Get Your Head in the Game: Actors Who Used to Be Athletes

Can you take a moment and think to when you were a kid? Try to remember: as a child, do you know what you wanted to be when you grew up? Was it an astronaut? A ballet dancer? A basketball player? Things don’t always turn out the way you want, and here are some actors who experienced that first-hand. Luckily for them, things turned out to be better. These are the celebrities who played sports growing up and had aspirations of becoming professional athletes.

Photo of Jamie Foxx talking to Rachel DeMita during the NBA All-Star celebrity basketball game in LA.
Source: Associated Press

When I was in high school, I wanted to be in the WNBA. But when I realized that I pretty much stopped growing, I realized I needed a more realistic career path. I probably should have become an actress. Some of these stars had a sports career before pursuing acting, and others left sports altogether to focus on their acting careers.

Check out these former athlete celebs!

Burt Reynolds

Before becoming an actor, Burt Reynolds had other dreams. The Michigan native wanted nothing more than to become a professional football player. By the time he was in tenth grade, he was offered multiple college scholarships.

Photograph of Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson in the movie 'Semi-Tough.’
Source: IMDB

Reynolds ultimately landed a full scholarship to Florida State University, where he played halfback. Unfortunately, his dreams were shattered. During his first game, he injured his knee. Soon after, he got into a car accident where he hurt his other knee and lost his spleen.

Fun fact: Back in 1972, Burt Reynolds posed nude in an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. Unfortunately, he regretted that decision stating, “I’m very embarrassed by it.”

Joel McHale

You probably recognize Joel McHale from the sitcom Community, and for hosting The Soup on E! Before reaching our screens, McHale was a high school athlete. Then the University of Washington recruited the actor as part of the rowing team. But McHale got in a fight with the team crew, and his time rowing for UW ended.

Photograph of Joel McHale at a star ceremony on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. / Photograph of a rowing team on a lake.
Photo by Kathy Hutchins, / Ivan Smuk,

Although he only played football for one year in high school, he ended up playing for two years on UW’s team. According to the actor, he convinced the team to let him play. He stated: “I lied and said ‘oh yeah, I got hurt during my senior year and that’s why you don’t know me.’” He joined the Husky’s but didn’t play much. He was more interested in the scout team.

Tom Selleck

Tom Selleck is known for playing many roles. A fan favorite was his recurring role on Friends as Monica’s older boyfriend Richard. What’s surprising about Selleck’s career is that he was a basketball player at the University of Southern California for two years. Originally, Selleck enrolled in a community college in Los Angeles. In his Junior year, USC offered him a basketball scholarship, and he transferred.

Photograph of Tom Selleck and two of his teammates.
Source: Pinterest

He spent two years on the team, but eventually dropped out when he decided to pursue acting. Tom Selleck actually made his TV debut on a game-show. Although most of us know him for his mustache, Selleck was a clean-shaven, 20-year old college boy in 1965, when he appeared in ABC’s The Dating Game.

Tony Danza

Tony Danza is famous for starring in Who’s the Boss? But for Danza, it wasn’t clear that he would become one of the biggest stars of the 80s. In fact, there was no indication that he would be an Emmy-winning actor at all. Tony Danza is a self-proclaimed ‘terrible student.’ He earned a four-year wrestling scholarship to the University of Dubuque, where he majored in history. After graduation, Danza started boxing in New York, where he was scouted by a talent agent.

Tony Danza in the boxing ring after a fight
Source: Bloody Elbow

In 1998, Danza won a People’s Choice Award for his role in The Tony Danza Show. The actor has four children. Marc and Gina are with his first wife, Rhonda Yeoman. He had two more daughters, Katherine, and Emily with his second wife, Tracy Robinson. Unfortunately, they divorced back in 2013.

Dwayne Johnson

Before becoming an actor, Dwayne Johnson was a professional wrestler. Many people may already know this because in his earlier films, such as The Scorpion King, people referred to him as “The Rock.” He tried using his real name, but he was still called by his nickname until 2008. What you may not have known about Johnson is that he was a football player and earned a full scholarship to play defensive tackle at the University of Miami.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson goes on to lose against WWE championship challenger John Cena.
Photo by Andrew Theodorakis / New York Daily News

He was a starting player before a sports injury forced him to receive less game time. Johnson went to Calgary to play Canadian football. He got cut mid-season, and that’s when he became a wrestler. Dwayne Johnson may be confident and attractive now, but he was an awkward teenager. Johnson admitted to eating doughnuts and cookies after school, which led him to break out. In addition, he was so big in high-school that other students thought he was an undercover cop.

Mark Harmon

Since he was born to Heisman Trophy winner and sports broadcaster Tom Harmon, it’s not surprising that Mark Harmon grew up playing football. Before he starred on NCSI, Harmon was a university football star. The actor received scholarship offers from many different schools. He ended up playing star quarterback for UCLA from 1972-1973. The National Football Foundation honored Harmon for his all-around excellence during his senior year.

Black and white photograph of Mark Harmon in a football uniform about to toss one around.

Mark Harmon’s father was a longstanding TV spokesman. Mark’s first TV appearance was in a Kellogg’s Product 19 cereal commercial, alongside his father. In 1986, People’s magazine honored him with the title of “Sexiest Man Alive.” Harmon was once known as the face of Coors Beer. He appeared in more than 20 commercials for them in the early 80s.

Terry Crews

Terry Crews is a man of many talents. Not only can he perform, but the 240-pound 6’3” actor was a football player. After graduating high school, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star received an art scholarship in addition to a full athletic scholarship to Western Michigan University. After college, Crews continued playing, and in 1991, he went professional when he was picked by the Los Angeles Ram during the NFL draft.

Photograph of Terry Crews and his team, the San Diego Chargers.
Source: Pinterest

Crews continued his career playing for the San Diego Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Also, he played American Football in Germany before eventually retiring two years later.

Fun fact: Terry Crews is openly a man of God. His wife is a Gospel singer. The actor almost drowned when he was raising money for charity.

Uzo Aduba

It took Uzo Aduba ten years of working steadily in New York Theater before finally landing her breakout as “Crazy Eyes” on the hit series, Orange Is the New Black. Before getting into acting, Aduba attended Boston University on a track scholarship. As a sprinter, she almost beat the school record when she completed 55 meters in just 7.07 seconds. The athletic department also gave her recognition for her leadership skills.

Photograph of Uzo Aduba in her track uniform ready to run.
Source: Twitter

Surprisingly, the star chose BU because of its art program as well as athletics. She actually landed her first stage role from one of her professors. If being a singer, actress, and athlete isn’t enough, Aduba was also a competitive figure skater for ten years! Is there anything she can’t do?!

Dean Cain

Honestly, it’s not too shocking that Superman was a two-sport athlete and dated Brooke Shields while he was attending Princeton University. After a knee injury, Dean Cain left his baseball and football dreams behind and began screenwriting. Santa Monica High School is where Cain first showed his baseball skills. His teammates were Charlie Sheen and Rob Lowe. When he got to Princeton, he played free safety and in 1987, set a national record for interceptions.

Photograph of Dean Cain, a teammate and his coach in his Junior year at Princeton.
Source: Instagram / @RealDeanCain

Cain has never been married. He is a single dad to a 14-year-old boy named Christopher, and he is very proud of it. The proud dad is also a regular chef, explaining, “I cook every meal for my child. If I don’t cook, he doesn’t eat.” He went on to explain how his son is his favorite person on the planet. Awww, how sweet!

Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox grew up in Wyoming, and anything seems like a good excuse to get out there. However, Fox didn’t have his sights set on playing football, let alone professional football. Columbia football scout noticed the 6’2” actor, and in 1985, he was drafted to play wideout while he was still attending Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.

Photograph of a younger Matthew Fox in his football uniform and a more recent photograph of him in a tuxedo.
Source: Pinterest /

The team struggled when Fox joined. He even played against Princeton and Dean Cain. Unfortunately, the team won only two games while Fox was on it. Matthew Fox eventually attended the New York Conservatory for dramatic arts for two years in New York City. In 1992 he married his wife, Margherita Ronchi. The couple has two children together, a daughter named Kyle, and a son named Byron.

Channing Tatum

This attractive star is known for his impressive movies such as Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. As a kid, Channing Tatum grew up playing basketball, soccer, and running track. While he was in high school, he was focused on earning an athletic scholarship. His hard work paid off when he earned a football scholarship to Glenville State College.

Photograph of Channing Tatum playing a football player in the movie sequel 22 Jump Street.

Eventually, he dropped out. In addition to football, Tatum was also a martial arts expert! He studied both Kung Fu and Gor-Chor King Fu. Before becoming an actor, Tatum worked as a model. Before that, he was actually working as a male stripper. Remember the 2005 movie Coach Carter? That was Tatum’s first movie role. He played a basketball player. Of course, you probably missed him since he was unrecognizable at the time.

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Suzanne Crow is famously known for her music. She also made guest appearances on several TV shows. What you may not know about this talented singer is that she is also a track athlete. While in high school, the star ran in the 75-meter hurdles. These days, she is a nine-time Grammy winner and no longer runs tacks. However, she does work out regularly.

Sheryl Crow and Eva Mendes posing before a run to benefit women's cancer research in LA.
Photo by Everett Collection /

Although she isn’t a huge gym fan, the star expressed that “I take workouts with me on tour…P90X, Tracy Anderson. I do them in hotel rooms.” Sheryl Crow’s first album was never released. She was signed to her record label in 1991, and the first album was recorded by 1992. However, Sheryl didn’t like the way it sounded, so she decided not to release it.

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell was landing movies and TV shows when he was just a child star. By the 1960s, Russel became a star in Disney’s live-action comedies. When he turned 20, he decided to follow a different passion: professional baseball. The actor signed with the California Angels. He played as an infielder for two minor leagues and then moved up to Class AA ball in El Paso.

Photograph of Kurt Russell in a Mavericks uniform. / Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell at a movie premiere in Hollywood.
Source: Portland Mavericks / Photo by Tinseltown,

Unfortunately, a sports injury took out the rotator cuff in his throwing arm. Russel was forced to quit baseball, but luckily Hollywood welcomed him back with open arms. In the late 60s, Kurt Russell signed a deal with The Walt Disney Company! According to Robert Osborne, he was the studio’s top star in the 70s.

Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno is known for his work as an actor, motivational speaker, trainer, and professional bodybuilder. As a child, Ferrigno suffered numerous ear infections, which ultimately caused him to lose 75 percent of his hearing. He grew up playing sports, particularly weightlifting and bodybuilding. He had a successful bodybuilding career. He won an International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) Mr. America title and also two IFBB Mr. Universe titles.

Lou Ferringo flexing his muscles at E! Entertainment Television's summer splash event in 2005.
Photo by Tinseltown /

The talented actor is remembered for starring in the TV show, The Incredible Hulk. He also played himself in a recurring role on The King of Queens. When Ferringo lived in Columbus earlier in his career, he trained with Arnold Schwarzenegger. After a co-worker accidentally cut off his own hand one day, Ferrigno decided that it was too dangerous and changed career paths.

Jason Lee

Jason Lee’s most notable role was Earl Hickey in My Name is Earl. Before becoming an actor, Lee was a professional skateboarder. Back in the 80s and 90s, Lee was a well-known skateboarder and is remembered for his 360 flips. He is the co-founder of Stereo Skateboards, keeping him involved in the skateboarding industry.

A portrait of Jason Lee and him on a skateboard on the right.

Lee’s acting debut was when he appeared in the video for Sonic Youth’s 100%. In 1995, he finally retired from skateboarding and became a full-time actor. This talented star has another passion and third career as a photographer. You can see his work in Oklahoma’s Philbrook Museum of Art. Lee appeared in a promotional video for the skateboarding company, “Blind Skateboards.” Lee also got his skateboarding featured in 2004 in Way Out East! a film produced by Stereo Skateboards.

Gina Carano

Profession football player Glen Carano played for the Dallas Cowboys. His daughter Gina, however, was a Muay Thai fighter and was named “The Face of Women’s MMA.” She is also the first American woman who has ever won a Muay Thai title in Thailand. Carano made her movie debut in 2009 in Blood and Bone. She appeared in hit movies, including Fast & Furious and Deadpool.

Gina Carano posing and dressed for American Gladiators.

Before becoming an actress, Gina worked as a mentor to other MMA fighters in the reality show, Fight Girls, in 2007. She appeared in the revived series American Gladiator and performed as ‘Crush.’ In 2009, Carano was featured as a cover athlete, alongside Serena Williams, in the October edition of ESPN The Magazine Body issue.

Tommy Lee Jones

You probably already know that while attending Harvard University, Tommy Lee Jones was roommates with Al Gore. He and the future vice president were the combined inspiration for the male protagonist in Erich Segal’s novel, Love Story. However, what you probably don’t know about his college years is that gridiron star and played offensive guard. He was part of two championship teams and was even involved in the most iconic matchups in the Harvard/Yale rivalry in 1968.

Tommy Lee Jones in his Harvard football team uniform, number 61. / Photo of Tommy Lee Jones now, at a premiere in France.
Source: Pinterest / Photo by Denis Makarenko,

In 1971, Jones married Kate Larder but divorced after just seven years. He married his second wife, Kimberlea Cloughley and they have two children together, a son named Austin, and a daughter named Victoria. In 2001 he married Dawn Laurel-Jones. Thankfully, they are still together. Third time’s the charm!

Mike Tyson

By age 20, Mike Tyson was the youngest heavyweight champion of the world. In 1987, he was awarded the World Boxing Association belt after beating James Smith. Later that year, Tyson gained recognition as a champion by three different boxing organizations. Tyson may be best known as a boxer but, he is a man of many talents.

Mike Tyson making a fist standing in front of some bushes.
Photo by Leonard Zhukovsky /

He was developing his acting career and got guest appearances in several TV shows, including How I Met Your Mother and Law & Order: SVU. He also acted in multiple movies. After being bullied as a child, Tyson thought street-fighting would help him overcome it. Instead, it resulted in criminal activity, and the actor was arrested 38 times by the time he was 13 years old.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson will always be remembered for her legendary breakout role, Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter franchise. When you spend your entire childhood on the big screen, it’s normal to want to experience something different. When she enrolled at Brown University, Emma ended up joining the Field Hockey team. Watson actually grew up playing hockey in England. She spent a little over a year on the team before quitting to focus on her classes.

Photograph of Emma Watson playing field hockey in college.
Source: YouTube

After graduation, the actress continued supporting field hockey. In 2018 she even opened the Hockey Futures charity initiative. The organization encourages women to boost their self-esteem by playing hockey.

Did you know Emma Watson is best friends with Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint? After basically growing up together in the Harry Potter world, it’s nice to know they didn’t lose touch like many other co-stars.

Jim Gaffigan

Jim Gaffigan is known as being a hilarious standup comedian. In 2012, she showed off his talent in his successful comedy, special Mr. Universe, and his memoir Dad is Fat was released just one year later. Before he was a comedy legend, Gaffigan was a college athlete.

Photograph of Jim Gaffigan in a Purdue football uniform.
Source: Twitter / @ldeleon5

During his first year of college, he joined the football team. In 2007, Gaffigan joked about his short football career at Purdue, saying, “I have so many fond memories from Purdue. Most seem to involve walking. I walked onto the football team and walked away after I didn’t like getting my head bashed in.”

Gaffigan is married to Jeannie Gaffigan, and the couple has five beautiful children together. Although they are seven people, the family infamously lived in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. They have since moved to a bigger home.

Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris is widely known for martial arts. In 1964, the Oklahoma native began his career in martial arts, which lasted up until 1974. Unfortunately, Norris lost his first three tournaments only to become a champion by 1966. He won multiple awards, including The National Karate Championships and All-American Karate Championship in 1967. Although he’s known for martial arts, Norris is just as famous for acting, thanks to his 1990 show, Walker, Texas Ranger. He then began starring in action films, like The Hitman, Sidekicks, and The Delta Force.

Chuck Norris in the World Karate Championship.
Source: Youtube

At just 18 years old, Norris married his high school girlfriend, Dianne Kay Holechek. In 1962, the couple had their first child, Mike. In 1963, Norris had another daughter as a result of an affair (he didn’t meet her until she was 26). He then had another son named Eric with his wife of 30 years. In 1989, the couple divorced. He then married model, Gena O’kelley; she delivered twins in 2001. Norris has 13 grandchildren.

Ed O’Neill

If you don’t know him for the show Married With Children, then you probably recognize him from Modern Family. O’Neill played on the Youngstown State football team as a defensive lineman back in 1960. After college, he tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers team. O’Neill went to training camp the same year that Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood joined the team.

Photograph of Ed O'Neill in Steelers uniform

When he was switched to outside linebacker, the position was too intimidating. Unfortunately, his football career came to an end when he was cut from the team two weeks later. Before pursuing acting, O’Neill briefly worked as a social studies teacher. O’Neill is married to Catherine Rusoff, and the couple has two children together, Claire and Sofia. The family is living in Los Angeles.

Matthew Perry

Way before starring on Friends, Matthew Perry shined on the Tennis Court. As a teenager, he was a nationally ranked player in Canada. During his peek, Perry was practicing up to ten hours a day. When he moved to California at age 15, the competition got way tougher. Perry claimed that abandoning the sport was expected.

A photo of Matthew Perry making a face while hitting a tennis ball.
Source: Pinterest

He explained, “I was pretty great in Canada. Not as much in Los Angeles. It was insane. I realized I wouldn’t be playing tennis for a living, so I went for acing.”

When Perry was just a little boy, his grandfather accidentally closed a car door on his hand. As a result, he is missing the top part of his middle finger, but many people don’t notice it.

O.J. Simpson

Although OJ Simpson was exonerated for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, the 1994 trial still shadows over his reputation. Before the unfortunate tragedy, O.J. Simpson, (the Juice) was a football legend. Not only is he a Heisman Trophy winner at USC, but he was also the first player to beat Jim Brown’s record.

Photograph of OJ Simpson (32) runs against rivals from Cal Berkely during an NCAA game in LA.
Source: Associated Press

During his NFL career, OJ Simpson began dabbling in acting during the off-season. Some of his earlier roles, such as Roots, took advantage of his speed athleticism. He also did a memorable commercial for Hertz, where is running through the airport. He continued making TV appearances and he even filmed a pilot for Frogmen. It would have been an action series starring Simpson. The show never got picked up because of all the attention surrounding the murders.

Carl Weathers

Carl Weather charmed movie watchers as the heavyweight champ Apollo Creed in the Rocky films. Off-screen, boxing was just one of the many sports he was involved in as a high school athlete. He was also pretty good at football, and once he recovered from an injury, he was played for San Diego State. After graduating, Weathers signed with the Oakland Raiders. He got cut after just two seasons.

Photograph of Carl Weathers, number 49, playing for the Oakland Raiders.

He already became interested in acting but joined the Canadian Football League so that he can play for a few more years. Carl Weathers married Mary Anne Castle in 1973. After 2 children and 10 years of marriage, they got divorced. He then married Rhona Usneel but unfortunately got divorced. In 2007, Weathers married Jennifer Peterson, but sadly, the marriage lasted just two years.

Caitlyn Jenner

Way before starring on her family’s reality show and going through a gender transformation, Caitlyn Jenner played football in high-school and went on to become one of the most successful decathlon athletes. After playing high-school football, Jenner relieved a scholarship to Graceland University. After a knee injury, Jenner was forced to stop playing during her sophomore year. Luckily she was encouraged to try decathlon and ended up winning a gold medal at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

Photograph of Bruce Jenner with their Olympic medal.
Source: Imago

Did you know that Cailyn Jenner found out about her daughter Kylie’s pregnancy online? Obviously, she wanted to keep her pregnancy on the down-low… but she probably should have told her dad. Caitlyn expressed how she doesn’t have a great relationship with her stepchildren (The Kardashians). Sadly, she doesn’t seem to have a strong relationship with any of her kids.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger proved to be an extraordinary bodybuilder when he won the Mr. Olympia championship for six years running. A documentary film crew followed Schwarzenegger during 1975, Mr. Olympia. By then, he already started to pursue acting, but at this point, he decided to focus on his movie career and act full time.

A black and white photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger lifting at the gym.
Source: Flickr

After that, he got super pumped for Conan and took one last run at Mr. Olympia, and won! That’s basically where his bodybuilding career ended and became a movie legend.

Did you know that Arnold Schwarzenegger is the youngest Mr. Universe in history? That’s right. There is more to Schwartzenegger than being a champion bodybuilder. He won the annual Mr. Universe competition at just 20 years old.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is famous for his basketball skills. He is also widely known as the “greatest basketball player of all time” and earned that title from the NBA. He played for 15 seasons for the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizard. Jordan isn’t a world-class basketball player, but he is also a successful actor. His most notable role is Space Jam. He has also done voiceover work in the animated web series Gen: Lock and the animated movie Year 3000.

Photograph of Michael Jordon playing for the Chicago Bulls, number 23.

Michael Jordan is famous for wearing a #23 jersey and made the number iconic. Many people know that he wore #45 when he came back (since he retired #23). However, in a 1990’s game, he was forced to wear a #12 jersey. Someone managed to break into his locker room and steal his #23 jersey before the game.

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is very well-known for his successful basketball career. It’s no surprise considering he weighs 325 pounds and his height is 7’1”. During his 19 years with the NBA, Shaq played for six different teams. In 1997, while he was working as a professional basketball player, Shaq earned a starring role in the movie version of Steel.

Shaq standing with Matt Mitcham, Christine Duffy, and Eddie Allen, showing you how tall he really is.
Photo by lev radin /

He also made several TV appearances and has done voiceover work in movies, including The Smurfs 2 and The Lego Movie. Shaquille O’Neal destroyed so many backboards that the NBA panicked and changed their rule book. I mean, basketball players are huge already, but have you seen Shaq? Eventually, the rule changed to breaking the backboard or basket ring counts as a technical foul.

Terry Bradshaw

For most people, Terry Bradshaw is remembered from his impressive career as a broadcast sports analyst. You probably already know that he played quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but did you know he is also a four-time Super Bowl winner?

Terry Bradshaw, number 12, running with the football building up his career passing yards.

While he was growing up, Bradshaw’s biggest dream was to become a professional football player. He ended up playing quarterback at Louisiana Tech University for four standout seasons and then became known as the best college player in the country. His hard work paid off in 1970 when the Steelers chose him as their number one draft pick. Before he retired in 1983, he already had two Super Bowl MVP titles and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown launched his acting career and ended his NFL career when he appeared in Sleepless in Seattle, starring Tom Hanks. After playing with the Cleveland Browns for nine years, he was considered one of the greatest running backs and set all kinds of records. Brown did begin to pursue acting during the off-season. Unfortunately, The Dirty Dozen was running behind schedule, and the team was not happy.

Jim Brown avoids a would-be tackler in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They threatened huge fines for every day he was late. He immediately announced his retirement with one more year left on his contract.

Fun fact: After model Eva Bohn-Chin was found under Brown’s balcony of his second-floor apartment, he was charged with assault and intent to commit murder. The charges were later dropped.

Jason Statham

If you never heard of Jason Statham, he is a British actor. He is famous for portraying tough characters in action-thriller. However, before starring in Fate of the Furious, Statham was an athlete. While in high-school the actor picked up diving and he loved it! He even earned a spot on Britain’s national team. Unfortunately, he never made it to the Olympics, but in 1990 he did get to compete in the Commonwealth games.

Jason Statham, pictured right, standing with Jude Law and Melissa McCarthy at a premiere in London.
Photo by Twocoms /

The actor also has a background in martial arts and is an expert at kickboxing/Jujitsu. That’s why he was able to perform nearly all of his stunts in The Transporter. This includes chase scenes, scuba diving, and fighting. Good thing, he was an athlete. I guess he can handle it.

Mahershala Ali

Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, famously known as Mahershala Ali, is a rapper and award-winning actor. Before acting, he had his goal set on playing basketball. He attended Saint Mary’s College of California on a basketball scholarship, but unfortunately, by the time he graduated in 1996, he no longer enjoyed playing.

Mahershala Ali at Saint Mary’s College
Source: YouTube

In an interview, Ali stated, “Honestly, I kind of resented basketball by the end of my time there. I’d seen guys on the team get chewed up, spat out, and I was personally threatened with being shipped off to the University of Denver. All in the name of wins and productivity.” Luckily Ali is a man of many talents and got to pursue acting instead.

Fun fact: His win at the Acadamy Awards in 1989, made Ali the first Muslim actor to ever win an Oscar.

Josh Duhamel

Before becoming a recognizable actor, Josh Duhamel worked as a fashion model. What you may not know about this Transformers star is that before modeling, he was a football player. Aside from being a huge sports fan, he played football when he attended Minot State University. Unfortunately, he didn’t get into dental school, so he dropped out. Thankfully, he turned to modeling, which eventually turned into acting.

Josh Duhamel playing a friendly game of flag football with some pals.

Eventually, Duhamel finished his credits and finally received his diploma in 2005. In 1997, the actor won the title of Male Model of the Year by an International Modeling and Talent Association. Before hitting the big screen, Duhamel’s acting career started when he appeared in several music videos. Most notably, Christina Aguilera’s Genie in a Bottle.

Chris Pratt

Christopher Michael Pratt rose to fame when he portrayed Andy Dwyer in the sitcom Parks and Recreation. However, if he didn’t get into acting, he might have been a professional athlete. Before staring in Guardians of the Galaxy, Pratt was a high schooler who was very active in sports, including wrestling, track, and football.

Chris Pratt in wrestling clothes

During his senior year in 1997, Pratt placed fifth in the state wrestling competition. After high school, he chose not to pursue sports and focused on his career instead. After not getting anywhere in college, Pratt decided to drop out. He worked some odd jobs before figuring out what he really wanted to do. He quickly found a job as a male stripper. He had some fun and worked for some private parties. I guess he didn’t know he would be a huge Hollywood star one day and just needed to make some money.

Will Ferrell

In the 1990s, Will Ferrell became an official cast member of the sketch comedy show, Saturday night live. Since then, he has been known for his hilarious acting skills. Although he always enjoyed comedy, he grew up with other interests as well. The actor played several different sports as a teenager, such as basketball, baseball, and football. While on his high school football team, Ferrell set a record for the most field goals.

Photograph of John William Ferrell in High school.
Source: will-ferrell-brazil

After high school, he decided to focus on his other passions. Ferrell found his interest in performing when he was making the morning announcements in high school. He is still athletic and is an avid runner, along with his wife.

Fun fact: Will Ferell was the highest-paid SNL cast member ever!

Jane Lynch

You probably recognize Jane Lynch as Sue Sylvester from the hit musical series, Glee. Before becoming an actress, singer, and comedian, this starlet was an athlete and played basketball. Lynch claimed she didn’t really like the sport and only played because she was tall. 6 feet, to be exact.

Photograph of Jane Lynch, circled, with her Thornridge High School basketball team.
Source: Twitter / @janemarielynch

She explained, “Well, I was an athlete. I loved softball, but I did play basketball. I didn’t love it so much- I was recruited because I’m so tall.” Since she wasn’t passionate about the sport, Lynch did not pursue basketball after high school. Like many of us, Lynch admitted that she loves to work out clothes but hates working out. How relatable.

Lynch graduated from Cornell University with an MFA in theater. I guess some people can be funny and smart.

Jamie Foxx

Eric Marlon Bishop goes by his stage name Jamie Foxx. He is easily recognizable now, but growing up, Foxx had no idea he would end up as a Hollywood Star. He was pursuing other interests, and becoming an award-winning actor was the last thing on his mind. His real dream was to become a professional football player.

Photo of Jamie Foxx talking to Rachel DeMita during the NBA All-Star celebrity basketball game in LA.
Source: Associated Press

After playing on his high school team, Foxx joined the Dallas Cowboys. He was the first player in his entire high school to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He played basketball as well.

In 1989, Foxx went to a comedy club open mic and told jokes. He soon found out that they call on women to go first. That’s when he changed his name to Jamie Foxx.

Garth Brooks

Growing up, Garth Brooks loved playing sports, especially baseball. He dreamed that one day he would be able to get paid to do what he loves. Although he didn’t gain fame from his basketball skills, he is still making money doing what he loves, considering he is a successful country music artist. But first, he got accepted into Oklahoma State University on an athletic scholarship. The sport that he played was javelin-throwing.

Garth Brooks and Bill Self working with kids basketball team.
Source: @ElkGrove_HS / Twitter

Brooke spent time in the track and field community from 1981 to 1984. During this time, he was perfecting his Javelin throw. When he didn’t qualify for the Big Eight Conference Championships, Brookes realized that sports wasn’t his true calling.

Sam Hunt

You probably know Sam Hunt from his famous singing and songwriting skills. At the American Music Awards in 2015, he won the New Artist of the Year. However, before his singing career took off, he attended Middle Tennessee State, where he played quarterback for a season.

Sam Hunt wearing his UAB uniform with the number 3.
Source: UAB photo

He then transferred to UAB. There, he was a starter for the Blazers in 2007. After college, Hunt moved to Nashville and got into the country music scene. That’s when he decided to pursue singing as opposed to playing sports. As a country music fan, I can’t say I’m disappointed.

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner is known for his skills in acting and directing. However, there was a time when this famous face was pursuing sports, specifically baseball. He even proved it on camera. He was featured in five different baseball movies.

Kevin Costner in his class photo and on the baseball team, both from the 1973 Villa Park (CA) High School yearbook

Before he got into acting, Costner attended Cal State Fullerton College, where he tried out for their baseball team. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. When he filmed Bull Durham, Costner apparently hit on out of the park during practice. Playing a home run hitting catcher wasn’t so off from real life.

Jon Bernthal

If you don’t know who Jon Bernthal is, you are not paying close enough attention. He starred in two successful shows, The Walking Dead and The Punisher. He also landed some serious roles in dozens of movies. Now is known for his intense acting skills, but he used to channel his intensity into something else.

Jon Bernthal at the Ford v Ferrari film premiere in 2019.
Photo by AFF-USA /

Jon Bernthal played baseball in college and thought of maybe pursuing sports. He then went to take acting classes at Russia, of all places, where he took acting classes at Moscow Art Theater School. There, he picked up his baseball again. Bernthal played as a catcher for a semi-pro team in Moscow. Russia didn’t produce a lot of baseball talent, but they created a wonderful actor with Jon Bernthal.

Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen is one of those guys who seems to have grown up in Hollywood, and he basically did. Martin Sheen’s son Charlie began acting when he was just a teenager. One of his most famous roles is Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn in Major League. Performing came naturally to the young actor.

Charlie Sheen in the movie Eight Men Out, holding a baseball bat standing ready to hit.
Photo by Orion / Kobal /

When he attended high school, Sheen was known as Charlie Estevez and was a star baseball pitcher. When he wasn’t pitching, he was standout Shortstop. Next time you watch Charlie Sheen fire fastballs in the Major League films, just remember, you are watching actual talent.

Jim Thorpe

There have been times that Jim Thorpe has been called the greatest athlete that ever lived. He played football and make the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also earned two gold medals when he won the Pentathlon and Decathlon in the 1912 Olympics.

Jim Thorpe in the Canton Bulldogs uniform circa 1915-1920.
Photo by Everett Collection /

After accomplishing is dreams as an athlete, Jim Thorpe was quickly getting cast in films; he was half Native American, so he appeared in some westerns as Native America Chiefs. Some of his parts were bigger than others. Some weren’t even credited, but in the end, the actor was featured in seventy-one productions.

André the Giant

André René Roussimoff is a famed pro-wrestler who is known as André the Giant. He stands at 7’4” and was extremely popular in the 70s and 80s. André was considered a villain during his career in the ring. His size and popularity gained him recognition, and he naturally started landing roles on the big screen.

Andre the Giant and Jake the Snake in the ring in 1987.
Photo by John Barrett / photolink / Mediapunch /

In Conan the Destroyer, we can see him fighting Arnold Schwarzenegger, but many of his fans know him for one particular role. He played Fezzik in The Princess Bride. His performance was amazing and made him even more appealing. I mean, even today, this movie is one of the most beloved in the 1980s.

Aubrey Plaza

Aubrey Plaza from Parks and Recreation is well-known and loved for her sarcasm and humor. She’s a little bit weird, but that’s how we like her! If you assumed that this girl wasn’t coordinated enough to be athletic, you’re wrong. Audrey was actually an athlete growing up.

Aubrey Plaza and some other girls from the Pistol Shrimps, from the documentary.
Source: YouTube

While she was in high school, she focused on Volleyball and softball. Surprisingly, she didn’t quit sports when she became a star. She played for a women’s basketball team based in L.A. called the Pistol Shrimps for a few seasons already. The team is pretty famous, and in 2016 they became to subject of a documentary.

Cam Neely

If you know hockey, you definitely heard of Cam Neely. The Boston Bruins great is cherished in New England. Well, in 2005, the leading playoff scorer was engraved into the NHL Hall of Fame. He continued to score goals before showing up very unexpectedly.

Cam Neely presenting Patrice Bergeron with a painting for his 1000th game.
Photo by Eric Canha / CSM /

Neely appeared in the classic comedy, Dumb and Dumber, where he plays “Sea Bass.” His character was a trucker who terrifies Jim Carrey and Jedd Daniels. The continued to act, but his most iconic role was “Sea Bass.” He even reprised his role in two additional Farrelly Brothers comedies. We can’t wait to see what this guy does next.

Boban Marjanović

Boban Marjanović is a Serbian Basketball star. He played for a few different teams, but his biggest athletic accomplishment was in 2015 when he made his NBA debut. Marjanović played for the San Antonio Spurs. The 7’3” athlete made an impact on the NBA before making an impact on the silver screen.

Boban Marjanovic about to pass the ball in the game Serbia v Lithuania.
Photo by Nikola Krstic /

The actor landed a starring role in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, which was incredibly popular. As he portrayed as an assassin, Boban earned himself a whole new audience. The hit movie made over $230 million at the box office. A talented athlete and actor. I guess some people just have it all.

Dave Bautista

We all recognize and love Dave Bautista from the Marvel movies, including the Avengers films and even more notably in the Guardians of the Galaxy Franchise. He appeared in multiple different movies, and it doesn’t look like he is slowing down any time soon. Before he was acting, he was already performing.

Dave Bautista arms flexing and ready for a match.
Source: WWE

He gained fame and recognition in the WWE as a wrestler. This guy was no joke. He is a six-time world champion! He even holds the record for having the longest reign as champion. He even won an MMA fight as recently as 2012. This guy is clearly a champion, no matter which industry.

John David Washington

John David Washington isn’t a household name yet, but he will be. You may not know his name, but you definitely heard of his father, Denzel. John stars in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Also, you will see him in Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s 2020 film.

John David Washington and Arielle Kebbel in the movie Ballers.
Photo by 7 Bucks / Closet To The Hole Prods / Film 44 / Leverage Management / Kobal /

Before landing roles on the big screen. Football was John David’s Washington passion. He played in Morehouse College and signed with St. Louis Rams in 2006. He only made their practice squad but later played for the Sacramento Mountain Lion of the United Football League. Even though he had a short-lived football career, his acting career is skyrocketing.

Johnny Weissmuller

If you’re a millennial, you may have never heard the name Johnny Weissmuller, but during his time, he accomplished a lot. His most famous role was when he played Tarzan. He was the one who invented the famous Tarzan roar. He played that character twelve times! In real life, he comes from the water, not the jungle.

Olympics 1924 in Paris, Johnny Weissmuller, swimming for his life.
Photo by Colorsport /

Weissmuller admits that he wasn’t much of an actor; he is, however, an incredible swimmer! In 1924 and 1928, he won a total of five Olympic gold medals for the U.S. This guy never lost a race, and back then, Weissmuller was considered the world’s best.

Wyatt Russell

Wyatt Russell is an up and coming actor that you may recognize from 22 Jump Street and the Netflix hit, Black Mirror. Also, his famous parents are Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. Before pursuing an acting career, Wyatt was on the ice.

Wyatt Russell talking to his dad after the game where he was the goalie.
Photo by Ponopresse /

The actor used to be a professional hockey player. He was a goaltender for several different independent hockey teams in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. Unfortunately, he sustained some sports injuries, and his hockey career was cut short. He could have been in the NHL today, but lucky for us, we get to see him on TV instead.

Vinnie Jones

If you’re a Guy Ritchie fan, you probably saw Vinnie Jones as a tough guy in films, like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, or Snatch. The British actor was featured in multiple different movies, including X-Men: The Last Stand. The star started off with a completely different career path.

Vinnie Jones celebrating at the final whistle at the FA Cup Final 1988.
Photo by Colorsport /

From 1984 to 1999, Vinnie was a professional footballer, but for us Americans, it means soccer. Jones had a wonderful career in sports and gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the game’s “hard men.” I can’t say I’m surprised. I wouldn’t want to compete with this guy on the field or in the movies.

Mickey Rourke

Back in the ‘80s, Mickey Rourke was an A-list celebrity. In the ’90s, the actor found himself in some obscure films and needed a break during the height of his career. He lost a lot of his self-esteem and confidence, so he decided to turn to the ring. In 1991, he got good. He won six of his eight professional bouts. These included four knockouts and two draws.

Mickey Rourke in the boxing ring in the movie Homeboy.
Photo by 20th Century Fox / Kobal /

So what gave this actor the idea that he can box? Well, before his acting career, he was an amateur boxer! It seems to have worked out for him. In the 2000s, he showed off his talents when he made an acting comeback. His performance in The Wrestler even earned him an Oscar nomination.

Bubba Smith

Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith had a professional career in American football. He started off as defensive end in college before making it to the NFL. After retiring from the sport, he decided to pursue another goal of his acting. Some people are just talented enough to fulfill all their dreams in one lifetime.

Bubba Smith on the field in his Michigan State jersey.
Source: Associated Press

He first gained a sports reputation when he attended Michigan State University. There, he earned All-America honors on the Spartans football team twice. The Texas-born athlete is credited in films such as Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Police Academy 3: Back and Training, and many more!

Merlin Jay Olsen

You may remember Merlin Jay Olsen was an American football player, announcer, and actor. He had a career in the NFL as a professional football player for 15 years! He played on the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive tackle. For 14 consecutive years, Olsen was selected to the Pro Bowl.

Merlin Jay Olsen posing with his uniform on with the number 74.
Source: Associated Press

He set a record, and the only time he missed selection was in the final year of his football career. Some of the movies he appeared in were The Undefeated and Something Big. He also continued to make appearances in TV shows from the early 70s to the late 80s.

Dolph Lundgren

Hans Lundgren is a Swiss actor, martial artist, and filmmaker who is better known as Dolph Lundgren. He landed his breakout role in 1985 when he starred as Ivan Drago, the Soviet Union boxer in Rocky IV. After that, he starred in over 40 movies, most of them were action movies.

Dolph Lundgren on holiday in Spain doing some karate.
Source: Shutterstock

What you may not know about this successful actor is that he used to be an international Karate champion. In 1980 and 1981, he won the European championships. In 1982, he won the Australian championships. His most recent role was Michael Anderson in the direct to video film, Hard Night Falling.

The Hammer (Frederick Robert Williamson)

Many people know Frederick Robert Williamson as “The Hammer.” He was a well-known actor, but before that, he played professional football. After graduating high-school in 1956, he attended Northwest University in Illinois on a football scholarship. During the 1960s, he played defensive back, mostly in the American Football League.

Fred Williamson in uniform kicking a football.
Source: NFL

“The Hammer” landed his first movie role back in 1968 in the movie, Ironside. He quickly kept gaining more roles and has appeared in dozens of movies and TV roles throughout his long and impressive career. His most notable roles are in Dusk till Dawn, MASH, Starsky, and more.

Jesse Ventura

Jesse Ventura is a well-known media personality, author, and actor. From 1993-1995, he was the Mayer of Brooklyn Park. In 1999, he became the governor of Minnesota and served until 2003. Ventura was actually the first candidate from the reform party to win such a major Government Position. What you may not know about him is that he used to be an athlete.

Jesse Ventura “the body” being interviewed.
Source: WWE

Jesse Ventura used to be a professional wrestler. He even created a stage named called Jesse “The Body” Ventura to go with his bodybuilder persona. After he retired, Ventura embarked on a whole new career in acting. His first role was in the 1987 film, Predator where he played Blain Cooper. His latest role was in 2014, where he portrayed Governor Littleton in The Drunk.

Alexander George Karras

Alexander George Karras WAS not only an actor, but a professional wrestler, football player, and sportscaster. He played in the NFL from 1958 to 1970, where he was a four-time Pro Bowl player with the Detroit Lions. He started acting in 1968 when he landed his first role-playing himself in Paper Lion.

Alex Karras in stance on the football field.
Source: Associated Press

He continued to appear in movies throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. His final film role was in 1998, where he ironically played a TV Sportscaster in Buffalo ’66. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012, but his memory will live on forever through his movies.

Steven Frederic Seagal

Steven Seagal is a popular name in the entertainment industry. He is a talented actor, producer, screenwriter, musician, and so much more. This multi-talented guy is also a martial artist. He started his adult life in Japan as a martial arts instructor. That seems like an awesome job!

Steven Seagal putting his martial arts to use in the film Nico / Above the Law.
Photo by Warner Bros / Kobal /

Seagal became the first foreigner in the country to operate an aikido dojo. It wasn’t until 1987 when he started working on his first film, Above the Law. Although he started acting in the ‘80s, this guy isn’t slowing down any time soon. He continued to work consistently in the industry and still is. His latest role was in 2019, where he played Jack Alexander in General Commander.