Ga. Football Legend with Instagram Influencer Son — and a Controversial Past — Launches GOP Senate Run

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RNC2020
RNC2020

NBC News Herschel Walker

After months of rumblings that he would challenge freshman lawmaker and pastor Raphael Warnock, retired football star Herschel Walker has made it official by filing to run for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia.

Papers filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday show that Walker — who recently changed his voter registration from Texas to Georgia — is running in the Republican Party primary hoping to face Warnock.

On Wednesday, the 59-year-old businessman and former athlete released his first ad. In it, he reflected on his career and his childhood in Wrightsville, Georgia, and drew on familiar campaign themes of perseverance and hard work.

Even before the official announcement was made, Walker had the backing of former President Donald Trump, who had said in a statement that he believed the athlete — despite concerns from other conservatives — would be "unstoppable" as a candidate.

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Walker was a football star and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia in the early '80s before he launched a professional career, playing for NFL teams including the Vikings, Eagles and Giants and for the now-defunct USFL New Jersey Generals, which was owned by Trump.

Following his football career, Walker went on to be a reality TV contestant. He now owns a food service company (and did not respond to a request for comment through a representative).

He had not shied away from publicly speaking about politics even before his candidacy and is a vocal Trump supporter. He appeared at the 2020 Republican National Convention to support and defend the then-president against accusations of racism, which he called a "personal insult."

"I take that as a personal insult, that people would think I've had a 37-year friendship with a racist," Walker said in his RNC speech. "People don't know what they're talking about. Growing up in the Deep South, I've seen racism up close. I know what it is. And it isn't Donald Trump."

He has also in recent months spoken out against reparations for slavery, appearing at a virtual congressional hearing in February to say, "Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to spend prison time for a crime he committed?"

Walker's son, Christian, has also grabbed headlines as a rising right-wing social media star, where he has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers — including plenty of critics — with provocative videos on platforms such as Instagram.

RELATED: What to Know About Herschel Walker and His Headline-Grabbing Son as Trump Says He Should Run for Senate

Herschel Walker and Christian Walker
Herschel Walker and Christian Walker

Christian Walker/Twitter Herschel Walker (left) and Christian Walker

Like Trump, Christian echoed baseless claims that Joe Biden hadn't really won the election and has appeared on Fox News. The younger Walker, who is openly gay, led a Gays for Trump march in West Hollywood in 2020.

Walker's candidacy doesn't come without baggage, including past statements in which he described the challenges of having dissociative identity disorder and an account from his ex-wife, Cindy, that he attacked her.

In 2008, he wrote about having dissociative identity disorder, hoping to show a different portrayal of the condition.

At the time, his ex-wife said that he had violent episodes in their marriage, including holding a gun to her head — which CNN reported he did not deny, saying he had blackouts and memory loss.

"I'm troubled by my actions and will always deeply regret any pain I've caused Cindy," he said at the time.

If he wins his primary, Walker will face off against Rev. Warnock, a Democrat who made history in January when he won a hotly-contested special election in the state.

Warnock is serving the remainder of retired Sen. Johnny Isakson's six-year term, which is set to expire in 2022.