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10 Athletic US Presidents and the Sports They Played

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By Abi Gibson - - 5 Mins Read
An American football placed on a grassy surface; the US flag fluttering in the background
Ball and a flag | Shutterstock

Throughout American history, many of the nation's leaders have shown their athletic and competitive abilities in various sports fields. From baseball to football to swimming, these leaders demonstrated that physical prowess and leadership often went hand in hand, leaving a lasting legacy in politics and sports history.


When leaders engage in sports, it can impact how they conduct their official duties. Sports promote valuable qualities such as teamwork, determination, perseverance, and competitiveness. Some US presidents have even participated in sports professionally, while others have enjoyed them as amateurs.


This article highlights ten United States Presidents who excelled both in the Oval Office and on the playing field.


1. George H. W. Bush - Baseball


George H.W. Bush plays golf at Andrews AFB in Maryland. President Bush tries to tell the pool reporters about his score today on the golf course
George H.W. Bush | Shutterstock


Unsurprisingly, this charismatic person who celebrated his 90th birthday by skydiving had a strong passion for athletics. George H.W. Bush played first base left-handed for Yale during his college years, contributing significantly to the squad that finished second at the first College World Series in 1947 and 1948.


He never had a major league career, but he stayed involved in the game by throwing out spectacular ceremonial first pitches at professional games, including one at the incredible age of 91. Beyond baseball, he was an accomplished golfer who had a remarkable handicap of 11, and he was an avid tennis player who even played during his first eight hours as president.


2. Richard Nixon - Football


AI generated image of Richard Nixon wearing a sports kit in a field
Richard Nixon | Shutterstock (AI-generated)


Richard Nixon, one of the US presidents, passionately embraced sports during his college years. At Whittier College in California, Nixon distinguished himself as a lineman on the football team, and his persistence on the field became the stuff of legend. His love for sports mirrors a broader trend among US presidents who found solace and camaraderie in athletic pursuits.


3. Jimmy Carter - Baseball


Jimmy Carter wears a hat during a humanity project
Jimmy Carter | Shutterstock


Even after leaving office, President Carter continued to be devoted to sports. His love of sports was evident while serving in the Navy, where he played baseball and showed strength by running cross-country. Throughout his whole administration, he carried with him this early passion for exercise.


Carter played softball frequently, which promoted friendship and a sense of collaboration. A welcome diversion from the demands of the presidency, basketball also maintained a special place in his heart. His passion for sports reflected his dedication to encouraging healthy, active lifestyles for all Americans.


4. Gerald Ford - Football


Former President Gerald R. Ford rides in a golf cart at the annual Bing Crosby Clambake Golf Tournament
Gerald R. Ford | Mark Reinstein/Shutterstock


Gerald Ford, one of the US presidents, was possibly the most accomplished athlete. He gained the attention of professional football, notably the Green Bay Packers, as the center on two football teams from Michigan that won national championships and the 1934 team MVP.


In addition to football, Ford stayed dedicated to health, partaking in sports including tennis, swimming, running, and golf. He had a reputation for being awkward, but his regularly excellent golf scores cemented his status as a spectacular presidential athlete.


5. John F. Kennedy - Football/Sailing


A painting of former US President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy | Shutterstock


John F. Kennedy's participation in sports at Harvard demonstrated his range of skills. While he briefly played football, sailing was his main love, and he won many races there, including the Eastern Collegiate championship.


His swimming ability rose to hero status during World War II when, despite having a history of back problems, he dragged a wounded crewman to safety using the strap of his life jacket when his PT-109 was sinking. Although JFK's health caused him to slow down later in life, his young athleticism made an impression on others.


6. Barrack Obama - Basketball


Barrack Obama attempting a dunk during a basketball
Barrack Obama attempting a dunk | TheNBAFreak/YT


Basketball and golf were two sports that defined Barack Obama's athletic career. He was a left-handed scorer for the Occidental College basketball team in 1979. While his presidency began with basketball, he soon turned to golf for solace, playing more than 300 holes and greatly lowering his handicap.


Those who object to the president going on golf outings should keep in mind that the job comes with a lot of stress. In addition, even though he wasn't a starter, he played for the Hawaii state championship high school basketball team.


7. Dwight D. Eisenhower - Football/Golf


Dwight D. Eisenhower giving a speech in San Diego in 1964
Dwight D. Eisenhower | CBS 8 San Diego


The athletic journey of Dwight Eisenhower was complicated. He was a standout halfback at West Point, recognized for his quickness and prowess in the field of play. He made history by tackling the renowned Jim Thorpe in a 1912 game, cementing his place in Army sports history.


Eisenhower developed a love of golf later in life, playing more than 800 rounds and even breaking the 80 mark at Augusta National while he was president. His love of athletics led him to create a putting green on the White House lawn.


8. Teddy Roosevelt - Boxing/Tennis


Teddy Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt | History/YT


Throughout his life, Theodore Roosevelt had an adventurous spirit and boundless energy, which led him to participate in various sports. He even showcased his boxing skills while studying at Harvard by stepping into the ring. Additionally, he enjoyed playing tennis and would often practice on the front lawn of the White House.


As evidence of Roosevelt's continuous passion for athletics and physical fitness, his physical prowess also extended to wrestling, and he didn't hesitate to spar even inside the confines of the White House.


9. Woodrow Wilson - Golf


Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson | CBS Sunday


After playing center field for Davidson College, Woodrow Wilson continued his athletic career at Harvard University, where he had less success and was not selected for the baseball team.


Despite a lackluster baseball career, Wilson embraced golf and became enthusiastic but unconfident. Over a thousand rounds of golf were played by him when he was president. In addition, he made history by being the first president to throw out the first pitch at a World Series, underscoring his affinity for sports during his term in office.


10. Abraham Lincoln - Wrestling


Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln | Shutterstock


In his illustrious past, Abraham Lincoln's amazing agility and skill as a wrestler in his youth are often forgotten. He rose to fame by outdueling the fearsome Jack Armstrong in a well-known match. Lincoln was reported to have had legendary strength and to have been able to lift 600 pounds.


Alongside George Washington, he was given recognition for his wrestling prowess by being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, enhancing his standing as a legendary figure in American history.


Throughout American history, these US presidents demonstrated their dual passion for sports and leadership. From Theodore Roosevelt's boxing to Barack Obama's basketball and Gerald Ford's football, these leaders found solace and strength on the playing fields, proving that physical prowess and presidential office can seamlessly coexist, leaving a lasting legacy in both arenas.