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The campaign commercial began with youth football players going through a practice.
“Out here, hard work molds you,” says Aaron Rouse.
The commercial then flashes to Rouse in a Virginia Tech football uniform celebrating a big play, and then to him intercepting Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and returning it 99 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s what took me to Virginia Tech and the NFL,” Rouse says over the highlights of his college and NFL careers.
“Then I brought the lessons from the field back home because Virginia Beach is worth fighting for. I started a nonprofit for kids, who grew up like me. Now the work is in Richmond fighting for their future and what matters most, investing in our schools, tax relief for families and protecting reproductive freedom. I’m Aaron Rouse, lets get to work.”
Earlier this month, Rouse won Senate District 22 over Republican Kevin Adams in the race for a district that encompasses central parts of Virginia Beach.
@AaronRouseVaBch announces his victory in a tightly contested race for Senate District 22. “The blue wall is intact!” Rouse shouted over a room a cheering supporters at a Democrat watch party in Virginia Beach. @virginianpilot pic.twitter.com/nUFGxcuxVv
— Caitlyn Burchett (@CaitlynBurchett) November 8, 2023
In an interview with The Virginian-Pilot, Rouse said he was feeling “emboldened” following his win.
“More than ever, this election signifies the special election wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a joke,” he said.
In another interview he said, “This is a Super Bowl win for Democrats. For democracy.”
On the same night, across town in Chesapeake, incumbent Democrat Cliff Hayes defeated Republican challenger Elijah Colon to represent Chesapeake and Portsmouth in Virginia House District 91.
Hayes celebrated the win with Sen. Louise Lucas — who won reelection in Senate District 18 — at a victory party at Rivers Casino.
“Whether in the realm of winning championships as a player, coaching kids on my athletic teams, or winning elections, the thrill of victory commands a parade of emotions,” said Hayes, a former Norfolk State baseball player. “But surely, there is a parallel of sports and life. That is: If you stay focused, keep your mind fixed, and have faith, you’ll be fruitful.”
Sports — and winning — are themes Rouse and Hayes have used after a successful transition from athletics to the rough-and-tumble world of politics, and they’re not alone among local former athletes.
Former NFL player Don Carey, who was elected to Chesapeake City Council for a four-year term in 2020, joins Rouse and Hayes in crediting sports to help mold them into successful politicians.
Sam Scarborough coached Rouse at First Colonial High in Virginia Beach, where he was a two-time All-Tidewater and all-state player. He also lettered in basketball.
Rouse went on to star at Virginia Tech and was a third-round NFL draft pick of the Green Bay Packers. He also played for the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals.
“He was always one of these kids who wanted to help people. And he saw that as an avenue for him,” Scarborough said. “But I don’t know if any of us thought that he would have taken it to the stage to where he is now. I don’t think anybody saw that coming.”
“Me personally, I don’t really get into politics, especially nowadays with so much negativity,” added Scarborough. “But that’s not him. He wants to help everybody. He wants it to work. That’s the kind of people we need in there.”
Marty Miller coached Hayes at Norfolk State, and was the athletic director when Carey starred on the football team. Both men left a lasting impression on Miller.
“Cliff was very competitive and was one of our key players during the championship runs that we had during the time when he was here,” said Miller, who is the winningest coach in CIAA history and led the Spartans to 17 CIAA championships.
When he learned Hayes was going into politics, he was surprised.
“When I found out about his interest and the fact that he started winning those elections, I was very elated and proud of him,” Miller said. “He’s done some wonderful things as a representative as a delegate. And he continues to enhance our community with some of the things that he’s doing up in Richmond.”
Miller had no idea Carey wanted to go into politics until he told him about his interest after he retired from the NFL.
“But I’m not surprised by the success that he’s having, as well, because athletes who are competitive and do well on the field of competition, can do anything in life,” he said. “Athletics prepared them to be successful for their career endeavors.”
Rouse, 39, grew up in Virginia Beach and runs a youth-focused nonprofit organization. He served on an at-large seat on the Virginia Beach City Council for four years before a run for the state senate seat vacated by Republican Jen Kiggans after she was elected to the U.S. House.
Rouse said he got into politics to make a difference, but also to show young people that they don’t have to be famous to be successful. He grew up in Young Park in Norfolk and Friendship Village in Virginia Beach, both low-income housing areas.
Rouse learned a strong work ethic from his grandfather and mother. He said they also taught him to keep God first and that your word is bond.
Rouse said sports taught him how to communicate, how to be a leader, how to react under pressure and how to set aside differences. It also taught him how to stand up for something he strongly believed in.
“That translated into politics because if you have an issue with a bill and you don’t see eye to eye with one of your colleagues or someone across the aisle, it’s like, ‘Lets sit down and talk about it, lets have a conversation,’ ” he said. “Lets not get on Twitter and demean each other or take people’s words out of context. I want to know exactly where you’re coming from. Help me understand and find that common ground. That’s what I learned from sports.”
Hayes, 55, has served as a state delegate since 2016. He’s also the chief information officer for the city of Portsmouth and served on the Chesapeake City Council from 2004-12.
Hayes starred at Oscar Smith High in baseball and football, and was captain of both teams. He also played basketball and wrestled. He was voted “Best All Around” and was inducted in the school’s athletic hall of fame in 2000.
Hayes, an all-district third baseman, also got his taste of politics in high school when he ran and won as president of the Student Council Association. But Hayes didn’t think much of it at the time.
He earned a baseball scholarship to Norfolk State where he was one of the team’s top players. He had aspirations to play professionally, but an injury prevented that.
After college, Hayes got involved in the community in many facets, but an invitation to Chesapeake Men For Progress that changed his path.
“I was around all of these wise African American men who knew so much about politics, so much about the city and how the city government works,” he said. “There was so much great leadership in there that I just caught the bug, so to speak.”
He got his chance when the group suggested he run for a seat on City Council.
Former Chesapeake mayor “Bill Ward said, ‘You’re a former athlete. You understand strategy. So let’s get together and strategize and see what we can do,’ ” Hayes remembered. “‘We’ll get behind you and help you, and we’ll see what happens.’ Lo and behold, they started helping me and I started to get support. And I messed around and got elected.”
Hayes said he never set out to be a politician, but he’s glad he listened to that group of men who got him started. And even though many have passed away, but he’s never forgotten them.
“But I carry them all in my heart everywhere I go,” he said. “I was never alone. I always have those great leaders with me, no matter where I go.”
Carey, 36, has been on the Chesapeake City Council since 2020. Following his retirement from the NFL, Carey founded The Don Carey REECH Foundation, Inc., which uses sports as a catalyst to connect with and educate students about careers in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields.
Carey was a star football player at Booker T. Washington High School and then at Norfolk State, where he became the first Spartan player to be drafted in the Division I era. He was a sixth-round pick of the Cleveland Brown in 2009.
Carey enjoyed a 10-year career, but no moment was bigger than in 2016 when the Detroit Lions selected him as their Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year.
Unlike Rouse and Hayes, Carey’s run for political office didn’t come as a surprise to many. At his retirement party, former Lions coach Jim Caldwell joked in a video that Carey’s next position would be as a mayor or congressman.
While he was in Detroit, he became active with the community, including on off days he started a STEM program in the inner city.
“I found myself doing more in the community. I was going into the community and interacting with the citizens, with the parents and the kids, and I liked it,” he said. “I thought when I’m done playing football, what’s the best way that I can continue to be in the community and assist people and in solving the problems that they’re dealing with? Going into politics was the best way to do that.”
While in Detroit, Carey learned more about how school boards operate and worked with different city council members. Caldwell also put Carey in touch with former NFL receiver Steve Largent, who was an Oklahoma congressman for eight years. Largent, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, helped educate Carey on how to navigate the political process and prepare for a campaign.
Carey, who was inducted in the NSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019, returned to Hampton Roads and now sits on various boards and participates in several organizations to help the city.
“When you meet someone randomly and they say, ‘Keep doing the good work that you’re doing. We need people like you in politics,’” he said. “Moments like that really makes you feel good and gets you through some of the nonsense.”
How long does he think he’ll stay in politics?
“I don’t know. As long as I’m able to be productive, I’ll continue to seek office,” said Carey, whose term runs out Dec. 31, 2024. “When I can sit back and honestly say, ‘I am not helping,’ then I’m done. I don’t want to be a career politician. I don’t want to be sitting back 20 or 30 years from now and hold a seat just to hold a seat. The reason why I got into politics in the first place is I want to be productive. I want to be strategic. For me, if I can’t do that, then I need sit my hind parts down somewhere.”
Prominent former athletes who went into politics
Name, Sport (highest level), Office
- Dave Bing, NBA, Mayor of Detroit
- Cory Booker, College football (Stanford), Mayor of Newark, U.S. Senator (N.J.), ran for president
- Bill Bradley, NBA, U.S. Sen. (N.J.), ran for president
- Jim Bunning, MLB, U.S. Sen. (Ky.)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, College Football (Army), President
- Gerald R. Ford, College football (Michigan), President
- Steve Garvey, MLB, Senate race
- Kevin Johnson, NBA, Mayor of Sacramento
- Jack Kemp, NFL, U.S. Rep. (N.Y), ran for president
- Steve Largent, NFL, U.S. Rep. (Okla.)
- Tom McMillen, NBA, U.S. Rep. (Md.)
- Jim Ryun, Olympic runner, U.S. Rep. (Kan.)
- Manny Pacquiao, Boxer, Philippine House of Representatives and Senator
- Alan Page, NFL, Minnesota. Supreme Court
- Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Olympia, California governor
- Jesse Ventura, WWE, Minnesota governor
- Glenn Youngkin, College basketball (Rice), Virginia governor
- J.C. Watts, CFL and College football (Oklahoma), House of Representatives (Oklahoma)
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