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These 28 Actors All Started Out as Professional Athletes


As a professional athlete, you’re in a spotlight unlike any other. Thousands of people are constantly cheering your name at various sporting events, and this type of fan support can be hard to walk away from.
One way to keep up this type of popularity is by entering the entertainment industry. For certain athletes, like professional wrestlers, acting is a natural instinct. For others, it was a little harder. Here are 28 incredible athletes who turned to the screen.

28. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

athletes turned actors

Dwayne Johnson’s father was also a professional wrestler, who wrestled under the name Rocky Johnson. Unfortunately, because of his time with the WWE, he was never fully there for his son, being constantly on the road. Dwayne Johnson still wanted to do sports, however, so he joined the University of Miami’s champion football team, then played in the Canadian Football League before becoming a full-time wrestler with the World Wrestling Federation. It didn’t take long for him to land an acting gig, though, and he appeared on an episode of That 70’s Show. Currently, Johnson is a major movie star, with films such as the Fast and Furious series.

27. Terry Crews

athletes turned actors

Believe it or not, Terry Crews’ first passion was making art. His first scholarship was actually an art scholarship, but he shortly after received another scholarship for playing football at Western Michigan University. Then, in 1991, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams as a defensive end. In 1997, Crews retired from football and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. He still likes to paint and sketch on his downtime! 

26. Jason Lee

athletes turned actors

Before he ever stepped in front of a camera, Jason Lee was a professional skateboarder and extreme sports competitor. In the early 1990s, however, Lee decided to try out acting and got a role in the 1995 Kevin Smith film Mallrats. Now, he’s best known for his role on My Name is Earl.

25. Stacy Keibler

athletes turned actors

Stacy Keibler was, and still is, one of the most popular wrestling divas from the WWE. Upon retiring from her wrestling career, Keibler landed several acting gigs on some television shows and reality tv series. She even got to date George Clooney for a while!

24. Michael Jordan

athletes turned actors

Michael Jordan is one of the most well-known and most talented basketball players of all time. In 1996, Jordan transferred that talent onto the big screen, starring in the hugely popular Warner Brother’s film, Space Jam. Warner Brother’s even celebrated the 30th anniversary of the film by selling limited edition Air Jordans!

23. Chuck Connors

athletes turned actors

Chuck Connors played for three different professional sports team, and managed to find time to work as an actor! Connors got his start in the army, but was discharged in 1946, so he started playing for the Boston Celtics. He shortly decided he’d rather play baseball, though, so he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers for one game and then played for the Chicago Cubs. After this, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears for football, but never played. Soon after, he found his calling in film and television, where he worked for over 40 years. He’s most well-known for his leading role as Lucas McCain on The Rifleman.

22. Chuck Norris

athletes turned actors

Chuck Norris has a very wide and varied career – martial artist, political activist, and internet meme! It all started with Norris’ championship career as a martial artist, particularly in Karate. He became most famous for his role as the villain in Bruce Lee’s 1972 film Return of the Dragon.

21. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

athletes turned actors

Abdul-Jabbar was a three-time championship member of the UCLA basketball team, the Bruins. He also won several NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, but at this point, he was already an actor. He also appeared in Bruce Lee film, Game of Death, and in the comedy Airplane!, as himself. Nowadays, Kareem enjoys a career in jazz and social commentating.

20. Kurt Russell

athletes turned actors

Kurt Russell worked as a child actor, but took a small break for play in a minor league baseball team. After this, he kept acting in films, mostly with John Carpenter. Most recently, he appeared in the Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight.

19. Jason Statham

athletes turned actors

Jason Statham is well known for his portrayal of tough movie dudes. However, not everyone knows that Statham is actually a super tough guy! This actor, known for his role in films like The Transporter, was a 12-year member of the British National Diving Squad.

18. John Cena

athletes turned actors

Now an internet meme, John Cena began his athletic career as a Division III football player at Springfield College. His real calling was for professional wrestling, however, and it didn’t take long for him to reach fame with the WWE. In 2005, the WWE began a movie production company, and Cena starred in one of their first films, The Marine. Now, Cena is known for role in comedy films, such as Trainwreck.

17. Joe Namath

athletes turned actors

Joe Namath – known as “Broadway Joe” – played as quarterback for the New York Jets. The Superbowl winning football player started landing small roles in various television shows, usually as himself. Eventually, he hosted several talk shows and now is a commentator for the National Football League.

16. Bruce Lee

athletes turned actors

Bruce Lee was a child actor, but started learning martial arts to better protect himself from the gangs in his neighborhood. When Lee moved to the US, he developed his own style of martial arts training, Jeet Kun Do. He was so skilled at martial arts that a television producer asked him to star in the series The Green Hornet as Kato. He very quickly became a huge star!

15. Arnold Schwarzenegger

athletes turned actors

Before he ever became an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a champion bodybuilder. His first big break was when he landed the title role in the movie Conan the Barbarian. Soon after, lots of big roles started coming his way, including the leading role in The Terminator. After working as the Governor of California for a couple of years, Arnold is now back in the acting world.

14. Ronda Rousey

athletes turned actors

Ronda Rousey is the world champion in Mixed Martial Arts, but her talent doesn’t stop there. She recently hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live, and is currently hoping to land the title role in the upcoming Marvel film, Captain Marvel.

13. Shaquille O’Neal

athletes turned actors

Shaquille O’Neal, more commonly known as Shaq, was a major NBA star. He also acted in several films, however, and also launched a successful rapping career. Nowadays, Shaq mostly does commercials and small cameos, mostly in television comedies.

12. Mark Harmon

athletes turned actors

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Mark Harmon launched his career as a major football star, winning the Rose Bowl while he was quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. After his football career, Harmon starred in several television series, such as St. Elsewhere and Chicago Hope, mostly portraying doctors. Today, you can find him on the popular show NCIS.

11. Lawrence Taylor

athletes turned actors

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Taylor is a Hall of Fame football player, who played under the University of North Carolina and New York Giants as a linebacker. He also starred in the film Any Given Sunday, with Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx. Unfortunately, his lifestyle led to a cocaine addiction and many legal battles.

10. Hulk Hogan

athletes turned actors

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Hulk Hogan began his career as a popular WWE wrestler, but also appeared in films such as Rocky III, among others. In 2005, Hogan got his own reality television series, Hogan Knows Best. Unfortunately, Hogan was recently fired from the WWE for some insensitive comments he made.

9. OJ Simpson

athletes turned actors

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Simpson was a talented football player, winning the Heisman Trophy while at the University of Southern California, and afterwards started playing for the Buffalo Bills. Unfortunately, his name will go down in history for his involvement in one of the nastiest criminal and legal battles in history, for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. Simpson was exonerated, but his good name was tainted. He was a successful actor for a time, however, in films like Roots and The Naked Gun.

8. Burt Reynolds

athletes turned actors

Back in the 1950s, Burt Reynolds was a football player for Florida State University, but was forced to quit due to several intense injuries. Instead, he started pursuing acting. In the 1960s, Reynolds acted in several small television series, then reached fame for the film Deliverance.

7. Bob Uecker

athletes turned actors

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Uecker was a major league catcher for a short time before becoming an actor. He was cast in the sitcom Mr. Belvedere and later appeared in The Tonight Show. In 1989, he appeared in the film Major League.

6. Caitlin/Bruce Jenner

athletes turned actors

Caitlin Jenner won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics for the decathlon race, and was also a major football player back when she used to go by Bruce. Bruce shortly turned to acting, working in several major films and the television series CHiPs. Jenner later reached reality star fame on the television series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

5. André the Giant

athletes turned actors

French wrestler and actor, André Roussimoff, was a professional wrestler in the WWE in the 1970s and 80s. He is most well-known for his role in the 1987 film, The Princess Bride.

4. Jim Brown

athletes turned actors

Brown went to Syracuse University and played three different sports while he was there. It didn’t take long for him to join the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. During his NFL career, Brown started acting and got his first big role in 1966 with The Dirty Dozen. Nowadays, Jim Brown is still an actor and commentator for FOX Sports.

3. Lou Ferrigno

athletes turned actors

Lou Ferrigno got his start as a professional bodybuilder. Just look at him! Both him and Arnold Schwarzenneger were featured in the bodybuilding documentary, Pumping Iron. Ferrigno tried his hand as a football player, but surprisingly, wasn’t very good. Luckily, in 1977, Ferrigno landed the title role on the television series, The Incredible Hulk.

2. John Wayne

athletes turned actors

We all know John Wayne as the celebrated cowboy Hollywood legend. He has appeared in many Western films and as a soldier in many war films. In 1969, Wayne won an Oscar for his role in the film True Grit. John Wayne got his start as a football player, however, for the University of Southern California.

1. Bubba Smith

athletes turned actors

Bubba Smith was a football star at Michigan State University and went on to become an All-Pro defensive end for the National Football League. After retiring from his football career, Bubba Smith acted in several commercials before doing film. He is best known for his role in the 2011 film, Police Academy as Moses Hightower.

Source: Your Daily Dish

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