37 Great Athletes Turned Actors

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Kareem Abdul Jabbar

Kareem Abdul Jabbar is a household name, mainly for his on-court skills. But the NBA legend also made himself a name on the big and small screens, beginning his acting career as early as the 1970s. Jabbar made guest appearances on different shows including Diff’rent Strokes, 21 Jump Street and Everybody Loves Raymond, and acted in movies such as Forget Paris and Airplane!

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Michael Jordan

Who can forget Michael Jordan’s big screen debut? And does anyone actually want to? Space Jam is still one of the top sports movies ever made (I guess this may be up for debate, but it is for me). Unfortunately we haven’t seen Michael in any other movies since, but let’s be honest, Space Jam will live on forever, and he’ll always be an actor in our hearts.

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Terry Crews

The Michigan native and football star began his acting career after retiring from the NFL in the late 1990s. He starred in The Expendables series, The Longest Yard, White Chicks, the TV series Everybody Hates Chris, and is currently still playing Terry Jeffords on the hit comedy show Brooklyn Nine-Nine alongside Andy Samberg.

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OJ Simpson

OJ Simpson has a long list of accomplishments and headlines (some he would rather we forget). Before his career was flipped upside down by trials and prison sentences, Simpson went from running back to a star on the screen. He’s starred in The Naked Gun movies on the big screen, and made several appearances on TV shows throughout his acting career.

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Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw went from Super Bowl MVP to super funny on TV. The former NFL quarterback guest starred on Malcolm in the Middle, King of the Hill, 8 Simple Rules and The League. He’s made appearances on the big screen including Failure to Launch, alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey. Bradshaw is also a football commentator on Fox Sports.

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Andre the Giant

The French professional wrestler was one of the most beloved wrestlers in the world, and one of the biggest wonders due to his size. Andre was undefeated for nearly 15 years of his WWE career. As for his acting career, he is most well known for his role in the 1987 classic The Princess Bride.

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Chuck Connors

Before becoming an actor, Chuck Connors was a professional baseball and basketball player. He played for the newly formed Boston Celtics in 1946 before leaving join the MLB’s Brooklyn Dodgers for spring training. He played for both the Dodgers and the Cubs over several years before turning to acting. The classic actor was most known for TV shows The Rifleman and Branded.

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Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith spent nine seasons in the NFL as a defensive end for the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers, before turning to acting. On the big screen, he made us laugh playing Capt. Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movies. He also appeared on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Family Matters, and MacGyver. Smith died in 2011 of intoxication.

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Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan stepped into professional wrestling in 1977, and only recently left after a scandal. In between guest appearances on the WWENetwork and surprise comebacks, Hogan developed an acting career. He played Thuderlips in Rocky III, was in the 1998 3 Ninjas, appeared on Walker, Texas Ranger, and of course, had his own reality show called Hogan Knows Best.

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Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson

Can you smell what the Rock is cooking? Dwayne Johnson, known as the Rock during his professional wrestling career, has racked up quite the IMDB filmography list. The six-time WWF Heavyweight title holder has 95 IMDB actor credits, including the Fast & Furious movies, The Game Plan, Hercules, and recently voicing a character on Disney’s Moana. He also has a long list of movies in the making.

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Ronda Rousey

In 2008, Ronda Rousey was the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo, but she recently made some negative headlines after devastating loses. Luckily for her, she has an acting career on the side that she can always fall back on. The mixed martial artists made appearances in Furious 7, Entourage the movie and The Expendables 3.

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Shaquille O’Neal

Is there anything this big man can’t do? After 19 seasons in the NBA, Shaq is now an analyst on TNT’s Inside the NBA. But his on-screen career extends beyond analyzing basketball. The NBA legend appeared in Grown Ups 2, Southland, The Bernie Mac Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm, just to name a few. He also voiced characters in The Lego Movie and The Smurfs 2.

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Bruce Lee

The Martial Arts expert is known for his moves on the big screen, but did you know that in 1967 he founded his now martial art named Jeet Kune Do? Probably not, because we all know Bruce Lee for his movies and TV show appearances, including The Big Boss, Enter the Dragon and The Way of the Dragon. Lee continued acting until he died in 1973.

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Jason Lee

Jason Lee is probably known best for his role on My Name is Earl. But Lee has left his mark around Hollywood, including American Dad!, Raising Hope and Memphis Beat. But before he arrived in Hollywood, Lee was a professional skateboarder in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with sponsors including Zumiez and Stereo.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s long career has spanned from body building to acting, to Governor of the State of California. Schwarzenegger was the youngest person to ever win the Mr. Olympia title, doing so at age 23. Since his bodybuilding days, Arnold has a long list of classics he’s starred in, such as The Terminator, Batman & Robin, True Lies, Twins and who can forget Kindergarten Cop. His characters, and accent) are widely quoted in every day speech.

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Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro spent six years in the NFL before he turned his life over to Hollywood. As a running back in college, Marinaro came in second to Pat Sullivan for the Heisman Trophy. Football followed him in his acting career as well. Marinaro played a coach on the football comedy Blue Mountain State. He also starred in Hill Street Blues, Sisters and appeared on Days of Our Lives.

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Tommy Lee Jones

Tommy Lee Jones won the Academy Award for best Supporting Actor, a Golden Globe and an Emmy. But before he starred in movies such as No Country for Old Men, The Fugitive and Space Cowboys, Jones played football. More specifically, Jones played football for Harvard University, and was a member of the team for two iconic moments: when Harvard scored 16 points in a single minute to tie a game vs Yale, and Harvard’s undefeated season in 1968.

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Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon has been a part of Hollywood since the early 1970s, playing various roles on the small screen and even appearing as a reporter in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Most recently he plays Jethro Gibbs on NCIS…but, following in his father’s footsteps, Harmon began his career as a quarterback for the University of California, Los Angeles for two years. He then decided to focus on acting.

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Lawrence Taylor

The former New York Giants linebacker is an NFL legend, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999. Taylor started acting while still playing the game, playing Tombstone Packer on the show 1st & Ten. He would later appear on Any Given Sunday and played himself on Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy.

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Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner

Before starring in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and publicly transforming into Caitlyn Jenner, Bruce Jenner was an Olympic athlete, and won a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Jenner appeared in various TV shows over the years, as Bruce, and of course was a big part of KUWTK.

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Jim Brown

The Hall-of-Fame fullback spent eight years in the NFL, all with the Cleveland Browns. He was a Super Bowl Champion, a nine-time Pro-Bowler, and was named AP MVP three times. But after his time in the league was over, Brown starred in a long list of movies and TV shows, including The Dirty Dozen, The Grasshopper and He Got Game.

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Fred Williamson

Williamson spent the late 1950s and early ‘60s on the field, playing defensive back for Northwestern University in college and the Steelers, Raiders and Chiefs in the NFL. But Williamson’s acting career was arguably more successful than his days in football. Williamson’s IMDd page shows 122 credits as an actor, including starring in Hell Up in Harlem, Take A Ride, From Dusk Till Dawn, and MASH. Williamson is still acting, and will be in several productions that are coming soon.

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Carl Weathers

The former linebacker has made quite a career for himself in Hollywood, dating back to 1973, when he was still playing football. For you movie fans, you probably know Weathers from his role as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, or perhaps Dillon from Predator. Weathers also dabbled in some TV, including playing himself on Arrested Development and Coach Trainor on Brothers.

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Jean-Claude Van Damme

Aside from acting, The Muscles from Brussels was a Karate champion. He began competitive karate at the age of 15 and won the European Karate Championship with the Belgian Karate Team in 1979. He later went on to kickboxing and full-contact karate, recording 18 victories and one defeat in five years. On the screen Van Damme is known for being the kick boxer he is, starring in Double Impact, Universal Soldier and of course, Kickboxer.

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Lou Ferrigno

The Incredible Hulk was, in real life, an incredible Hulk. Ferrigno won Mr. Universe two years in a row, 1973 and 1974, a year later he lost Mr. Olympia to Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Ferrigno, like Schwarzenegger, went on to have a career as an actor playing the Incredible Hulk, on several different occasions, and made appearances as himself on The King of Queens, and more recently Con Man.

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Ray Allen

Ray Allen spent 18 years on the basketball court, and he translated that love of the game, and skill, to an acting career. Back in the day, 1998 to be exact, Allen played the legendary Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game, alongside Denzel Washington. Since then, Allen hasn’t played many roles, but considering he retired only a few years ago, we could possibly see Allen make a comeback to the big, or small, screen.

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Fred Dryer

Fred Dryer had a colorful career on the football field for 13 years before turning to acting. Dryer is most known for his role as Det. Sgt. Rick Hunter on the show Hunter. The former defensive end was also considered for the role of Sam Malone on Cheers, and later appeared as sportscaster Dave Richards no the show.

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Sean Connery

Sean Connery won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, a Golden Globe for Supporting actor, the AFI Life Achievement Award, a Tony and a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role, among many, many other awards. But did you know Connery once won a bodybuilding competition in Scotland? He even nearly signed to play for Manchester United before he decided to become an actor.

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Howie Long

Howie Long spent his entire NFL career with the same team: the Oakland Raiders, winning a Super Bowl and playing in eight Pro Bowl games. He found his way to the small screen as a football analyst, but also made appearances in shows like Malcolm in the Middle and King of the Hill. Long also starred in The Road to Graceland and Broken Arrow with John Travolta and Christian Slater.

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Gina Carano

Gina Carano was regarded as the face of women’s MMA, and her fight against Crhistiane Santos was the first time two women headlined an MMA event. But since Carano also built an acting career, playing herself in Ring Girls, Mallory Kane in Haywire and Angel Dust in the hit Deadpool.

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Alex Karras

Alex Karras spent ten seasons in the NFL, all with the Detroit Lions, but with a “break” in the middle. Karras was suspended for a season for placing bets on games, and while suspended he turned to professional wrestling, as Dick the Bruiser. A year later he returned to football, and later that decade began acting. He played roles in MASH, The Odd Couple and Webster. Karras also played the role of Mongo in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.

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Joe Namath

We all know Joe Namath the football player. Super Bowl Champion and MVP, Pro Bowler, All Star, he’s done it all. And he’s done some acting as well. Namath guest starred on The Brady Bunch, played Joe Casey on The Waverly Wonders and made two appearances on The Love Boat.

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Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan started practicing Kung Fu with his father as a little kid. Little did he know then, that his Kung Fu skills would benefit him as an actor as well. Chan also learned martial arts and acrobatics at school, and he began his career as a stuntman. But it’s been a long time since his days as just a Kung Fu artist and stuntman, Chang has appeared in more than 100 movies, shows or videos, including the Rush Hour movies and voicing Monkey on Kung Fu Panda.

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Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris will live on forever in the form of Chuck Norris jokes. But his career, both acting and as an athlete, is no joke. Norris studied martial arts in Korea, while serving in the Air Force. Little did he know, at the time, that he will become widely known for his moves and strength, and specifically for the TV show Walker, Texas Ranger. Over his career, Norris appeared in 42 different movies or shows.

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Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen had a long career on the small screen, starring as Buddy Landau on Fathers and Sons, Aaron Miller on Aaron’s Way and John Michael Murphy on Father Murphy. But before his time in TV, Olsen spent 15 years playing defensive tackle for the LA Rams and played in 14 Pro Bowl games.

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Steven Seagal

Steven Seagal is a martial arts expert. He’s a 7th dan degree and Shihan in Akido and even moved to Japan in his teens to become the first foreigner to operate an Aikido dojo in the country. It’s his martial arts that landed him gigs in Hollywood, specifically one student who helped him land a role in Above the Law. Seagal went on to star in dozens of films including Under Siege, The Patriot and the Foreigner.

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Jason Statham

Jason Statham has made himself a name for himself in Hollywood, appearing in movies such as Snatch, the Transporters, Crank and the Expendables franchise. But before he hit the big screen, Statham was part of the British National Diving Team. In 1992, he finished at number 12 in the World Championships.

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