In the sports arena, John McCain also packed a punch

In honor of John McCain, who passed away Saturday, the Diamondbacks hung his jersey in their dugout. McCain was a big fan of the team. (Photo courtesy Arizona Diamondbacks)

PHOENIX – Jerry Colangelo had many interactions with John McCain over the years as the senator helped to build the Arizona sports landscape.

During the Phoenix Suns’ heyday, McCain was a regular at home games.

“When I think of my seats at America West Arena, my memory is looking at his seats, which were courtside, opposite the corner of the Suns bench,” said Colangelo, the sports executive who previously owned the Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks. “He was a fixture. When he was in town, he was there.”

McCain, who died Saturday at 81, had a large impact on the Arizona sports community, but his reach in the sports arena was felt around the country.

McCain – who boxed at the Naval Academy in the 1950s – supported many Arizona sports but said his favorite moment was when the Arizona Diamondbacks won the 2001 World Series, where he threw out the first pitch before Game 7 against the New York Yankees, which the D-backs won in stirring fashion.

“His love for sport translated to the Diamondbacks, and especially the World Series team,” Colangelo said. “He was a big part of it, because of the political impact of 9/11, of us playing New York after a traumatic event, he was with the team.

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“He’s very much a part of our memory. He was for all of us. He truly represented the people.”

McCain threw his hat into the sports arena numerous times during his six terms in the Senate, passing legislation to hold sports leagues accountable.

He was a factor in altering the perception of mixed martial arts, which he once referred to as “human cockfighting.” His push for regulation help expand and change the sport, and he later acknowledged hed had warmed up to it.

“He represented Arizona to the fullest and he’s someone that is going to be dearly missed because of his contributions and efforts,” said MMA standout Henry Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist and Phoenix resident.

The NFL was a recent target of McCain as he called out team owners and commissioner Roger Goodell.

In November 2015, McCain and fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake released a report revealing that the Department of Defense paid NFL teams to honor service members at their games.

“Americans across the country should be deeply disappointed that many of the ceremonies honoring troops at professional sporting events are not actually being conducted out of a sense of patriotism, but for the profit of in the forms of millions of dollars going from the Department of Defense to wealthy pro sports franchises,” McCain said in a press release.

McCain also called out the NFL for the league’s lack of participation in health research into head and brain injuries, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee more than a decade ago, he feared that steroids were taking over baseball and threatened to introduce federal legislation if Major League Baseball didn’t create a stricter drug policy. In response, the league created its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in 2006.

McCain, who had boxed in the Navy and was an avid fan of the “sweet science of bruising,” McCain authored the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform of 1998 to protect the health and welfare of professional boxers and limit corruption in the sport.

Locally, McCain questioned Glendale for voiding the lease with the Arizona Coyotes in June 2015, telling Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, “Don’t we owe more than that? Don’t we owe the fans who have loyally shown up at the arena, even though they had one of the worst records in the league and yet they were still loyal and showed up for the Coyotes? Don’t we owe them something?”

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