Herschel Walker doesn’t get that many questions about his football-playing days any more. As much as anything, he is asked about his support of President Donald Trump.
Walker backed Trump’s run as the Republican nominee for president in 2016 and he remains in support of Trump’s re-election in 2020. Trump appointed Walker as co-chair of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, along with former New York Yankee Mariano Rivera and three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.
Before the pandemic, that afforded Walker regular trips to Washington, D.C., from his home in Dallas and occasional audiences with the President, in person or on the phone.
“Oh, yeah, we’re still close,” the former Georgia star said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “We always talk. He appointed me a little position there in Washington with the President’s Council and (with) Health and Human services. So, we’ve still got a very, very good relationship. I’ve changed a little bit of how that council’s run and trying to get us more involved, so we can change some things in Washington.”
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Walker’s allegiance to the polarizing president didn’t sit well with Democrats, who have also drawn support from the politically active Walker over the years. Over the years, he has also backed Bill and Hillary Clinton.
After Walker announced his support of Trump in 2016, there was some backlash. He said he lost several speaking engagements and drew harsh criticism from some African-American Democrats.
"It has caused a lot of controversy," Walker said in a telephone interview from his home in Dallas. "But I tell people that's what's great about America. We can all have our own opinions. We don't have to agree with everyone."
Walker doesn’t defend Trump’s politics point-by-point. But the one criticism of the president he won’t stand for is the accusation that Trump is a racist.
“I hear the word racism associated with him a lot, and it’s insulting,” Walker said. “I’m, like, ‘Do you even know what racism is?’ It’s sad when you hear that because people use it so lightly. Racism is a lot deeper than that. Just because you disagree with somebody today, whether it’s the president of the United States or somebody else, the first thing people say is ‘racism,’ and that’s what’s sad.”
Walker knows Trump better than most. The two have had a working relationship since 1984, when Trump bought the New Jersey Generals’ USFL franchise that Walker played for.
Trump extended Walker’s lucrative contract at that time, and they’ve reportedly engaged in business deals since then, including a stint on Trump’s reality TV show, “The Apprentice.”
Walker said from the outset he recognized Trump’s potential as a leader. He was quoted in a 1985 article saying that he thought Trump would make a great U.S. president one day.
“The reason I said that was how much he loves the United States of America,” Walker said. “Being around him as much as I was while I was in his family, I was able to see that. What’s so unique about it is we’re still close. You know, we always talk. I’m still close with his family, especially Ivanka and Little Donald. When they were growing up, they were with me a lot.”
Walker said he is empathetic regarding the stress and strain that Trump most be under during the coronavirus pandemic. As an owner of several companies, including a food distribution business that employs about 60,000 people, Walker said he and his board of directors at Herschel Walker Enterprises are grappling with ways to keep his businesses afloat while taking care of those who work for them.
“I’ve put something in place to keep everybody; we’re not letting anyone go,” Walker said. “It’s not about me. It’s about people and their lives, and I’m trying to do what I can to keep people working.”
Walker’s primary residence remains in Dallas. But before the travel restrictions, he came to Georgia regularly on business and maintains homes on Mt. Paran Road, where his mother resides, in Athens and in Savannah.
“It’s a tough time for everybody,” said Walker, who still works out every day. “But together we’ll all get through this.”