Before They Made It Big As Actors Or Actresses, They Were Amazing Athletes First

Published on 09/26/2019
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Professional athletes often find themselves in the spotlight, although it is not the typical type of fame. It must be hard to say goodbye to the roar of the crowd when it is time for them to retire. Some of them decided to remain in the limelight by going into acting. Of course, it is easier for certain athletes like pro wrestlers. After all, their field combines sports and performance at the same time already. Others did not have it so easy, however. Keep reading to learn more about stars who started out as sportsmen before they tried their hand at acting!

Before They Made It Big As Actors Or Actresses, They Were Amazing Athletes First

Before They Made It Big As Actors Or Actresses, They Were Amazing Athletes First

Terry Crews

For Terry Crews, his first love was neither acting nor football. It was art! He got an art scholarship before he earned a football scholarship as a defensive end for Western Michigan University. In 1991, he got drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. After he retired in 1997, he went to Los Angeles to make a name for himself in the entertainment industry. He definitely did that by charming everyone with his comedic timing. We are glad to hear that the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star continues to paint and sketch!

Terry Crews

Terry Crews

Jason Lee

Best known for starring in NBC’s My Name is Earl, Jason Lee was actually a successful pro skateboarder before he started appearing on the screen. He was also an extreme sports entrepreneur! He tried his hand at acting during the early ‘90s and caught the attention of Kevin Smith. This exec placed him in the lead role of the 1995 film Mallrats.

Jason Lee

Jason Lee

Michael Jordan

Some might call Michael Jordan the best basketball player in history. His acting career is actually limited to only one movie: Space Jam. It was a legendary movie that featured him and the iconic animated characters of Warner Brothers. Recently, Nike commemorated the 30th anniversary of the film with a limited edition model of Air Jordans.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors did not only establish himself in the big screen, but he also played for a total of three pro sports teams. After he left the army in 1946, he briefly played for the Boston Celtics in the NBA. He decided to leave basketball in favor of baseball instead. He then joined the Brooklyn Dodgers but only played in a single game! He then went on to play first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. Aside from all of these, he also got drafted by the Chicago Bears but did not play a game in the NFL. In the end, he decided to leave the world of sports and enjoyed a 40-year acting career instead. His greatest role has got to be Lucas McCain in The Rifleman!

Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris is one of the most famous guys on this list. He is a chest hair icon, Internet meme, Bruce Lee victim, and conservative political activist. Before all of these things, he was first a champion karate athlete. He had already launched his acting career back then, although he only rose to fame when he took on the antagonist role in the 1972 Bruce Lee film called Return of the Dragon.

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabber once played for the three-time national champ UCLA Bruins. He also won a couple of NBA championships during the time he spent with the LA Lakers. He was already acting during his time with the Lakers. He and Bruce Lee fought in Game of Death, and he starred in Airplane as well. He is now busy as a TIME magazine social commentator. He is also a jazz expert!

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell once played minor league baseball. However, he decided to stick to acting when he had to choose between the two of them. After all, he had been acting since his childhood! He is best known for starring in cult movies and working with filmmaker John Carpenter. We think that it was fitting when he got cast in the Quentin Tarantino film called The Hateful Eight.

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

The Rock had a rather troubled childhood. His father was none other than pro wrestler Rocky Johnson, who was never really there for him since he was always busy with work. After the Rock joined the championship team at the University of Miami, he briefly played in the Canadian Football League before going into pro wrestling himself. His first acting job was to play his dad in That 70’s Show! Best known for the Fast and Furious series, he now stars in HBO’s Ballers.

Dwayne "The Rock” Johnson

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Jason Statham

Jason Statham had been the ultimate tough guy on the big screen back in the early 2000’s. However, the sport he used to play was not one that would have been helpful in his films. Nope, the Transporter star had been a pro diver! He was a British National Diving Squad member for a dozen years.

Jason Statham

Jason Statham

John Cena

Before he made it big in the pro wrestling scene, John Cena was first a Division III football player with Springfield College. In 2005, WWE started a movie production company and cast him in the lead role in The Marine. These days, Mr. P is more focused on wrestling and selling cereal.

John Cena

John Cena

Joe Namath

Joe Namath, also known as Broadway Joe, was a handsome and flashy quarterback for the New York Jets. After his football career, he began to do cameo roles for TV shows. He had a laid-back personality, which helped him get his hosting gigs. This NFL Hall of Famer is now a pro football commentator.

Joe Namath

Joe Namath

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee had already been acting for the big screen when he was a kid. However, his fights with local gangs made him study martial arts. He eventually moved to the United States and developed a unique style of fighting called Jeet Kun Do. He was eventually discovered by a TV producer who told him to try out for the role of Kato in a TV show called The Green Hornet. He died at the young age of 32, but he was already a huge film legend by that time!

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Apparently, this bodybuilding legend always wanted to be famous. In 1982, the bodybuilder and bit-part actor finally landed his big break when he was cast in Conan the Barbarian. However, what made him a household name was playing the titular character in The Terminator! He was one of the most popular stars during the ‘80s. It is interesting to hear that he was the Governor of California for a brief period, although his political career has since ended. However, his acting career is still alive and kicking.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey has made a name for herself as a judoka and a Mixed Martial Arts champion. She is now a sought-after commercial star! In the past, she expressed her interest in joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe cast by playing Captain Marvel. It ultimately went to Brie Larson, however.

Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal has appeared in a number of films when he was still in the NBA. He had a music career as well! Now retired, the former NBA champ now likes to play it up for laughs and lampoons himself on the small screen. One of his recent TV appearances was for ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat!

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal

Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon is yet another person on the list who had an athlete for a father. The son of an NFL player, this photogenic actor won the Rose Bowl when he was the quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. Now a big TV star, he starred in Chicago Hope and St. Elsewhere in the past. He is also in the long-running series called NCIS.

Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon

Lawrence Taylor

Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor once played for the University of North Carolina before he joined the New York Giants! He has a reputation for living with reckless abandon. Sadly, he had to deal with legal issues and substance abuse. His biggest project was Any Given Sunday with Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx.

Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor

Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan is a big wrestling star who played a villain in Rocky III. He often played himself in various TV shows and B-movies. In 2005, he hopped on the reality TV show bandwagon with Hogan Knows Best. Recently, he was in hot water after he was heard using racist language. WWE promptly fired him.

Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan

OJ Simpson

When he was at USC, OJ Simpson took home a Heisman Trophy. Of course, we all know that he set a rushing record during his time with the Buffalo Bills. However, he will forever be remembered for the infamous trials. In 1991, he got accused of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. He got exonerated, but the families of the victims sued him for wrongful death and won the case. He is now in jail on charges of kidnapping and armed robbery. The Juice enjoyed a successful acting career during the ‘70s and ‘80s. He was best known for The Naked Gun and Roots.

OJ Simpson

OJ Simpson

Stacy Keibler

Stacy Keibler was a very popular wrestler in WWF. After she decided that it was time to retire from the sport, she began to host reality programs and starred in TV shows. She is also known for her years-long relationship with George Clooney.

Stacy Keibler

Stacy Keibler

Burt Reynolds

During the ‘50s, Burt Reynolds played football for Florida State University. Unfortunately, he had to stop because of his injuries. He won an acting award when he was in college and earned a scholarship at an acting school in New York. He debuted in Hollywood during the ‘60s and worked on a number of TV shows. Deliverance proved to be his big break. Can you believe that he still acts now?

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds

Bob Uecker

It turns out that Uecker was a bad major league catcher but an excellent play-by-play man. He was cast in the NBC sitcom called Mr. Belvedere, which was based on his guesting on The Tonight Show. He later starred in a 1989 film called Major League. He continues to do play-by-play for the Brewers to this day!

Bob Uecker

Bob Uecker

Caitlin Jenner

Caitlin Jenner took home the decathlon gold medal during the 1980 Olympic Games! She was a small college football player who started acting after the Olympics. She starred in movies and then played a cop in the ‘80s show called CHiPs. Previously known as Bruce Jenner, she only came out as trans in 2014.

Caitlin Jenner

Caitlin Jenner

Andre the Giant

Andre Roussimoff had a 7’6” stature. The French-born actor towered over his fellow pro wrestlers during the ‘70s and ‘80s. He guest starred on TV shows and starred in the 1987 hit movie called The Princess Bride. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1993.

Andre The Giant

Andre The Giant

Jim Brown

We have yet another three-sport actor at Syracuse University! He was an NFL legend when he was the running back for the Cleveland Browns. He started acting back then, although he was retired by the time that he got his big break in the 1966 film called The Dirty Dozen. He was an outspoken political activist when he was an actor.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown

Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno is a legally deaf New York native who had been in the pro bodybuilder scene at the same time that Arnold Schwarzenegger was. The two of them were the focus of a documentary called Pumping Iron. He tried both manual labor and Canadian pro football. However, he got his big break when he was cast in The Incredible Hulk in 1977. He is now a philanthropist and entrepreneur.

Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno

John Wayne

John Wayne is a legend in Hollywood, enough said. He was the one to cement our idea of what a cowboy and a patriot soldier should be like! In 1969, he took home the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in True Grit. He actually played football at USC until he got injured. He died in 1979.

John Wayne

John Wayne

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith had been a star at Michigan State before he joined the NFL and went on to be an All-Pro defensive end. He retired after playing for nine years and started shooting commercials. Smith is best known for bringing Moses Hightower to life in Police Academy. He died in 2011.

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith

Terry Bradshaw

Louisiana native Terry Bradshaw took home four Super Bowl championships during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He retired in 1983 to work at the announcer’s booth. However, he was already starring in TV shows, movies, and commercials by then. He is best known for starring in comedies such as Hooper and Smokey and The Bandit II together with Burt Reynolds.

Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw

Rick Fox

Rick Fox already had a lot of female fans when he was still playing basketball for the University of North Carolina. He has won three NBA titles with the LA Lakers! He actually began acting not long after he went pro. He has since appeared in hundreds of films and TV shows. What a legend!

Rick Fox

Rick Fox

Esther Williams

In the ‘30s, Esther Williams had been a swimming prodigy with three US national championships to her name. She did not get the chance to join the Olympics due to the war, so she worked in Hollywood instead. She starred in a number of “aquamusicals” that put her athletic prowess on the forefront. She also dabbled in more serious roles. In 2013, she died at the age of 91.

Esther Williams

Esther Williams

Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers is best known as Apollo Creed from Rocky. However, he played pro football instead of boxing in real life. This Action Jackson star was once the linebacker for the Oakland Raiders. He also played in the Canadian League for two years before he started to act. He is now busy poking fun at his ‘80s action star image in various commercials and sitcoms.

Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers

Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson has been dubbed The Hammer for his tackles. He was a pro football player who played for the Oakland Raiders during the ‘60s. After his retirement, he went on to star in blaxploitation films. However, others probably know him better for starring in the 1996 film called From Dusk Till Dawn.

Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson

Brian Bosworth

Brian Bosworth was a big personality in the ‘80s college football scene. He was known for his signature sunglasses and buzzcut but got kicked off the Oklahoma team for his steroid use. He did not fare well as an NFL linebacker and quit after two years. It was then that he started to act. The Boz did not do well in this endeavor either and only starred in a few action flicks. He is now a college football commentator.

Brian Bosworth

Brian Bosworth

Gina Carano

An early star in the female Mixed Martial Arts scene, Gina Carano has a lot of wins to her name. Aside from this, she graced the pages of various magazines as well. She is now an action star who has worked on the Fast and Furious 6. Aside from that, she also appeared in a Marvel movie called Deadpool.

Gina Carano

Gina Carano

Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro was a legend when he played for Cornell University. In 1971, he was named the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, which is an incredible feat for Ivy League athletes. He played for the Minnesota Vikings and made two Super Bowl appearances. As an actor, his claim to fame was the five years he spent working on the cop show called Hill Street Blues. He is now busy as a celebrity spokesperson.

Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro

Howie Long

Howie Long was a defensive end for the Oakland Raiders. Not only that, but he was also a Hall of Fame inductee and an eight-time Pro Bowl player. For the most part, his acting career had been brief and unmemorable. The sole exception to this would be the time he played a villain in the John Woo film called Broken Arrow. After retirement, he found his calling when he started working as a Fox Sports analyst. He now gets paid to watch his sons Chris and Kyle play pro football!

Howie Long

Howie Long

Vinnie Jones

This English actor and singer began his career as a professional soccer player, believe it or not! He played a midfielder from 1984 to 1999, most notably for Wimbledon, Leeds United, Sheffield United, Chelsea, Queens Park Rangers, and Wales. Noted for his very aggressive style of play, Jones was a defensive midfielder and earned himself a “hard man” image on the field. Ever since he’s been retired from soccer, he’s used his tough-guy image and became an actor known for his fiery demeanor and physical presence. For the most part, his roles have been as criminals and thugs. So far, he’s appeared in movies like X-men: The Last Stand, and in shows like Arrow.

Vinnie Jones

Vinnie Jones

Fred Dryer

Fred Dryer is an American actor and radio host who just so happens to have been a defensive end in the NFL. Dryer played in the NFL for 13 years starting in 1969. In total, he played in 176 games and recorded 104 career sacks with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams. To top it off, he’s the only NFL player to ever score two safeties in one game. After he retired from the field, Dryer became a successful movie and television actor. He’s most famous for his starring role in the series Hunter.

Fred Dryer

Fred Dryer

Alex Karras

Alex Karras was an American football player, professional wrestler, and sportscaster who happened to become an actor as well. He was a four-time Pro Bowl player for the Detroit Lions in the NFL. He played for them from 1958 to 1970. When he became an actor, Karras played Mongo in the 1974 comedy, Blazing Saddles. On top of all that, he starred as Webster Long’s adoptive father in the ABC sitcom, Webster in the ’80s.

Alex Karras

Alex Karras

LeBron James

Who hasn’t heard of LeBron James? The American professional basketball player has played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. In fact, he’s been referred to as the greatest basketball player of all time, resulting in a lot of comparisons to Michael Jordan. When he isn’t playing, he makes quite a bit of cash from multiple endorsement deals. Aside from all that, he’s made appearances on shows like Saturday Night Live and in movies like Trainwreck.

LeBron James

LeBron James

Merlin Olsen

An American football player, announcer, and actor, Merlin Olsen played his entire 15-year professional football career in the NFL. He was a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams. Not to mention that he was selected to the Pro Bowl a record 14 straight times, only missing the selection in his last year. After his retirement from the football field, he became an actor, he played farmer Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie. Once he left the series, he played the lead in his own NBC drama, Father Murphy.

Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller was an Austro-Hungarian-born American competition swimmer and actor. His most famous role was as the ape-man Tarzan in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ films in the 1930s and 1940s. To top it off, he had one of the best competitive swimming records of the 20th century. In the 1920s, Weissmuller was one of the world’s fastest swimmers, winning five Olympic gold medals for swimming as well as one bronze medal for water polo. Once he retired from competitions, he became the sixth actor to play Tarzan and ended up playing the role in twelve films.

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller

Rosey Grier

An American actor, singer, Protestant minister, and former professional football player. He was a notable football player in college for Pennsylvania State University and has earned a retrospective place in the National Collegiate Athletic Association 100th anniversary list of 100 most influential student-athletes. As a professional player, he played for the New York Giants and was an original Fearsome Foursome of the Los Angeles Rams. Grier hosted his own TV show and made many guest appearances on other shows throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1979, he made an appearance on The Love Boat.

Rosey Grier

Rosey Grier

Ray Allen

Ray Allen is a former American professional basketball player. He played 18 for the NBA and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2018. He began his career in the NBA in 1996 and didn’t win a championship until 2008. In addition, Allen won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the 2000 United States men’s basketball team. During offseasons, Ray did some acting. He is best known for his role as basketball prodigy Jesus Shuttlesworth in the 1998 movie, He Got Game.

Ray Allen

Ray Allen

Ed O’Neill

An American actor and comedian, Ed O’Neill is best known as Al Bundy from Married… with Children and as Jay Pritchett on Modern Family. While his acting won him plenty of awards, did you know he was a football star back in high school? When he was younger, he won a state championship and in turn a football scholarship to Ohio University. Even though he majored in history, his main focus was on sports. Later on, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 but was cut in training camp.

Ed O'Neill

Ed O’Neill

Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman is an American retired professional basketball player and wrestler. During his basketball career, he played for the Detroit Pistons, San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks in the NBA. After retiring from basketball and wrestling, Rodman turned to acting. He had his own TV show, The Rodman World Tour, as well as lead roles in action movies like Double Team and Simon Sez.

Dennis Rodman

Dennis Rodman

Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe was a two-time Olympic swimmer who also happened to be an American movie star. He won the 1932 Olympic gold medal for the 400-meter freestyle swimming event, which turned out to launch his career in acting. He started off as a movie actor and later got roles on TV shows. Between 1933 and 1950, he starred in a variety of popular movies.

Buster Crabbe

Buster Crabbe

John David Washington

This American actor used to be a professional football player before he made his debut on the big screen. Before his acting career, John David Washington played college football and signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2006. He ended up spending four years as the running back for the United Football League’s Sacramento Mountain Lions. Like his famous father, Denzel Washington, John turned to acting and now has a role in the HBO comedy series, Ballers, as well as a role in Spike Lee’s 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, the latter of which earned him both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.

John David Washington

John David Washington

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe was an American athlete and Olympic gold medalist. In fact, he was the first-ever Native American to win a gold medal for the United States. He played professional American football, baseball, and basketball. During his time off, he appeared in several films during the 1950s.

Jim Thorpe

Jim Thorpe

Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista is an American actor and retired professional wrestler, former mixed martial artist, and bodybuilder. He started his acting career in 2006 and went on to star in movies like The Man with the Iron Fists, Riddick, the James Bond film Spectre and Blade Runner 2049. In fact, he didn’t retire from professional wrestling until April 2019.

Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista

Joe McHale

You might recognize Joel McHale from a variety of shows like Community and The Soup. The American comedian, actor, writer, producer, and TV host has an athletic history as well. He was recruited to be on the rowing team in college but later he ended up joining the football team. Despite the fact that most of his teammates got athletic scholarships, McHale was a walk-on playing tight end for two years.

Joel McHale

Joel McHale

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