Happy Election Day, everyone! I hope you have a great day and your favorite candidate wins…whoever it is!
Since we love to talk Hawkeyes on this blog, today we take a quick look at six Hawkeyes – five athletes and one coach – who had political aspirations after contributing to Iowa athletics. This list is by no means all-inclusive…but if you know of any others who qualify, feel free to either leave a comment or contact me directly using the contact form! Let’s talk Hawks and politics…
Willis Charles “Billy” Edson played two years of college football at Ames while earning his bachelor’s degree. After graduating in 1899, he set his sights on earning a law degree. Edson enrolled in the University of Iowa’s College of Law the following fall, and as luck would have it, he still had two years left of football eligibility.
Edson joined the Hawkeyes just in time to play a valuable part in the first truly great run in Iowa football history. In his two seasons as a Hawk, Iowa compiled a 15-0-2 record, including the first Big Ten championship in school history in 1900. Edson was a huge part of Iowa’s success – as a halfback, Edson scored 23 touchdowns, including seven touchdown runs of fifty yards or more.
Billy Edson earned his law degree from Iowa in 1901, and he put it to good use. He promptly opened a law office in Storm Lake, Iowa, and practiced law in that town for over sixty years. Edson also became heavily involved in Iowa politics. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1919 and served in the Iowa House for eight years. From 1925-1926, Edson served a two-year term as the Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives. He was also the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Iowa in 1936.
Archie Alphonse Alexander lived an amazing life. He was born in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1888, and he originally wanted to study engineering and play football at Des Moines College. There was only one problem…Alexander was an African-American. When Des Moines College balked at the idea, Alexander transferred to the University of Iowa, where he became a standout.
Alexander played the tackle position for the Hawkeye football team from 1910 through 1912. He earned the respect of his teammates and earned the nickname “Alexander the Great” for his play on the field. Alexander also achieved his other dream of becoming an engineer. After graduation, he started a long and highly successful career in the engineering field.
He also was heavily involved in Republican politics. In 1934, Alexander was appointed as one of a 12-member commission to investigate the social and economic conditions in Haiti. His political career culminated two decades later, when President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Archie Alexander the first Republican governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Almost every Hawkeye fan knows Nile Kinnick’s story as Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner and his political aspirations. Kinnick had early exposure to the political atmosphere. His maternal grandfather, George W. Clarke, served two two-year terms as Governor of Iowa from 1912 to 1916.
Kinnick became a household name throughout Iowa during his magical 1939 season, where he led Iowa to a top ten national ranking and a few memorable upset victories. He clinched the Heisman Trophy that season and permanently secured a place in Hawkeye lore.
Nile Kinnick wrote that he had ambitions toward following in his grandfather’s footsteps and entering into politics, which was apparent after he openly campaigned on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie in 1940. “The feeling that politics and government is not the place for gentlemen has too long been accepted,” Kinnick wrote. “Politics are not very clean but they should be; politics need integrity and idealism – politics more often than not disillusion those who enter with those ideas.”
Of course, Kinnick’s tragic death while training during World War II prevented us from seeing where politics might have taken him, but there are those in Iowa who still believe that Governor Kinnick, Senator Kinnick, or even President Kinnick would not have been unthinkable.
Bill Reichardt was a man of many talents. His talents were publicly displayed for the first time on the football field, as he was a high school star in Iowa City. Reichardt stayed at home and played collegiately for the Hawkeyes from 1949-1951. His greatest honors came in his senior season, when he won the Big Ten MVP award in 1951 despite playing for a struggling Hawkeye team.
Reichardt was nothing if not outspoken. He was a real character who could captivate an audience. He used that to his benefit decades after leaving the football field by pursuing a political career. He was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1964 and the Iowa Senate in 1966. He remained active on the Iowa political scene for decades, running as a Democratic candidate for governor in 1994 before falling in the primaries.
Eddie Vincent was one-third of the famous Steubenville Trio that helped turn Hawkeye football around in the mid-1950s. But while Frank Gilliam and especially Cal Jones grabbed most of the spotlight, Vincent was an outstanding player himself. His most memorable moment as a Hawkeye probably came in a 1954 game against Purdue. With Iowa pinned deep at their own four-yard line, Vincent took the ball and broke free for a 96-yard touchdown run. His 96-yard scamper remains a school record.
Vincent twice led Iowa in rushing, and he was named all-Big Ten in his senior season in 1955. When he left school, his 1,373 career rushing yards ranked second in modern Hawkeye history, behind only the man before him on this list, Bill Reichardt. After graduation, Eddie Vincent served in the U.S. Army, earning an honorable discharge in 1959. He then relocated to Inglewood, California, and started a long career with the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
In 1979, Vincent was elected to the Inglewood City Council. Four years later, he was elected as the first African-American mayor of Inglewood, serving in that capacity for twelve years. After that, Eddie Vincent represented Inglewood in the California state government. He was elected to the California State Assembly from 1996-2000 and then served in the California State Senate from 2000-2008. Vincent was forced to retire from state politics in 2008 due to term limits.
Now that we’ve looked at five Hawkeye athletes with political aspirations, let’s finish with a Hawkeye coach. I stumbled onto Tom Martin’s story while writing Duke Slater, and I found it to be pretty fascinating.
Thomas Martin was a law student at the University of Iowa in the spring of 1921. While taking a break from his studies, he went to Iowa Field to watch the Hawkeye field athletes practice throwing weights. Martin observed that the throwers were letting go of the weights without making a proper whirl-around. He notified the track coach of the problem and offered to demonstrate. Martin then grabbed a 35-pound hammer and tossed it within inches of what was then the school record.
The coaches immediately hired Tom Martin as an assistant track coach.
Martin was an assistant coach for the Hawkeye track team for several years, instructing Hawkeye greats like Duke Slater and Spike Nelson. In the meantime, he studied at the university’s College of Law, earning a degree in 1927.
Tom Martin practiced law in Iowa City for many years before being elected mayor of the town in 1935. But that was just the start of Thomas Martin’s political career. He ran and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1939, where he served eight terms over 16 years. In 1954, Martin declined a ninth term in the House and set his sites on the U.S. Senate. He was elected to the Senate that year and served one six-year term before retiring from politics.
Senator Thomas Ellsworth Martin might be the most accomplished politician ever directly associated with Hawkeye athletics…unless of course you count Ronald Reagan. While Ronald Reagan was never an employee of the Hawkeye athletic department, he did call several Iowa football games as a radio broadcaster on WHO Radio during the 1930s. I guess it depends how specific you want to get!
Regardless, keep your eye on Hawkeye athletes, coaches, and broadcasters. You might need to decide whether they get your vote someday!
Filed under: Iowa Hawkeye Football
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