Actors Who Were Incredible Athletes

Being a professional athlete places people in a unique spotlight. The roar of the crowd and the adulation is hard to give up once their careers end. The only way to keep that juice flowing for some is to stay in the public eye by becoming an actor. Some athletes, like pro wrestlers, were already hams and acting came easy to them. Other athletes turned actors had to work rigorously at it and some failed miserably.

Here is a list of some legends of the field who became legends of the screen too, or failed spectacularly trying. Which of these athletes turned actors do you think was the most successful? Be sure to SHARE this list with anybody who was a fan of their famous roles!

Jason Lee+

Best known for his role on the NBC comedy My Name is Earl, Lee was a successful professional skateboarder and extreme sports entrepreneur. He decided to try acting in the early 1990s, and caught the eye of Kevin Smith, who put Lee in a lead role in the 1995 comedy Mallrats.

Chuck Norris

Internet meme, conservative political activist, Bruce Lee victim, chest hair legend, these are just some of the ways we know Chuck Norris. Before all that, Norris was a real-life championship Karate athlete. Norris was already pursuing an acting career at that time, but didn’t become well known until Bruce Lee put Norris in the villain role in the film Return of the Dragon in 1972.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Jabbar was a member of the three-time national champion UCLA Bruins basketball team and won several NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. By the time the Lakers ruled, he was already an actor. Jabbar fought Bruce Lee in the film Game of Death and appeared in the deadpan comedy Airplane as himself. Today, he is a noted expert on Jazz music and a social commentator for TIME magazine.

Kurt Russell

Russell played minor league baseball; however, he didn’t want to give up his acting career, which had been going strong since he was a child. Russell is a cult movie fan favorite thanks to his work with director John Carpenter. Accordingly, cult movie fanatic Quentin Tarantino has cast Russell in the upcoming movie The Hateful Eight.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

“The Rock” was a troubled kid. Johnson’s father, who wrestled professionally as Rocky Johnson, was never there for his son, always on the road. After joining the University of Miami’s championship team, Johnson played briefly in the Canadian Football League before turning to pro wrestling. Johnson’s first acting job was playing his father on an episode of That 70’s Show. The Fast and Furious star is currently in the HBO show Ballers.

Jason Statham

He was the ultimate movie tough-guy in the early 2000s, yet the chosen sport of his youth would not suggest his later roles as an intimidating bone crusher in films like The Transporter. Statham was a member of the British National Diving Squad for twelve years.

Joe Namath

“Broadway Joe” was a flashy, handsome, Super Bowl winning quarterback for the New York Jets. After football, he started accepting small roles on TV, often playing himself. His easy-going personality and icon status lead to his hosting several talk shows. Today, the NFL Hall of Famer comments on pro football.

Bruce Lee

Lee was already acting in films as a child and teenager; however, his battles with local gangs caused him to begin studying martial arts. Lee would move to the US and develop his own style of fighting, Jeet Kun Do. A TV producer discovered Lee’s skill and asked him to audition for the role of Kato in the TV series The Green Hornet. Lee died at age 32, but not before becoming a film icon and the man who popularized martial arts films in the US.

Shaquille O’Neal

“Shaq Diesel” acted in several films while in the NBA and launched a successful rap music career. Post-retirement finds the former NBA champion playing it up for laughs in commercials and lampooning himself on television, like his recent appearance on the ABC show Fresh Off the Boat.

OJ Simpson

Simpson won a Heisman Trophy while at USC and set an NFL rushing record while with the Buffalo Bills, but he will be forever associated with one of the most sensational murder trials in American history. In 1991, police accused him of murdering his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman. “The Juice” was exonerated, but the families of the victims sued him in civil court for wrongful death and won. Now OJ sits in jail on armed robbery and kidnapping charges. The Juice was a successful actor in the 1970s and 80s, best known for Roots and The Naked Gun franchise.

Burt Reynolds

Reynolds played football at Florida State University in the 1950s before injuries ended his football career. After winning an acting award in college, Reynolds got a scholarship to a New York acting institute. Hollywood beckoned in the ‘60s, and Reynolds worked on several TV shows before the movie Deliverance made him a star. He continues to act today.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *