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, things turned out to be better. These are the celebrities who played sports growing up and had aspirations of becoming professional athletes.
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 career. Check out these former athlete celebs!
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.
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 may have regretted that decision stating, “I’m very embarrassed by it.”
You probably recognize Joel McHale from the sitcom, Community, and for hosting The Soup on E! Before reaching our screen, McHale was a high school athlete. The University of Washington recruited the actor as part of the team. McHale got in a fight with the team crew, and his time rowing for UW ended.
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 is known for playing many roles. Most notably, his reoccurring role on Friends as Monica’s older boyfriend. 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 Las Angeles. In his Junior year, USC offered him a basketball scholarship, and he transferred.
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 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 1980s. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Since he was born to a 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.
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 is a man of many talents. Not only can he perform but the 240 pounds 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 Las Angeles Ram during the NFL draft.
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.
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.
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?!
Honestly, it’s not too shocking that Superman was a two-sport athlete and dating 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.
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 grew 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.
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.
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.
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 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 medaled 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.
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 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.
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 1960s, Kurt Russell signed a deal with The Walt Disney Company! According to Robert Osborne, he was the studio’s top star in the 1970s.
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.
The talented actor is remembered for starring in the TV show, The Incredible Hulk. He also played himself in a reoccurring 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’s most notable role 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
If you don’t know him for the 80s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
After playing on his high school team, Foxx joined the Dallas Cowboys. He was the first player in his entire high school who made a pass over 1,000 yards and 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.