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When athlete-politicians square off

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EX-WORLD-CLASS athletes Jack Kemp and Bill Bradley are not likely adversaries in the next race for the presidency. But it could happen. Mr. Kemp would be more than willing. Mr. Bradley, it seems, will take some coaxing. But at a breakfast the other morning, the tall New Jersey senator seemed to be toying with the idea. He certainly loves to be pestered with questions directed to his intentions about 1988.

For either or both of these particularly attractive personalities to become the nominees would provide the voters with something new: professional athletes gunning for the nation's highest office.

Republican Congressman Kemp has quickly picked up a lot of political yardage. He did much to persuade President Reagan to become a supply-sider, and he helped immensely in getting the Reagan-initiated tax cuts passed.

Democratic Senator Bradley was one of the chief shapers of the tax-reform legislation. So he's taking a lot of bows these days -- along, of course, with those who are getting most of the credit: Sen. Bob Packwood, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, and the President himself. Kemp, too, nudged tax reform along.

What would it be like to have a super athlete in the White House? The idea may be quite repugnant in academic circles, where prowess of this nature is often minimized.

Still, Kemp and Bradley were regarded as intellectual athletes. Smallish quarterback Kemp had somehow to survive with giants crashing down on him in every game -- with every ``sack'' endangering his career. He outwitted those threatening rushers and put together a long life on the gridiron where he fashioned a reputation for his cool judgment under pressure.

Bradley was an athlete-student at Princeton. This combined talent won him a Rhodes Scholarship. Then he went on to a spectacular career with the New York Knicks, where he was, like Kemp, one of those athletes who could be counted on to deliver.

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