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9 Celebrities Who Started Out As Athletes


Although the keys to being a good athlete versus an actor or musician require very different skill sets, both ultimately share the same goal of entertaining the masses and achieving mastery of your particular craft. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that a lot of well-known entertainers got their start as accomplished athletes back in high school and college, especially when you consider that success starts with having confidence in yourself and the ability to do what others can’t. Some of today’s stars quit playing sports due to injury while others simply recognized that their acting or singing abilities were superior to their dunking or tackling skills. With that in mind, here are 9 popular celebrities who were once high-achieving athletes. 

1. Jason Sudeikis

This Saturday Night Live alumnus is one of the top improv comedians around, but back in his high school days in Kansas he could really hoop! A star player at Shawnee Mission West High School, he actually managed to earn a scholarship to play at Fort Scott Community College, but left to pursue a career in comedy. 

2. Jason Statham

Where or not Statham’s action movies have any actual artistic merit is up to debate (Mechanic: The Resurrection happens to be one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever sat through in the cinema), but there’s no question that he’s a bankable star, with his movies from 2002 through 2017 generating $1.5 billion in ticket sales. He’s also always been a natural athlete, excelling in soccer, kung fu and kickboxing as a youth. But believe it or not, the sport he was best at was diving. In fact, he represented England 1990 Goodwill Games in Auckland, New Zealand in the 10,3 and 1-meter diving competitions. 

3. Robin Roberts

The host of the top-rated morning news program Good Morning America got her start as sportscaster on local TV channels before working her way up to ESPN’s Sportscenter. But before she began her fabled broadcasting career, she was outstanding at tennis and basketball. She received a basketball scholarship at Southeastern Louisiana University where she was their star player. In 2012 she was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall-of-Fame for her contributions as an athlete and  broadcaster. 

4. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

The Rock is not only one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, he’s also one of the few pro-wrestlers to make it big as a movie star (sorry, Hulk Hogan). His movies have grossed over $10.5 billion worldwide and he’s a genuinely likeable guy. However, back in the day he was a mighty fine football player. He received a scholarship at the University of Miami, which was one of the top college football programs back then. He played defensive tackle on Miami’s 1991 national championship team. Although he wasn’t able to succeed in the pros (he was cut by the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League without ever playing a game), we suppose you shouldn’t feel sorry for him. 

5. Denzel Washington

Washington is one hell of an actor. He’s won two Oscars and been nominated seven other times (although he probably deserved to win more). He’s also a notoriously grumpy interviewee, giving short answers and making it very clear that he’d rather be somewhere else. But before all the fame and the irritating hassles that come with it (like having to actually promote your movie!), he was a star point guard at Fordham University, playing for P.J Carlesimo, a future NBA coach best known for almost being choked to death by one of his players in practice. 

6. Jon Stewart

The former host of the Daily Show essentially created the “politics as comedy” genre. Though you might not realize it from his skinny frame, he was a very good soccer player in his day. He received a soccer scholarship to play at the College of William & Mary, helping them win a conference tournament championship during his senior season in 1983. 

7. Forest Whitaker

Whitaker won the Oscar and Golden Globe for his portrayal of ruthless dictator Idi Amin in 2006’s The Last King of Scotland, and has also starred in a few well-received action movies including Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Marvel’s Black Panther. Before he got into acting, he had received a scholarship to play football at the Cal Polytechnic University, but a serious back injury put an end to his athletic career. He ended up switching his major to music and then transferred to the University of Southern California where he received a BFA in acting. Coincidentally (or maybe not), his first role in film was as a high school football star in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

8. Sheryl Crow

Crow has sold over 50 million albums and has been nominated for 32 Grammy Awards, winning nine times. She’s also appeared in numerous TV shows, including Elmo’s Christmas Countdown. Mind-blowing indeed! Before all the wealth and fame, Crow was a star athlete on her high school’s track team, medaling in the 75-meter low hurdles and receiving all-state honors. 

9. Garth Brooks

Brooks is one of the most popular country singers of all-time, if not in the entire music industry. He’s the only artist to have 9 albums sell more than 10 million copies each, surpassing the Beatles who had managed to do this with 6 albums. His 156 total albums sold puts him at the top of all solo artists, even more than Elvis. But even with all his success in music, he had always dreamed of making it in baseball. Although he didn’t play baseball in college, he did letter in track and field at Oklahoma State University. In 1998 he was given a tryout with the San Diego Padres, although he didn’t end up making the cut. He tried again with the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals in subsequent years, but it wasn’t meant to be. He did manage one base hit in spring training, which is one more than the majority of us could do against major league pitching.