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16 Famous Actors Who Began Their Careers As Athletes


Although most of the Hollywood stars we see on the big screen are known for their acting work, some of these entertainers actually started out in a different field – sports. For example:

  • Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Jason Statham

They’ve saved the world time and time again on the big screen in major ‘blow ‘em up’ blockbusters.but before they were heroes, they were athletes.

Here are some famous actors that you may not have realized, were actors before making their way to the entertainment world.

1) Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Yes, Johnson first rose to fame as the ‘People’s Champion’ The Rock, one of the most popular WWE wrestlers of all time. However, his athletic career actually began before that. Johnson played defensive for the Miami Hurricanes before turning pro with the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League.


2) Arnold Schwarzenegger first gained fame as perhaps the greatest professional bodybuilder of all time. At 20 years-old he won the Mr. Universe championship and from there earned himself seven Mr. Olympia titles as well as countless other bodybuilding accolades.


3) Burt Reynolds. If you thought that Reynolds performance in The Longest Yard was convincing, there’s a reason for that. Reynolds actually began his career playing running back for Florida State.However, during his time in college, he was involved in a car accident that re-aggravated an old injury he sustained his freshman year, ending his football career.


4) Jason Statham. These days, Statham is the ultimate action hero but back in 1990, he competed in the Commonwealth Games as a member of Britain’s National Diving Squad.


5) Joel McHale. While McHale is now known as the funnyman behind shows like Community and The Soup, back in university, he just wanted to be a part of the rowing team. He instead opted to play tight end for the University of Washington’s football team and while he left with a Rose Bowl ring, he never actually made it into a game.


6) Terry Crews. While you probably know Crews for his roles in projects like Friday After Next, The Expendables and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, he actually began his career in the NFL football, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles


7) Vinnie Jones. Jones tough-guy style in movies like Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Mean Machine wasn’t a total act. Throughout the 1980s, he commanded the soccer field as one of the most brash and physical players in the history of the sport, playing for Chelsea, Leeds United and Wimbledon.


8) Ed O’Neill. While O’Neill has carved a career as a successful sitcom star, thanks to Modern Family and Married…With Children, he played defensive lineman in university and almost made it into the Pittsburgh Steelers before being cut in 1969.


9) Ronald Reagan. Reagan may have been an actor turned 40th President of the United States, however, before that he actually played football for Eureka College and served as an announcer for the Chicago Cubs. In fact, it’s football that ultimately lead to his career as an actor. While travelling with the Cubs for a game in California, Reagan screen tested for a film which ended up earning him a contract with a major movie studio.


10) Jason Segel. Before scoring roles in projects like How I Met Your Mother and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel played high school basketball for Harvard-Westlake alongside future NBA stars Jaron and Jason Collins.


11) John Goodman. Before appearing in roles like The Big Lebowski, Revenge of the Nerds and Rosanne, Goodman earned a football scholarship with Missouri State. An injury would later sidetrack his football dreams but it lead to him studying acting alongside Kathleen Turner, the beginning of a promising career.


12) Tommy Lee Jones. Before he was one of the ‘Men in Black,’ Jones played for Harvard University’s Crimson football team. There, he was roommates with Al Gore and participated in the classic Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 game.


13) Jon Stewart. Before he was keeping everyone up to date on The Daily Show, Stewart played on the William & Mary’s men’s soccer team, taking them to the NCAA tournament. He had such a positive effect on the team, they named an award after him. The Leibo Award, given to ‘the men’s soccer player with the most positive influence on the team’s attitude.’


14) Matthew Fox. Prior to getting ‘Lost’ with his ‘Party of Five,’ Fox played wide receiver for Columbia where he found himself facing off against another future actor, Dean Cain.


15) Before Forest Whitaker was an Oscar winning actor, he attended California State Polytechnic University on a football scholarship. He was actually the quarterback in high school, but in college, his football career ended after an injury. That’s when he pursued acting.


16) Mark Harmon was born to play football. His dad, Tom, was a Heisman Trophy winning-football player . Before he pursued acting, he was the quarterback for the UCLA Bruins for two years.



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