I’m specifically putting this in CS and not the Game Room because I’m curious about performers who primarily became famous for acting, music etc but coincidentally were very good to great athletes. So no Caitlyn Jenner despite the fact that many who watched reality TV don’t remember the 1976 Olympics. No O.J. Simpson despite his Oscar worthy performance in The Naked Gun.
Bonus points if you were surprised to find out their hidden athletic prowess.
I can’t think of a better example than Paul Robeson. He was one of the best collegiate athletes of his time. The NFL was in its infancy so there wasn’t much opportunity there to make a living there. And he was black so there was no opportunity at all when he graduated. He became world famous because of his voice and activism.
Mark Harmon was the quarterback at UCLA but was more famous for being Tom Harmon’s son at the time.
Chuck Connors was not good enough to be a star pro athlete but was good enough to make it briefly to the big leagues in baseball and to be in the NBA. Acting made him famous.
Mathis says, “My big claim to fame as a high jumper is that I broke (the record) of Bill Russell — the fabulous, great Bill Russell, the greatest basketball player, I think, who ever lived.
“I broke his high-jump record at a track meet that he and I went to in Reno. They made a big deal of it, because I was about half as tall as he was. Anyway, that was my big claim to fame in college as a high jumper. But I loved my athletics. It gave me a good start as far as keeping myself physically fit in order to sing.”
Mathis wasn’t at SF State for long before a record contract lured him away to New York, where he recorded a self-titled jazz album that was released in 1956.
Actor Bernie Casey was a track star at Bowling Green State University – he was an All-American in the hurdles, and was a finalist in the 1960 Olympic trials. He was also a star football player at Bowling Green, and had an eight-year NFL career as a wide receiver, before turning to acting in the late '60s.
Canada Lee was considered the best Black actor on Broadway (after Robeson) after his careers as a jockey and a boxer were cut short. He grew to big for horseracing (and there was a movement to ban black jockeys) and had to quit boxing after suffering a detached retina. His best-known role was in Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, but the blacklist ended his acting career.
Slapsy Maxie Rosenbloom was light heavyweight champion and retired to be a character actor.
Buddy Baer was another boxer turned actor. His brother, Max Baer was heavyweight champion and also became an actor (and father to Jethro Bodine).
Professional athletes have often done well on that show; in addition to Smith, former NFL players Donald Driver and Hines Ward have won, as well as auto racer Helio Castroneves and speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno. Three other NFL players (Jerry Rice, Warren Sapp, and Jason Taylor) have come in second.
No love for Chuck Norris? He has a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu, and judo. After serving in the United States Air Force, he won many martial arts championships and later founded his own discipline, Chun Kuk Do. He’s also had one helluva film career.