25 Athletes Who Became Actors

25 Athletes Who Became Actors

Many people believe famous athletes are one-trick ponies that only have one dream in life, but that’s not the case with athletes who became actors during or after their sport’s career. In fact, some of them had a more illustrious career on film than they ever did in their respective sport. 

The sports and film industries are heavily intertwined and have been for decades. They go hand in hand, often collaborating to bring fans, athletes, and actors together. In fact, some of the greatest films to hit the big screen were sports-related or featured athletes who became actors. 

And if history is any indication of what’s to come, athletes will continue to find big-time roles in big-time films. They’ll continue to prove that athletes are more than the sport they represent. They can have success elsewhere and they don’t need to be viewed as a one-trick pony. 

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Check Out These Athletes Who Became Actors 

25 Athletes Who Became Actors
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It’s funny because it usually doesn’t happen the other way around. Professional actors generally don’t have a shot at playing sports professionally – unless they’re making a cameo in the WWE, like Arrow star Stephen Amell at SummerSlam on Aug. 10, 2015. It doesn’t happen often.

Not all athletes who became actors found success in their newfound career, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Others, however, enjoyed a second wind to their career as they realized they had more than one talent. From there, the industry took notice and things started to blossom.

Athletes, however, have long been making moves in the film industry and we’ve even seen it recently with LeBron James starring in Space Jam 2 – a sequel to Michael Jordan’s Space Jam. Don’t worry, we’ll highlight both of them in our list of the best athletes who became actors. 

25. Esther Williams

Esther Williams started swimming at an early age and won three US Championships by the age of 16. When she wasn’t breaking swimming records, she was making a name for herself in the film industry. In the late-1940s and early 1950s, she was one of the most popular actresses. 

24. Joel McHale

Most people know Joel McHale for his role as Jeff Winger on Community, but they would be surprised to learn that he was a walk-on tight end at the University of Washington and was also recruited to the school’s rowing team. His athletic career didn’t quite work out, but his acting did!

23. Jason Statham


Jason Statham has been one of the most successful actors in Hollywood over the past two decades, but it might be surprising to see him on this list. Nonetheless, Statham was a professional diver and competed on Britain’s National Swimming Squad for over a decade.

22. Jason Lee

Jason Lee is another name that will cause a lot of confusion on this list, but hear me out. Before he made a name for himself as Earl in My Name Is Earl, Lee was a professional skateboarder that appeared in several skateboarding videos. Of course, his acting career was more lucrative.

21. Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers is a former linebacker that went undrafted in 1970 and later signed with the Oakland Raiders as a free agent. By 1974, he retired from football and began an acting career. He appeared in four Rocky movies, Happy Gilmore, Predator, Action Jackson, and much more.

20. Roddy Piper

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper is one of the most recognizable names in professional wrestling history and won a total of 34 championships during his career. In addition to his wrestling, he had a recurring role in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and starred in They Live as John Nada. 

19. Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith had a legendary college football career at Michigan State, eventually having his No. 95 retired and being inducted into the College HOF. He enjoyed a successful nine years in the NFL and is most known for his roles in Police Academy, Stroker Ace, and Good Times

18. Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen was the third overall draft pick in 1962 and spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Rams. He finished his career with 91.0 sacks, 14 Pro Bowls, and an induction into the Hall of Fame. He is known for his roles in Little House on the Prairie, The Undefeated, and Mitchell

17. John Matuszak

John Matuszak was the first overall draft pick in 1973 and spent nine seasons in the NFL. He recorded 48.5 sacks and seven fumble recoveries en route to two Super Bowl championships. He’s best known for his role as Sloth in The Goonies, but made numerous other appearances.

16. Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno is a former bodybuilder that was a two-time Mr. America winner and two-time (consecutively) Mr. Universe winner. In addition to appearing in a bodybuilding documentary, he’s best known for his title role as Hulk and his roles in Hercules and Sinbad of the Seven Seas

15. Dan Marino

Dan Marino was the 27th overall draft pick in 1983 and spent 17 seasons as the team’s starting quarterback. He had a 147-93 record as a starter, threw 420 touchdowns, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He’s best known for his role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Little Nicky.

14. Ray Allen

Ray Allen was the fifth overall draft pick in 1996 and is one of the greatest shooters of all-time. He was a 10-time All-Star, two-time champion and Hall of Fame inductee that made 2,973 three point field goals in his career. He’s best known for his role as Jesus Shuttleworth in He Got Game

13. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey is one of the greatest female MMA artists of all-time, but has since grown into a dominant professional wrestler with WWE. She finished with a 12-2 MMA record with nine submissions. She’s best known for her roles in Furious 7, The Expendables 3, and Entourage.

12. Terry Crews

Terry Crews is one of the biggest actors in Hollywood and has been for some time now. He’s best known for his roles in Idiocracy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and The Expendables. Before he got his big break in Hollywood, he was an aspiring football player that played 32 games in the NFL.

11. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players ever. He was a 19-time All-Star, six-time champion, six-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, and two-time scoring champ. He’s best known for his role as Roger Murdoch in Airplanes!, but also made numerous other appearances. 

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the most recognizable bodybuilders in the history of the sport. In addition to his career as a politician (former Governor of California), he was one of the biggest names in Hollywood for several decades – most notably for the Terminator series.

9. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was the No. 3 overall draft pick in 1984 and is widely regarded as the greatest basketball player ever. He was a 10-time scoring champ, five-time MVP, and six-time champion. He’s best known for his role as himself in Space Jam, but also appeared in other films, such as He Got Game.

8. Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers and has spent the past 11 seasons in the NBA. He’s one of the most talented ball handlers to ever grace the court and is a one-time champion. He’s best known for his role as Uncle Drew in numerous basketball films. 

7. LeBron James

LeBron James was the No. 1 overall draft pick out of high school in 2003 and will enter his 20th season next year. He’s widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players ever and has won four NBA championships. He recently starred in Space Jam 2, though it didn’t receive the best reviews

6. Jim Brown

Jim Brown was the sixth overall draft pick in 1957 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. He totaled 12,312 yards and 106 touchdowns over nine seasons. He suddenly retired after the 1965 season to pursue an acting career, which he excelled at. 

5. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 1992 and spent 19 years in the NBA. He’s one of the most dominant big men of all-time and won four NBA championships during his career. He’s best known for his roles in Steel, The LEGO Movie, Kazaam, and Scary Movie 4.

4. John Cena

John Cena is one of the greatest and most recognizable professional wrestlers in the history of the sport. Along with Ric Flair, Cena has the most championship reigns in wrestling history. He has since become a heavily sought-out actor, appearing in numerous films over the past two decades. 

3. Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista is another professional wrestler that has since found a successful career in acting. He was a six-time world champion during his first stint with the WWE between 2002 and 2010. He recently gained a second wind of fame as Drax the Destroyer in the Marvel Universe. 

2. Kevin Garnett


Kevin Garnett was the No. 5 overall draft pick in 1995 and spent 21 seasons in the NBA. During that time, he was a 15-time All-Star, NBA champion, Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP. he most recently appeared in Adam Sandler’s Uncut Gems as himself – and he absolutely killed it!

1. Dwayne Johnson

When talking about athletes who became actors, no one has had more success than Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Not only is he widely regarded as the greatest professional wrestler in history, but he’s one of the highest-grossing and highest-paid actors in Hollywood today. 

Which Athletes Would Make Great Actors Today?

As you can see above, there have been a number of highly talented athletes who became actors – some of them did it during their sport career, while others did it after their sport career. It’s always interesting to see which famous athlete will be the next one to receive a star role. 

Whether they’ve already appeared in small roles or not, some athletes we’d love to see star in a movie soon are Kevin Durant, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Josh Allen, Simone Biles, Juju Smith-Schuster, Tyson Fury, Lewis Hamilton, Conor McGregor, and Patrick Mahomes. 

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Which athletes would you like to see on the big screen in the coming years? There are a lot of good personalities in the sports world that would translate well in the film industry. Whether or not they actually get that shot is unknown, but it’s something that can’t be out of the question!

Naomi Osaka Teams Up With LeBron to Start a New Media Company, and 15 Other Sports Stars Who’ve Done the Same

Naomi Osaka is already a tennis star, but she now joins an exclusive list of sports stars that have entered the media, production, and entertainment industry. On Tuesday, the four-time Grand Slam champion announced the launch of her new media company, Hana Kuma.

In fact, she’s not doing it alone. She has partnered with The SpringHill Company – a production company by LeBron James and his business partner, Maverick Carter. They will provide Osaka and her company with essential production, development, and strategic resources. 

“What excites me is being able to inspire people and tell new stories, particularly ones that I would have wanted to see when I was a kid,” said Osaka about Hana Kuma – a Japanese phrase that means ‘flower bear.’ The company is already working on its very first project. 

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Other Sports Stars Who Started a Media Company

Naomi Osaka Teams Up With LeBron to Start a New Media Company, and 15 Other Sports Stars Who've Done the Same
Ron Adar / Shutterstock

This is Naomi Osaka’s second major business move this year – the first being the launch of her own athlete management agency named Evolve. She has already signed fellow tennis star Nick Kyrgios and has plans to sign more sports stars in the future. Osaka is building an empire. 

Now with a media company under her belt, she is proving that sports stars don’t need to box themselves into one talent. And while many sports stars have outside business ventures and hobbies, one of the most popular ones as of recent is the media and entertainment industry. 

Whether they’re interested in making movies, short films, podcasts, blogs, or music, sports stars have always been attracted to the limelight outside of their respective sport. Let’s take a look at 15 sports stars – not named Naomi Osaka or LeBron James – with media companies. 

15. Tony Hawk

Tony Hawk is one of the greatest, most influential skateboarders to ever live. Between 1995 and 2003, he earned himself 10 gold medals, three silver medals, and three bronze medals at the Summer X Games – most of which in the vert, vert best trick, and vert doubles disciplines. 

Through the years, Hawk has committed himself to several business ventures – one of which being 900 Films, a production company based in San Diego, California. He was born in the area and the company’s name derives from Hawk being the first skateboarder to land the 900 trick.

14. Patrick Patterson

Patrick Patterson is a retired basketball player that spent 11 seasons in the NBA between five teams. He was the 14th overall draft pick in 2010 and averaged 6.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 0.5 steals, and 0.4 blocks in 20.8 minutes per game (719 games played) in his career.

On October 19, 2021, Patterson announced the launch of his film company, Undisputed Pictures, with Joel Reilly. Their first project was David Permut’s new feature, Dock, which is being produced alongside Ice Cube, Jasper Graham, Jeff Kwatinetz, and Alex Astrachan

13. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is one of the greatest, most influential professional wrestlers of all-time. He was a 10-time world champion, five-time Tag Team champion, and the WWE’s sixth Triple Crown winner. He was the first third-generation wrestler and his daughter will be a fourth. 

Since stepping away from the wrestling world, The Rock has become one of the biggest and wealthiest actors of all-time. His production company, Seven Bucks Productions, was created in 2012 and they’ve released everything from films to TV shows, podcasts, and even short films. 

12. Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey is one of the greatest, most influential female MMA fighters of all-time. She retired with a 12-2-0 record, was the inaugural UFC Bantamweight Champion, and defended her title six times before losing two straight fights to end her career. She’s now signed to the WWE. 

Outside of her professional wrestling, Rousey has gotten herself into acting and even founded a full-scale production company called No DNB Productions. So far, they’ve already produced content for WWE, YouTube Brandcast, Facebook, Steph Curry, iBuyPower, Outlier, and more.

11. Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony is a professional basketball player that will be entering his 20th season in the NBA. He’s a 10-time All-Star that led the league in scoring in 2012-13 and has averaged 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals, and 0.5 blocks in 34.5 minutes per game. 

In April of 2021, Anthony announced the launch of his production company, along with business partner Asani Swann, called Creative 7. They already have plans on working with Brad Pitt’s production company, Will Packer, and the team behind ‘Get Out’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman.’

10. Dwyane Wade

Dwyane Wade is a retired professional basketball player that spent 16 seasons in the NBA – mostly with the Miami Heat. He was a 13-time All-Star, three-time champion, 2006 Finals MVP, and 2008-09 scoring champ. He averaged 22.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game.

In addition to several other business ventures, Wade founded a production company called 59th and Prairie Entertainment. He signed a multi-year deal with WarnerMedia in 2019 to develop a number of projects after the company produced a documentary chronicling Wade’s life. 

9. Chris Paul

Chris Paul is an active professional basketball player that will be entering his 18th season in the NBA. He’s a 12-time All-Star, nine-time All-Defensive, and 2005-06 Rookie of the Year. He led the league in assists five times and steals six times. He was the fourth overall draft pick in 2004.

Paul and his brother, CJ Paul, have been side-by-side throughout the future Hall of Famer’s career. CJ not only serves as president of CP3 Investments and Chris Paul Enterprise LLC, the two brothers co-founded a full-scale production company called Ohh Dip!!! Productions. 

8. Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin is an active professional basketball player that will be entering his 13th season in the NBA. He’s a former Rookie of the Year, six-time All-Star, and five-time All-NBA player that has averaged 19.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.5 blocks per game. 

In 2016, Griffin teamed up with retired NFL center Ryan Kalil to launch a production company called Mortal Media. They’ve produced eight film and TV projects since then, including a reboot of White Men Can’t Jump featuring Jack Harlow. They’re also doing a reboot of The Rocketeer

7. Tom Brady

Tom Brady is an active professional quarterback that will be entering his 23rd season in the NFL. He’s a seven-time Super Bowl champion, 15-time Pro Bowler, three-time MVP, and five-time Super Bowl MVP. He has thrown for 84,520 yards and 624 touchdowns. 

In 2020, Brady created a production company called 199 Productions – he was drafted with the 199th overall pick in 2000. He also started Religion of Sports, a sports media production company, more recently in 2022. It’s safe to say that Brady has his hands full at all moments.  

6. Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter is a retired shortstop that spent 20 seasons in the MLB – all of which with the New York Yankees. He’s a 14-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, five-time champion, five-time Silver Slugger winner, and World Series MVP. He had a career batting average of .310.

Since retiring, Jeter has opened up several business interests – including the launch of The Players Tribune – a media platform for athletes to share their unfiltered opinion. He also owns Jeter Publishing, which produces books and films. He also invests in Whistle Sports Network. 

5. Sue Bird

Sue Bird is an active professional basketball player that is currently playing in her 19th season in the WNBA. She was the first overall draft pick in 2002 and has been selected to 12 All-Star teams ever since. She recently announced that this will be her final season in the WNBA. 

We might not see Bird on the court past this season, but she has a lot of things planned during retirement – including the launch of her new production company called Together with Chloe Kim, Alex Morgan, and Simone Manuel. It aims to give women a more robust voice in media.  

4. Chloe Kim

Chloe Kim is an active professional snowboarder that has won two gold medals at the Winter Olympics, two gold medals at the World Championships, five gold medals at the Winter X Games, and two gold medals at the Winter Youth Olympics. She represents Team USA. 

Kim is one of the four legendary female athletes that created Togethxr – along with Bird, Morgan, and Manuel. The company is described as an ‘unapologetic platform where representation and equality is the norm.’ They’re focused on ‘rich storytelling rooted in lifestyle and youth culture.’

3. Alex Morgan

Alex Morgan is an active professional football (soccer) player that made her pro debut in 2008. She has played most of her career with Portland Thorns FC and the Orlando Pride. She has also played for Team USA’s women’s national team, scoring 115 goals in 160 appearances

Morgan is one of the four legendary female athletes involved with Togethxr – along with Bird, Manuel, and Kim. According to the company’s website, they aim to ‘shatter the often narrow depictions of women in the media’ with diverse, inclusive, and community-driven content. 

2. Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry is an active professional basketball player that will be entering his 14th season in the NBA – all of which with the Golden State Warriors. He’s a four-time champ, two-time MVP, one-time Finals MVP, and eight-time All-Star that led the league in scoring twice in his career.

Outside of his success on the court, which includes being the defending champion and winning four of the past eight championships, Curry founded Unanimous Media  – a production company that produces television, film, and digital content. It’s named after his unanimous MVP award. 

1. Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant is an active professional basketball player that will be entering his 15th season in the NBA. He’s a 12-time All-Star, one-time MVP, two-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, and four-time scoring champ. He averages 27.2 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. 

Along with his long-time business partner Rich Kleiman, Durant founded Thirty Five Ventures – a company involved in investments, film, media, philanthropy, and more. The company has produced eight film and TV projects, as well as Boardroom – a full-scale media network. 

Sports Stars Are Multi-Faceted Professionals

Naomi Osaka continues to confirm what many of us already know – sports stars are capable of just about anything when they put their mind to it. We’ve come a long way from the ‘shut up and dribble’ criticism and it’s because of sports stars like LeBron constantly pushing boundaries.

Osaka and her new media company, Hana Kuma, are working on their first project – a documentary about Patsy Mink, a former Hawaiian congresswoman. She’s best-known for being the first woman of color elected to United States Congress and for sponsoring Title IX. 

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As for LeBron James, he’s been doing this for a while. The SpringHill Company has already released five films – including Hustle and Space Jam: A New Legacy – and has four more films on the way. They’ve also produced seven television shows with another show on the way.

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