20 TV & Movie Actors Who Were Once Professional Athletes (PHOTOS)

"You just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?" "I'm going to Hollywood!" When athletes retire, many head for the big and small screens -- and why not? After all, they're already tough, in awesome shape, and used to adoring fans. (We love you, Dwayne Johnson!)

Some rely on their sports status to gain viewers for their movies and TV shows. Others end up being so good on-screen that people forget they ever were athletes in the first place. Huddle up to find out which of your favorite athletes ended up in front of the camera. 

 

Image © Armando Gallo/Corbis

  • Dwayne Johnson

    1

    Johnson earned his nickname, "The Rock," as a pro wrestler, but dropped the moniker when his acting career took off. The heavyweight hunk has knocked out audiences with hits including The Scorpion King and GI Joe: Retaliation, not to mention family friendly movies Tooth Fairy and The Game Plan.  

  • Caitlyn Jenner

    2

    The woman formerly known as Bruce raced into fan's hearts at the 1976 Olympic Games, where she won gold and broke a world record in the decathlon. The popular athlete landed the role of Officer Steve McLeish on Chips in 1981. Jenner also appeared on popular shows including Murder, She Wrote and The Love Boat. She returned to fame with  Keeping Up With The Kardashians and is documenting her gender transition in I Am Cait.

  • Michael Jordan

    3

    The greatest NBA player of all time took his moves to the big screen in 1996's Space Jam. Jordan and the Looney Tunes gang racked up $230 million worldwide with the slam-dunk hit. 

  • Ronda Jean Rousey

    4

    This beauty can be a beast! Rousey won bronze in judo at the 2008 Olympic Games and is currently the UFC women's bantamweight champion. Her popularity in mixed martial arts has helped to propel her acting career. Rousey starred in The Expendables 3 and Furious 7

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  • Jason Lee

    5

    Lee was a professional skateboarder who popularized the "360 Flip" before jumping over to acting. His TV hits include My Name is Earl, Raising Hope, and Up All Night. On the silver screen, he's starred in everything from Chasing Amy and Almost Famous to The Incredibles and Alvin and The Chipmunks

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

    6

    Legendary basketball star Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points. The 7-foot-2 overachiever has appeared in both TV shows and movies, gaining the most attention for playing a pilot in Airplane! and for fighting Bruce Lee in Game of Death.

  • Andre the Giant

    7

    Andre Rene Roussimoff rose to fame as a professional wrestler nicknamed "The 8th Wonder of the World" and later "Andre the Giant." He had a condition called acromegaly that caused his body to keep growing, eventually reaching 7 feet 4 inches tall and 500 pounds. In 1975, the gentle giant stepped into acting. His many credits include Conan the Destroyer and The Princess Bride. Roussimoff died in 1993.

  • Terry Crews

    8

    Crews played defense for the NFL's Los Angeles Rams before getting bit by the acting bug. He scored big with movies such as The 6th Day, Bridesmaids, and The Expendables. Crews also pops up regularly on TV in shows including Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Everybody Hates Chris, and Arrested Development.

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  • Arnold Schwarzenegger

    9

    Schwarzenegger's career as a professional bodybuilder set him up for big-screen stardom. He muscled his way into the limelight in Conan The Barbarian and has since starred dozens of films including the Terminator series, Collateral Damage, True Lies, and The Expendables. The former athlete also served as governor of California for two terms.

  • Chuck Norris

    10

    Your favorite Texas ranger started out as a martial arts pro and six-time undefeated world professional middle weight karate champion. Since then, Norris has made a name for himself on the small screen with Walker, Texas Ranger, and on the big screen with Delta Force, Code of Silence, and Missing in Action.

  • O.J. Simpson

    11

    Simpson was a running back in the NFL and acted in The Towering Inferno, the Naked Gun trilogy, and the Roots TV mini-series, among others. He is most famous, however, for being tried in 1995 for the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. More than 150 million people tuned in for his innocent verdict. Notoriety still follows Simpson, who has been jailed since 2008 for armed robbery and kidnapping.  

  • Howie Long

    12

    The NFL Hall of Famer played defense for the Oakland Raiders for more than a decade. Since then, he's seen plenty of action onscreen, in hits including Firestorm, Broken Arrow, and 3000 Miles to Graceland. Long is also an analyst for FOX's football coverage.

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  • Esther Williams

    13

    Williams won three national championships in breaststroke and freestyle by age 16. She was on the Olympic team in 1940, but the Games were cancelled because of World War II. The swimming beauty dove into an acting career instead. Soon America's sweetheart, she starred in 26 movies in the 1940s and 1950s, including Million Dollar Mermaid and Neptune's Daughter. Almost all her films were set in water to show off Williams' smooth moves and gorgeous curves.

  • Carl Weathers

    14

    Weathers played in the NFL, but he didn't play for long. The Oakland Raiders linebacker tackled just seven games in 1970 before moving to the Canadian Football League for a few seasons. Weathers had better luck on the big screen, starring as Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, Action Jackson, and Chubbs Peterson in Happy Gilmore, among others. 

  • Shaquille O'Neal

    15

    O'Neal's legacy is as one of the NBA's most dominent and prominent players. At 7 feet tall and more than 300 pounds, "Shaq" also made an impact off the court with starring roles in so-so movies Shazaam, Blue Chips, and Steel

  • Bob Uecker

    16

    Though Uecker spent six seasons as a catcher in Major League Baseball, he's better known for his roles off the field. The funny guy athlete gained household fame starring as the dad in TV's Mr. Belvedere and as a drunken announcer in the Major League trilogy. Uecker is also a well-regarded sportscaster nicknamed "Mr. Baseball." He announces for the Milwaukee Brewers. 

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  • Jim Brown

    17

    When the acting bug bit Brown, it bit hard. Although the Cleveland Browns star running back is often called the greatest football player ever, he retired at 30 to act. Brown has made more than 30 films, including The Dirty Dozen, The Running Man, and Any Given Sunday. Score!

  • Terry Bradshaw

    18

    Bradshaw starred as the Pittsburgh Steelers QB for over a decade, winning four Super Bowls. His movie and TV career later earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The retired NFLer has made in Hooper, The Cannonball Run, and Failure to Launch (nude scene!), and guest starred on TV shows including Everybody Loves Raymond and Malcolm in the Middle. He is an NFL analyst on FOX. 

  • Fred Williamson

    19

    Known as "The Hammer" during his pro football days in the 1960s, Williamson hit the nail on the head when he switched to acting. He became one of the top stars of the "blaxpoitation" movies of the 1970s, formed his own production company, and has acted in films including From Dusk Till Dawn and the Starsky & Hutch remake.

  • Brian Bosworth

    20

    Bosworth, aka "The Boz," was notorious for his controversial behavior and outspoken attitude during his three seasons as a linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks. After being sidelined by a shoulder injury, he cleaned up his act and starred in several films, including Stone Cold, The Longest Yard, and Revelation Road.

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