents were college athletes, though they were mostly Republicans. In fact, John Kennedy, who swam at Harvard, is the only Democratic President ever to play a college sport. Barack Obama, of course, is a dedicated basketball player and golfer today, even as he serves as President, though he didn't play in college.

On the Republican side, you have to go back to Herbert Hoover to find one who wasn't a college athlete. George Bush (the 43rd President) played rugby at Yale; his father played baseball at the same school. Ronald Reagan was a football and baseball player at Eureka College, while Richard Nixon played football and basketball at Whittier College.

Perhaps the two best President-Athletes were football players Gerald Ford (Michigan) and Dwight Eisenhower (Army). Even Hoover served as manager for the football and basketball teams at Stanford, and legend has it that he chased down former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison after Harrison entered a Stanford game without paying.

Princeton has produced two U.S. Presidents - James Madison and Woodrow Wilson - neither of whom was a varsity athlete. In fairness to Madison, Princeton didn't have athletics in the 18th century.

As for Wilson, he played baseball at Davidson before coming to Princeton, and he was the football coach at Wesleyan from 1888-90, compiling a record of 12-20-1.

Princeton athletes have gone on to many positions in politics. Blair Lee, who was one of the earliest Princeton football players in the 1800s, became a U.S. Senator from Maryland, for instance.

Among the contemporary notables is Robert Ehrlich, a former football player who became the Governor of Maryland.

And, of course, any discussion of this subject has to include the greatest Princeton athlete of all time, Bill Bradley, who served three terms as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey and made a serious run in 2000 for the White House.

All of this brings us back to Mack. If you'd asked TB at the time if Mack would go on to be elected mayor of Trenton, TB would have said "why not?" Of course, at the time, who knew what direction Mack's life would go in, and there was no way to predict that he would become the mayor nearly 30 years later.

And what about current Princeton athletes? Is there a future in politics, as a Senator or Governor or member of the House of Representatives or even the White House ahead for one or more of them? And if so, which one?

TB could make a guess or two - he's always thought former men's basketball player Matt Henshon was a natural for high office - but that's not the point.

It'd be great to turn on the TV on some Jan. 20 in the future, see the new U.S. President take the oath of office and think "TB remembers when he or she played at Princeton."

Whoever it would be.

So good luck and congratulations to Tony Mack. And hopefully, there's a Princeton athlete or two who will make it big, "in the nation's service."

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