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15 Actors Who Were Once Athletes

There comes a time in every athlete's life when they must call it quits and move onto pastures new, and for many, it seems acting is a popular avenue.

With that in mind, here are 15 well-known actors who once competed in college and professional level sport. Some of the names may surprise you.

1. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Before Dwane "The Rock" Johnson became one of Hollywood's highest earning actors, the friendly giant was a budding football player who was on the roster of the University of Miami's prestigious team. Yet Johnson's dream of an NFL call-up became unrealised, and after a stint in the Canadian Football League, the then 23-year-old decided to pack it in all and pursue his first love; wrestling.

The decision proved to be a wise choice for Johnson, who would go onto emulate and surpass his father's wrestling career by becoming the face of the then World Wrestling Federation thanks to the heroics of his much-loved character The Rock. 

Today, you can see the multi-talented stud in several blockbusters as well as the HBO drama Ballers.

2. Jason Statham

Before Jason Statham found success in Hollywood, the British hardman wasn't, as many people believe, a cockney gangster. He was actually a professional diver.

Statham was, by his own admission, a bit of wheeler-dealer (he'd often sell fake perfume and jewelry on street corners to help make ends meet), yet his dedication to his diving career eventually paid off after he was scouted as a model for the fashion brand French Connection. Soon after, Statham met the film director Guy Ritchie who would give Statham his first break as an actor.

3. Terry Crews

Terry Crews is one helluva guy, and you'll be hard-pressed to find many who don't like him so it's maybe for those reasons, as well as his overt showmanship that landed Crews a string of Hollywood roles following a successful career in the NFL.

Crews' professional football career started following a successful College career at Western Michigan University, which would see him drafted for the defunct Los Angeles Rams. Deciding to retire after six seasons, Crews pursued an acting career and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

4. Jason Lee

The My Name is Earl star wasn't always trying to atone for his sins through the age-old principles of karma. Early in his life, Lee, who recently left the Church of Scientology,  was a professional skateboarder.

Also a successful extreme sports entrepreneur, it wasn't until the late 1990s that Lee decided to give acting a go and he soon caught the attention of Kevin Smith, who cast him in the 1995 movie, Mallrats. 

5. Ronda Rousey 

Technically, the all-conquering female cage-fighter and star of the popular UFC franchise is still at the peak of her sporting career, but in 2015, Ronda was one of the stars of the critically-panned Entourage movie.

The American, who in 2015 was the third most searched name on Google, is also rumoured to be starring in the Nick Cassavetes re-make of 1989's Road House.

6. Stacy Keibler 

Most known by the tabloids for her relationship with George Clooney, Keibler started out her career as a famous wrestler for the World Wrestling Federation.

As is the case with many WWE wrestlers/ actors, (it isn't really a sport, is it?) Keibler would go on to perform in a plethora of TV series including How I Met Your Mother before turning her attention to presenting. 

7. Michael Jordan 

Michael Jordan (depending if you're a Wilt Chamberlain fan or not) is arguably the greatest basketball player of all time and after starring in the much-loved Disney movie Spacejam, is also a great actor.

Yes, is there anything sports' first billionaire athlete can't do? Probably not, but we're okay with that. 

8. Arnold Schwarzenegger 

Described by La Weekly as America's most famous immigrant, Arnie's tale is a rags-to-riches one, and someone who was at heart of the bodybuilding craze that swept American and vast areas of the world during the 70s and 80s.

Moving to the US from Australia at the age of 21 with little English in his vernacular, a fast-learning Arnold quickly fitted into the American way of life, a place he had wanted to be since he was 10-years-old.

Training at the prestigious Gold's Gym in Los Angeles, Arnold established himself as one of bodybuilding's hottest prospects when he captured the prestigious Mr Olympia title at only 23-years-old and following a successful spell as champion, and the coverage bodybuilding was receiving at the time; Arnold moved into acting. 

Initially, poducers fond his thick accent a problem, and in his first movie, subtitles were added to his scenes. By the early 80s, however, the Austrian, who finally got his Hollywood break in the action movie Conan The Barbarian, achieved what he always wanted: fame and fortune.

9. Vinnie Jones

Known by British fans for his dirty style of play in English soccer's old First Division, Jones' career is noted for his transition into acting, for which he somehow managed to make a living out of for playing characters that bore similar characteristics to himself.

Perhaps known most for his gritty roles in Guy Ritchie's British gangster movies 'Snatch' and 'Lock Stock And Two SmokingBarrels', Vinnie Jones is also the only athlete-turned-actor on this list to hold a record in his sport. 

In keeping with his bad-boy image, Jones holds the record for the quickest ever top flight red card at an English soccer game when he was sent-off after only three seconds for grabbing the genitals of his opponent, Paul Gascoigne.

10. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar isn't your typical basketball player and rather than being known for his championship winning exploits with the Los Angles Lakers, Jabbar is more known for his commentary on the contemporary jazz scene and even writes on an array of issues for Time magazine. Although before becoming basketball's most intelligent star, Kareem, who won three NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was also a successful actor.

Jabbar's acting credits include starring and fighting opposite Bruce Lee in the film Game of Death as well as playing himself in the comedy classic Airplane.

11. John Cena

The third wrestler to appear on this list is John Cena who, before his big break in WWF, was a Division III College player at Springfield College.

Now a prolific seller of cereal, Cena also dabbles in acting and most recently starred alongside Amy Schumer in the 2015 hit, Trainwreck.

12. Bruce Lee

As an icon of martial arts and somebody who popularised the craft in movies, the late Bruce Lee was credited with being the world's first action star.

Admittedly, Lee was already starring in TV shows and commercials in his native Hong Kong from an early age but took up martial arts to protect himself from the local gun crime that plagued his family's community. 

Bruce Lee is arguably most known for his final film, Enter the Dragon.

13. Mark Harmon

While Mark Harmon never reached the lofty heights of NFL stardom like his father did when playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Mark Harmon was still an important college player and even won the prestigious Rosebowl Tournament when quarterbacking for the UCLA Bruins.

However, Mark's failure to reach the NFL proved a blessing in disguise and would go on to become one of Hollywood's most seasoned TV actors, with credits in popular shows like NCIS and St. Elsewhere to his name.

14. Lawrence Taylor

Lawrence Taylor was always a player for the big occasions, which was probably the main reason behind Taylor being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame following an illustrious career linebacking for the New York Giants.

However, Taylor lived a life full of hedonism, which would lead to a crippling cocaine addiction and escalating financial problems. To pick up the pieces, Taylor transitioned into acting and landed a role in his biggest movie to date when he starred alongside Jamie Foxx and Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday. 

15. O.J. Simpson

'The Juice' was one of the NFL's most revered players and broke record after record and his success on the pitch soon translated into success off the field once Hollywood came calling. 

In fact, Simpson's Hollywood career was one of the most successful on this list with his most known roles coming in the Naked Gun franchise and Roots. 

But O.J'S dream life turned into a nightmare after being arrested for the double murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ron Goldman. Miraculously acquitted of both murder charges; O.J. was still convicted years later of robbing, kidnapping, assault and criminal conspiracy after attempting to steal sports memorabilia from a Las Vegas hotel. He was sentenced to 33 years in prison and is up for parole in 2017.

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