Q&A: Former Philadelphia Eagles tackle and current U.S. Congressman Jon Runyan (R-NJ)
Former Eagles offensive tackle and current Congressman Jon Runyan (R-NJ) came to speak at Huntsman Hall Tuesday night at an event organized by the College Republicans, touching on various issues across the political spectrum and memories from his football career. We caught up with the All-Pro after the event to talk Congressional football, Penn, and more:
Daily Pennsylvanian: You and [former New York Giants defensive end] Michael Strahan, for your entire career, it seemed like your two names were next to each other in every sentence. What was your perspective on him getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, and what was it like being at the induction ceremony itself?
Jon Runyan: It was an awesome experience, and I just took the time out to really go honor him, because when you look at it, even when I played him, he was one of a dying breed. You know, there’s not a lot of people that played the game the way he did. Let me put it this way — and I think he said it too, also: playing the Giants was a litmus test for the season to see where you were at, and if you were right with yourself. So it was just an awesome experience to go out there and see that.
DP: You’re not the first NFL player to serve in Congress. There was Heath Shuler before you, Jack Kemp a long way back, Steve Largent… did you ever go to any of them for advice entering your first term?
JR: I’ve talked to Steve Largent several times, and actually never met Jack. But I talked to his son, Jimmy a couple times about how his dad was, and he goes: “It’s more about captivating a room, and talking to people and telling stories to people to get them to like you, and then they’ll listen to your policy. Don’t just start spewing policy all the time.”
It was great advice for me from Jack’s son on that aspect, and I believe also that this is the first time in 50 years that there will not be a professional athlete as a member of Congress. [Runyan has declined to seek re-election in 2014, citing a desire to spend more time with his family]
DP: Playing in the Congressional football game with Heath Shuler, did you even come close to losing to the Capitol Police?
JR: All the time. I mean, you have a couple former NFL players on the field, but you have to realize the Capitol Police, most of those guys just came out of deployment from Iraq and Afghanistan [laughs], and they’re all in pretty good shape. They’re not the officers you see running the metal detectors and the x-ray scanners… they’re the ones running around in tactical gear doing SWAT training and all that kind of stuff, and most of them played college football. So you’re pretty much outmanned, that’s why we never have a chance in that game.
DP: What would you say is the biggest problem facing your home district right now? [Runyan represents the 3rd district of New Jersey, which includes Burlington and Ocean Counties]
JR: Well, obviously, coming down the road, the sequester is going to hit us hard with the Department of Defense, and [we’re] still trying to dig out of this Sandy hole, even two years after. We’re still trying to figure out what the rules of the game are and what FEMA’s going to do, so there’s two big challenges we have ahead of us.
DP: [New Jersey] Governor [Chris] Christie has made a big push recently to legalize sports betting, which the leagues have all come out against. Do you have any opinion on the issue?
JR: It obviously would be a huge revenue booster to New Jersey, and I’ve written letters in support of it. But there’s a lot of legal issues that you’re going to have because of the fact [that] a lot of those casinos are publicly traded and have to work through that legal stuff, so it’s not going to happen as fast as most people [would] like it to.
DP: I understand this isn’t your first time at Penn. You’ve taken classes in entrepreneurship at Wharton before. What’s your overall perspective of the University in the time you’ve spent here?
JR: It’s been an awesome experience, and I can tell you the time I spent here in the Executive Education [program], the professors we’ve had that spoke to us, I still email them to this day and ask them opinions on stuff, because they’ll have a base knowledge in some area you don’t. It’s been a great experience, and its created a lot of long-lasting relationships.