We’ve all heard of athletes who successfully made the perilous transition from playing sports to playing movie roles. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, was regarded as one of the best professional wrestlers of all time before he had us on the edge of our seats in action-packed flicks. And while Rhonda Rousey may be known as a champion wrestler and MMA fighter who also won a bronze medal in Judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics, she also recently made quite a splash onscreen.
What’s less well known, however, are all of the celebrities who once dominated an athletic field. Some of them still compete, whereas for others it’s just a memory. But many of them credit the discipline that they got from their chosen sport for helping them succeed in Hollywood. So read on to discover which of your favorite celebrities are secretly star athletes. And for more celebrity trivia, check out 17 Celebrities You Had No Idea Were So Tall.
Elsa Hosk: Basketball
The stunning Victoria’s Secret model used to play basketball for the women’s professional league in Sweden.
“I took a 2 year break [from modeling] because I was a professional basketball player in Sweden,” Hosk told Fashionista. “It’s not anything like the WNBA, I mean basketball is not that big in Sweden. But it was still very tough. We worked out probably like eight times a week, and then it was games on the weekend. It took up a lot of time, it got really serious and [I realized] I wanted to explore the world and meet people and not be tied down.”
Geena Davis: Archery
Geena Davis once placed 24th out of 300 women trying out for a semifinals berth in the U.S. Olympic archery team to participate in the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. While she didn’t make the team, she did participate as a wild-card entry in the Sydney International Golden Arrow competition. To hear another great story about Davis, check out 30 Awful Jobs Celebrities Had Before They Became Famous.
Mark Harmon: Football
Before he was agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the CBS drama NCIS, Harmon was a starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins football team from 1972-1973.
Uzo Aduba: Track and Field
Aduba’s performance as a prisoner in Orange Is the New Black has earned her widespread acclaim. But she’s also an avid runner who came close to breaking speed records while on the track team at Boston College.
Terry Crews: Football
Younger fans of Crews’ comedic flair on Brooklyn Nine Nine may not know that he was once an NFL defensive end and linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Washington Redskins. And for more celeb fun facts, here are 25 Celebs Who Live in Surprisingly Modest Homes.
Chris Pratt: Wrestling
Given how insanely fit he is, it might not be that much of a surprise that Chris Pratt was a star wrestler back in high school who placed fifth in a state competition in his senior year.
Josh Duhamel: Football
As a college quarterback for Minot State University in North Dakota, he played so well that the university inducted him into its hall of fame. For more mind-blowing knowledge, here are 50 Crazy Celeb Facts You Won’t Believe Are True.
Tommy Lee Jones: Football
As an offensive lineman for Harvard’s college football team, he was a crucial part of their undefeated season in 1968.
Jason Statham: Diving
As a competitive diver, he represented Great Britain in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, and almost made it to the Olympics. Here’s video proof!
Jamie Foxx: Football
Before he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of music legend Ray Charles, Foxx was an incredible football quarterback at Terrell High School, in Texas, who was the first player in the school’s history to pass for more than 1,000 yards. He was so good, in fact, that he once aspired to play for the Dallas Cowboys. For the inside scoop on the beloved football team, check out This Is What It’s Like to Try Out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleading Squad.
Malcom Gladwell: Long-Distance Running
Malcom Gladwell is know primarily as a bestselling author whose deep inquiries into scientific research has helped make sense of how and why human beings are the way they are. But he also used to be a star runner, and while he doesn’t race anymore, he still considers himself a “running junkie.”
“I just like the purity of [running],” Gladwell told Runners World. “I like the fact that it doesn’t have the rules and refs, the owners and teams, fancy uniforms and equipment, and all the other things that have weighed down so much modern sport. I like how international it is…Increasingly, there are so many impediments to people doing the things they want to do. In running there really is no impediment. Some kid in the highlands of Kenya can run on an even playing field with some kid in Orange County, California. That’s fantastic and rare. I find that very beautiful, and it makes the sport more powerful.”
Hugh Jackman: Rugby
Growing up in Australia, Jackman was a huge rugby fan, and his time out on the field later served as inspiration for one of his most iconic characters.
“In playing rugby my rage would come out, rage that I identify as Wolverine rage,” Jackman told People in 2015. “I’d be somewhere in a ruck in rugby, get punched in the face and I’d just go into a white rage.” And for more on our favorite action star, check out Hugh Jackman’s Tips for An Unbreakable Marriage.
Kate Middleton: Field Hockey, Tennis, and Cross Country
She might be a bit preoccupied with royal duties today, but back in boarding school, she ran cross country and played tennis and field hockey. Back in 2007, she went through months of training to steer an all-female rowing team across the English Channel, but ended up having to pull out by orders of the Queen. She’s still an amazing skier, however, and word on the street is that she’s even better than Wills.
Justin Timberlake: Golf
The pop icon first started playing golf when he was 12, and he’s still an avid golfer with a 6 handicap.
“There aren’t many places I can go where I don’t feel like I’m being watched,” Timberlake told Golf.com. “But the golf course is one of them. It’s my refuge. It’s where I get a chance to be alone in the world.”
Pippa Middleton: Long-Distance Running
She may not have married a royal, but sports is one area where Pippa has managed to outshine her older sister. In June 2015, she ran the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya finishing the 26.2-mile distance in 3:56:33. What makes this even more impressive is that she was fresh from cycling 54 miles from London to Brighton to raise awareness for the British Heart Foundation just a week before.
“I decided that a marathon was a ‘life box’ that needed ticking and this year was my time—despite it being one of the toughest in the world, with temperatures rising to more than 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit], at an altitude of 5,550 feet and with the possibility of bumping into lions or rhinos,” Middleton wrote of the marathon in HELLO!, “It was tough, tougher than anything I’d been faced with before and required every inch of my energy, stamina and stubbornness.”
For what it’s worth, stubbornness is one of the four personality traits that researchers say will extend your life, so she’s on the right track!
George Clooney: Baseball
Clooney was an elite baseball player back in high school, who was so good that he decided to try out for the Cincinnati Reds back in 1977. Sadly, he didn’t make the team, but it wasn’t for a lack of love of the game.
“I really thought, my whole life, trying out, that I was going to be a professional baseball player,” Clooney recently told Letterman. For more of the story, check out 11 Mind-Blowing Things George Clooney Just Revealed to David Letterman.
Sheryl Crow: Track and Field
Back in high school, Crow was a star runner who went on to the state championships won medals in the 75-meter low hurdles. Nowadays, she cites tennis as her favorite sport.
Jason Lee: Skateboarding
Before he became a comedy legend, Lee was a professional skateboarder who helped popularize the kick-flips and shove-its that we’ve come to associate with the sport. He’s now a co-owner of Stereo Skateboards, a company that distributes skateboard decks.
Mahershala Ali: Basketball
The House of Cards actor went to Saint Mary’s College of California on a basketball scholarship, but lost his enthusiasm for the cutthroat nature of the sport by the time he graduated.
“Honestly, I kind of resented basketball by the end of my time there,” he said in a university interview. “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.”
Tom Selleck: Basketball
Before Selleck and his mustache gained fame on Magnum P.I., he played college basketball at the University of Southern California, where he was accepted on a basketball scholarship.
Ed O’Neill: Football
The Modern Family actor went to Ohio State University on a football scholarship, but left after his sophomore year due to a bit too much hard-partying and a complicated relationship with his coach. In 1969, he was signed as an un-drafted free agent to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but was cut from the team two weeks into training.
Kurt Russell: Baseball
Back in the ’70s, Russell played minor league baseball for the Portland Mavericks, the Walla Walla Islanders, and the El Paso Sun Kings.
Channing Tatum: Football
Tatum attended Glenville State College on a football scholarship, but ended up dropping out.
“I just got tired of playing,” he told ESPN. “I was only playing to keep that scholarship. I was interested in other things and missing home.”
He went back to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, where he started his career as an exotic dancer, and the rest is history.
Jon Stewart: Soccer
Long before he was beloved as the host of the Daily Show, Stewart played soccer at William & Mary College, where he racked up a total of 10 goals and 12 assists, including the winning goal in a victory game against the University of Connecticut. Before he injured his knee, he also played on a USA team that won the silver medal at the Pan American Maccabi games in Brazil, which have been dubbed “the Jewish Olympics.”
According to an Ozy.com article, Stewart also used his biting wit to score on the field. Once, when an opposing player made an anti-semitic remark about the size of his nose, Stewart reportedly responded that size had never been a problem for him.
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