These Are the Most Athletic Presidents — and How Donald Trump Compares
Donald Trump loves golf and goes golfing often. But how does he stack up against the most athletic presidents in American history? Some presidents played football in college. Other presidents enjoyed hobbies ranging from dancing to dueling, wrestling to walking on stilts. And many have taken advantage of the tennis courts and swimming pools on the White House grounds.
Read on to get the scoop on which commanders-in-chief go down in history as our most athletic presidents. And be sure to check out how Donald Trump compares, on page 15.
1. John Quincy Adams
- 6th president of the United States
- Swam in the Potomac River
According to Good Sports, a magazine from Dick’s Sporting Goods, John Quincy Adams is the earliest president to make the list of the most athletic commanders in chief. “Having a morning ritual is important,” the publication explains. “Adams’ was waking up at 5 a.m., stripping down, and swimming in the Potomac River.” Adams didn’t rely on skinny-dipping to stay in good shape. He also took walks, rode horses, and shot billiards. In fact, Adams even installed the White House’s very first pool table.
Next: This president helped save football.
2. Theodore Roosevelt
- 26th president of the United States
- Helped save football and enjoyed wrestling and boxing
USA Today names Theodore Roosevelt as one of the most athletic presidents in American history. Famously enough, Roosevelt helped save football by catalyzing some rule changes, including the legalization of the forward pass. But as Bleacher Report notes, Roosevelt was also a fan and a student of wrestling and boxing. Even as president, he studied judo and jiu-jitsu. In one match, he even sustained a detached retina that caused him to go blind in his left eye. Vanity Fair notes that Roosevelt also had a tennis court built at the White House, jogged regularly around the Washington Monument, and could walk on stilts.
Next: This president played baseball in college.
3. Woodrow Wilson
- 28th president of the United States
- Played baseball and later took up golf
USA Today reports that Woodrow Wilson played baseball. He played center field at Davidson College. But he didn’t make the baseball team when he transferred to Harvard University. USA Today reports that according to Wilson’s presidential library, Wilson also made “an avid, yet unconfident golfer.” According to Dick’s Sporting Goods, Wilson played more than 1,000 rounds of golf during his two terms, and was also the first president to throw out the first pitch in a World Series.
Next: This president has a sport named after him.
4. Herbert Hoover
- 31st president of the United States
- Has a sport named after him
Dick’s Sporting Goods reports that Herbert Hoover remains the only president with a sport named after him. The sport in question? Hooverball, a combination of volleyball and tennis, played with a six-pound medicine ball. “Hoover and members of his staff, known as the ‘Medicine Ball Cabinet,’ would hurl the ball over an eight-foot tall net. To this day, the Hoover Presidential Library Association hosts the Hooverball Championships in Hoover’s hometown of West Branch, Iowa.”
Next: This president had a notable football career in college.
5. Dwight D. Eisenhower
- 34th president of the United States
- Played football
USA Today notes that Dwight D. Eisenhower became a notable football player in college. “The West Point linebacker famously battled Jim Thorpe in the 1912 Army-Carlisle game, trying to knock the college great out of the game and bring victory to the Cadets. When Thorpe was hardly fazed after a brutal hit, Eisenhower was crestfallen,” the publication explains. Eisenhower also fell into a deep depression when a later injury ended his football career, and considered leaving West Point. Fortunately, he soon recovered and helped coach instead.
Next: This president enjoyed a variety of sports despite his bad back and other ailments.
6. John F. Kennedy
- 35th president of the United States
- Enjoyed touch football, swimming, golfing, and sailing
USA Today reports that “The images of a sprightly JFK playing touch football in Hyannis Port were long gone by the time the 43-year-old took office in 1961,” thanks to the medical ailments that slowed the young president down. But he still makes the list of the most athletic presidents thanks to the accomplishments of his youth. He was a letter-winning swimmer at Harvard and a decent golfer. And as Sports Illustrated reports, Kennedy played football at prep school, went sailing with his family, and attended baseball and football games as president.
Next: This president loved football and bowling.
7. Richard Nixon
- 37th president of the United States
- Played football and loved bowling
Richard Nixon also makes the list of the most athletic presidents, in part because he played football at Whittier College. Vanity Fair reports that Nixon cited Whittier football coach Wallace Newman as one of the greatest influences in his life. USA Today notes that Nixon also tried his hand at coaching while he was in the Oval Office, and once sent a play to Washington Redskins coach George. Nixon also famously installed bowling lanes at the White House.
Next: This athletic president could have played professional football.
8. Gerald Ford
- 38th president of the United States
- Could have played in the NFL
Gerald Ford had one of the most distinguished careers of any of the most athletic presidents. USA Today reports that Ford played on two national championship football teams at the University of Michigan. He was a team MVP in 1934, and received offers from two professional football teams, the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. He turned them down to work at Yale University, where he studied law. But as USA Today notes, Ford wasn’t so great at golf. “His golf game was a constant source of amusement and prompted jokes from a regular golfing buddy. ‘It’s not hard to find Jerry Ford on a golf course — you just follow the wounded,’ Bob Hope once said.”
Next: This president played a variety of sports and ran cross-country.
9. Jimmy Carter
- 39th president of the United States
- Ran cross-country and played softball and tennis
Vanity Fair characterizes Jimmy Carter as “a very active man.” Carter ran cross-country while in the Navy. And notably, “Much later in life, he was featured in a 60 Minutes segment during which he rode a Trikke (some kind of faddish exercise contraption that could best be described as a mutated Razor scooter).” Additionally, Fox Sports notes that Carter once said that he enjoys playing sports a lot more than watching them. He was an avid softball and tennis player, too.
Next: This president loved horseback riding.
10. Ronald Reagan
- 40th president of the United States
- Served as a lifeguard and enjoyed horseback riding
According to USA Today, Ronald Reagan reportedly saved 77 people during the seven years he served as a lifeguard in his youth. But the publication quips, “Whether these were actual rescues, times gotten wet, or the number of occasions he told people not to swim 30 minutes after eating is unknown.” Reagan also enjoyed horseback riding, and as a young man, played football, too.
Next: This president played baseball in college.
11. George H.W. Bush
- 41st president of the United States
- Played baseball and tennis
George H.W. Bush also makes the list of the most athletic presidents for his achievements as a baseball player. According to USA Today, Bush played first base for Yale in the 1940s. He even appeared in the first two College World Series. As vice president, Bush was temporarily in power when Reagan had surgery — and spent a few of those eight hours playing tennis. Vanity Fair reports that as president, Bush did lots of jogging, and had a permanent horseshoe pit installed on the White House lawn. Later, Bush even celebrated his 85th birthday by going skydiving.
Next: This president almost dunked a basketball.
12. Bill Clinton
- 42nd president of the United States
- Enjoys golfing and jogging
Vanity Fair reports that Bill Clinton makes the list of the most athletic presidents thanks to his love for golfing and jogging. In fact, the two together have likely played a big part in keeping Clinton trim post-presidency. CNN reports that Clinton also played church-league basketball as a young man in Arkansas. Clinton even told the network that the high point of his athletic life came when he “nearly dunked a ball!”
Next: This president united Americans with an iconic sports moment.
13. George W. Bush
- 43rd president of the United States
- Ran a marathon and threw a famous pitch
USA Today puts George W. Bush on the list of the most athletic presidents, citing his achievement of competing a marathon at age 43. (And running sub-seven-minute miles even years afterward.) But as the publication notes, “it was his first pitch at Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series that stands out as the greatest sports moment by a president.” Less than two months after 9/11, the president “strode to the mound with a bulky bulletproof vest hidden beneath his jacket and threw a perfect strike as America collectively cheered for the first time in weeks.”
Next: This president loves basketball and golf — but is only good at one.
14. Barack Obama
- 44th president of the United States
- Plays football and golf
Vanity Fair notes that Barack Obama never played college-level sports. But almost everybody knows about Obama’s pick-up basketball games, which are intense enough to require a mouthguard. The publication adds, “Obama has also been spotted bodysurfing, the sport of middle-aged dads across America.” As USA Today reports that in addition to playing basketball, Obama also enjoys golfing. Yet the publication quips, “His jumpshot looks pure. His swing is another story.”
Next: Here’s how Donald Trump compares to the most athletic presidents.
15. Donald Trump
- 45th president of the United States
- Played baseball and loves golf
Business Insider reports that at military school, Donald Trump played on the varsity soccer, baseball, and football teams. A former classmate claims that Trump could even have played professional baseball. Esquire notes that “The indications are that Trump actually was pretty good at baseball, and that he’s an above-average golfer now.” In fact, Golf Digest reports that Trump tops the ranking of the best presidential golfers, beating out John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Gerald R. Ford for the top spot.
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