13 Pro Athletes Who Found Great Success as Actors

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Many people have dreams of being an actor, sometimes in film and sometimes in television roles.

Some actors fall into the opportunity through lots of auditions, training, and from knowing the right people. But others get their start by becoming a famous name first.

Athletes are often in the public eye, gaining a following for being good at their chosen sport. Once they retire from their profession, some continue to grow their popularity through other ventures.

Tom Brady Photo

Many athletes turn to acting, whether through television advertisements and commercials like Coach Prime, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady, Derek Jeter, Eli Manning, and Kevin Durant.

Other athletes like Travis Kelce, Pat McAfee, Deion Sanders (Prime), and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. do podcasts to attract a following.

Travis Kelce Image

Some celebrities do one-shot cameos, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James in Space Jam, Uncle Drew starring NBA star Kyrie Irving, Airplane! with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Blue Chips with Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal.

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Then, some athletes go into acting as a profession once they retire from a sports career.

We've picked 13 professional athletes who found major success on the screen after their time using their physical skills to gain a following.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

Sport: Wrestler -- WWE

One of the most relevant former athletes turned T.V. stars is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

The Rock with his wrestling belt

He started his athleticism as a college football player before signing with the Canadian Football League for a season.

Fans got their first taste of his charisma when he became a professional wrestler under the stage name The Rock for WWE from 1996 to the present.

He created signature moves like the people's eyebrow and the people's elbow. And he coined the catchphrase, "Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?"

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We've seen him do numerous cameos on popular T.V. shows like That '70s Show. His first try dabbling in film was in The Mummy Returns as the Scorpion King in 2001.

He's best known for his role as Hobbs in the Fast and Furious franchise with Vin Diesel, Back Adam, Spencer on Jumanji, Mitch on Baywatch (the remake), and Maui from the Disney movie Moana.

Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam

He also brilliantly worked alongside John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, and Christine Milan in Be Cool in 2005.

We often see him playing alongside his best friend, Kevin Hart, like in Jumanji, Central Intelligence, and D.C. League of Superpets (animated).

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If you're a Kevin Hart fan, what did you think of his appearance on The Masked Singer, a reality show famous for featuring athletes?

For his T.V. career, he starred in 47 episodes of the T.V. series Ballers from 2015 to 2019 and 37 episodes (2021 to 2023) of his series Young Rock.

Johnson's newest role has him nearly unrecognizable from facial prosthetics as he portrays the true story of mixed martial arts expert Mark Kerr. Emily Blunt will costar in The Smasking Machine.

Dwayne Johnson is a boxer

John Cena

Sport: Wrestler -- WWE

Like Dewayne Johnson, John Cena played college football before becoming a professional wrestler.

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Cena started his wrestling career with Ultimate Pro Wrestling with the character The Prototype and joined WWE in 2002.

John Cena walks to the ring

He started gaining popularity as a wrestler in 2006 and transitioned to an actor when he starred as a lead in The Marine.

Along with acting credits, Cena also tried being a rapper, releasing his first rap album and achieving #15 on the Billboard 200 chart.

He's appeared in over a dozen WWE productions and made appearances in several T.V. shows, like Hannah Montana and Parks and Recreation.

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His most noteworthy films include Daddy's Home with Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, Psych: The Movie, Blockers, Bumblebee, Fighting with my Family, Playing with Fire, Vacation Friends, Barbie, and Ricky Stanicky.

Along with a noteworthy performance as Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad, which spawned a 2022 8-episode T.V. series of the same name.

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In 2023, he spent three episodes sharing the T.V. screen with Kevin Hart, John Travolta, and Josh Hartnett as Mr. 206 in Die Hart.

Shaquille O'Neal

Sport: Basketball player - Multiple teams

Shaquille O'Neal -- better known as Shaq -- is one of the greatest professional basketball players ever. 

Although he's out of the game, he still lends his talents as a sports analyst on TNT's Inside the NBA TV show.

Shaq joins Inside the NBA

He's also succeeded as a rapper, with one platinum album out of the four he's released. He tours as an electronic music producer DJ under the name Diesel.

While Shaquille's size -- 7 feet 1 inch tall (2.16 m) and 325 pounds (147 kg) -- is what people notice first, that's not all there is to him.

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He's been a participant in the satirical Saturday Night Live series before he started appearing in films.

Most 90s kids remember him as the overly large, awesome, magical genie Kazaam, starring Francis Capra.

Shaq makes it rain candy

Shaq seems to love working with Adam Sandler, appearing in multiple Happy Madison productions, including Grown Ups 2 as Officer Fluzoo, Jack and Jill, Hubie Halloween, and Blended.

He's also appeared in What Men Want with Tracy Morgan and The House Bunny with Anna Faris.

He's also provided voices for several animations, including The Lego Movie, The Smurfs 2, The Cleveland Show, The Simpsons, and Johnny Bravo.

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But O'Neal is also known as a humanitarian. He has a line of basketball sneakers sold at Wal-Mart because he doesn't want to exploit people who cannot afford his shoes.

Bill Goldberg

Sport: football, wrestling -- WCW & WWE

Goldberg is ready to wrestle

Wrestling fans know Goldberg as the master of the spear move in the 1990s in the WCW. He came to WWE briefly from 2003 to 2004 and returned in 2016 through 2020.

But before he was a wrestler, Goldberg was a professional football player, playing for the L.A. Rams in 1990 and Atlanta Falcons from 1992 to 1994 (where he became friends with Prime).

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He entered the WLAF, playing for the Sacramento Surge and then the Sacramento Gold Miners in 1993 as part of the Canadian Football League. In 1995, he joined the Carolina Panthers but was the first player cut.

He started his acting career in 1999 with several movies, including The Jesse Ventura Story and Universal Soldier: The Return.

He appeared as himself in Ready to Rumble in 2000 with David Arquette.

Goldberg enters the match

His voice appeared in a few kid's animations, including Kim Possible, Family Guy, and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Once he left WWE, he focused on acting, joining Adam Sandler in the wrestler-heavy sports comedy The Longest Yard.

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He's been on several series, single episodes like Law & Order: SVU, and as a recurring member, like his six episodes on NCIS: LA and 12 episodes of The Goldbergs.

Goldberg is also a fan of reality shows, hosting Forged in Fire: Knife or Death and Bullrun. He's also been on numerous car shows as an avid car collector.

Terry Crews

Sport: Football -- multiple teams

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Most people know Terry Crews from his roles as Terry Jeffords of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (153 episodes) from 2013 to 2021.

He also has an ongoing commitment as host of the reality talent show America's Got Talent alongside Simon Cowell and Howie Mandel.

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But if you've been around long enough, you can remember his early uncredited roles, like Damon from Friday After Next, starring Ice Cube and Katt Williams, or Training Day with Denzel Washington.

Perhaps his most notorious performance came during his role in White Chicks, a comedic spoof starring the Wayans brothers.

His talents caught the attention of Adam Sandler, who recruited Crews to join his remake of the '70s classic, The Longest Yard.

Terry Crews has cheeseburgers

Crews wasn't the only athlete to appear in the dramedy. It also had wrestlers Steve Austin and Bill Goldberg, who are on this list.

Terry also had a notable role in the scarily predictive sci-fi film Idiocracy. If you haven't seen it, do so before it becomes reality. Crews stars with Maya Rudolph, Luke Wilson, and Dax Shepard.

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He starred with Chris Rock in The Longest Yard and again partnered up from 2005 to 2009 to play Rock's father, Julius, for four seasons of Everybody Hates Chris.

Other amazing performances included Scary Movie V, Bridesmaids, The Expendables 1 through 3, and Deadpool 2.

Terry Crews in Deadpool 2

As for T.V. shows, he's been in Arrested Development, Are We There Yet, the reality show The Family Crews, and Tales of the Walking Dead.

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He's lent his voice to animations Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Boondocks, Ultimate Spider-Man (2013), and The Willoughbys.

Carl Weathers

Sport: Football -- Oakland Raiders

Carl Weathers is a well-known and loved actor with an impressive portfolio of film and T.V. credits.

Carl Weathers is Apollo Creed

However, many may not know he spent time as a professional football player before becoming an actor.

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Weathers signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1970 as a free agent. But after seven games, he realized his true dream was to act.

He got his break in acting when he received the part of Apollo Creed in the masterpiece Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone, in 1976.

He retained the role through three more Rocky movies before Creed died in Rocky IV (1985).

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He went on to star in Predator with another big name of the 1980s, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We saw his comedic side when he played our favorite one-handed golf coach, Chubbs, in Adam Sandler's Happy Gilmore (1996).

Happy Gilmore Screenshot

He also had an uncredited role as a dance coach named Chubbs in Sandler's Little Nicky.

He coined the phrase, "It's all in the hips."

As far as a T.V. career, he starred in 13 episodes of Chicago Justice, four episodes of Chicago P.D., two episodes of Chicago Fire, seven episodes of Colony, four episodes of Arrested Development, and 28 episodes of In the Heat of the Night (1993 - 1995).

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After his stint with Happy Madison Productions, he landed many other roles.

His most recent work before passing was as Greef Karga from 2019 to 2023 in The Mandalorian T.V. series.

Carl Weathers in the Mandalorian

He contributed to several animated children's films and T.V. shows, including Toy Story 4 and Star vs. the Forces of Evil.

Dave Bautista

Sport: Wrestling -- WWE, MMA

Bautista got a start to his fame as a WWE wrestler. But throughout his career, he's wracked up over 100 credits across movies, T.V. shows, video games, and WWE affiliations.

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His most known character has been Drax, a member of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

Bautista is Drax

He's also done My Spy, Hotel Artemis, Glass Onion, Army of Thieves, Blade Runner 2049, Escape Plan: The Extractors, Escape Plan 2: Hades, Army of the Dead, Sci-Fi in Dune (Part One and Two), and Riddick.

You may have seen him on an episode of Smallville in 2006, eight episodes on See, one episode of What We Do in the Shadows, or heard his voice in 2022's Little Demon.

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Ronda Rousey

Sport: Judo, MMA, Wrestling -- WWE

If you looked up badass bitch in the dictionary, you'll find a picture of Ronda Rousey. She stems from badassery, the daughter of the first woman to win a gold medal at the World Judo Championships.

An Olympian and athlete, Rousey is a master of mixed martial arts, judo, and wrestling.

Ronda Rousey WWE debut

In 2004, she was the youngest person to qualify for the Olympic Games and has won multiple medals in various competitions.

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She became the first woman to sign with UFC in 2012, ending her MMA record at 12 wins and two losses.

She transitioned to wrestling with the WWE in 2016 and began acting in 2014.

We first saw her beautiful face in The Expendables, starring fellow athlete-turned-actors former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, martial arts expert Jet Li, wrestler Steve Austin, and MMA fighter Randy Couture.

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Other movies starring Rousey include Charlie's Angels, Furious 7 of the Fast and Furious franchise, Mile 22, and Entourage.

She's also shown her face in several series throughout her acting career. She appeared in one episode of Blindspot and on five episodes of 9-1-1 as Lena Bosko.

Ronda Rousey on 9-1-1

Steve Austin

Sport: Wrestler, amateur college football player

WWE fans know Steve Austin as the beer-chugging Stone Cold, famous for his move, the Stone Cold Stunner. 

He started his wrestling career in 1989, starting in the WCW as the stunning Steve Austin. He joined the WWE in 1995, where he found major success.

Austin 3:16 became the nemesis of The Rock, Dewayne Johnson, a battle that lasted throughout Austin's career at the WWE in 2002.

Stone Cold Steve Austin on WWE

He ventured into acting with a six-episode stint on the T.V. series Nash Bridges. His voice appeared on Celebrity Deathmatch for 20 episodes from 1998 to 2002.

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We got our first real taste of his acting chops when he appeared in the 2005 movie The Longest Yard with Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and several other wrestlers.

Austin played his first lead role in The Condemned in 2007, the Damage in 2009, and The Stranger and The Expendables in 2010.

He's also appeared in several other films, including a minor role in 2013's Grown Ups 2, another Adam Sandler film.

Steve Austin in a Terminator Costume

Serena Williams

Sport: Tennis

Serena earned her reputation as one of history's best female tennis players. She retained the top ranking numerous times during her time with the WTA.

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Her first major championship win occurred in 1999, and she won a career Grand Slam in 2003.

She also won numerous double titles with her older sister, Venus. In 2017, she beat her sister to earn her 23rd Grand Slam singles division.

Serena Williams during first US open

She's won multiple Olympic awards and dozens of competitions, single and double matches.

Aside from her tennis career, Serena has branched into fashion, starting a clothing line. She's also dabbled in acting on television and in movies.

Her voice has been on The Simpsons, and she's had a documentary series made about her life, "Being Serena."

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She has 29 credits, including single attendances on T.V. series like Law & Order: SVU, My Wife and Kids, The Bernie Mac Show, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra.

She's also appeared in movies like Glass Onion, PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie, Ocean's Eight, 7 Days in Hell, and Adam Sandler's Pixels.

Serena Williams in Pixels

OJ Simpson

Sport: Football

The name OJ Simpson is familiar to everyone for different reasons. Some people may remember him for his impressive football career, during which he set multiple records and won MVP several times.

After his football career, Simpson started doing T.V. commercials for big brands like Hertz. He attempted to be an announcer for Monday Night Football for two years.

OJ Simpson as a reporter on Monday Night Football

Other people remember him for his alleged criminal activities. He was the subject of a police investigation for the murder of his wife and her best friend.

Before the police arrested him, he and his former teammate Al Cowlings took the police on a low-speed chase.

After a nine-month trial that fascinated the country, Simpson's hotshot legal team got him off.

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Along with the well-known Johnnie Cochran Jr., OJ's Dream Team consisted of Robert Shapiro, Robert Kardashian, and nine other trial lawyers.

O.J. moved into uncredited appearances in T.V. shows, starting with Dragnet in 1967 and It Takes a Thief in 1968. He scored his first credited role in 1969 on the Medical Center.

He scored his first unnamed movie role in 1973 in Why. He continued to find named roles in movies and T.V. movies, most recognized for his performances for The Naked Gun trilogy and Roots.

OJ Simpson sitting on a gun

After appearing in an episode of Adventures in Wonderland in 1994, Simpson didn't appear back on screen until a 2004 short named The Lemon Twist.

Simpson was arrested in 2007 and charged in 2008 with kidnapping and armed robbery. He spent nine years of his 33-year sentence in prison, receiving parole in 2017.

O.J. passed away in April of 2024 at the age of 76.

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Mike Tyson

Sport: Boxer

Mike Tyson is a boxer who's been present in the media lately about his upcoming heavyweight fight against Jake Paul.

Mike Tyson on The Tonight Show

Tyson's impressive record of 50-6-2 NC with 44 knockouts has many people convinced he'll win the fight with minimal effort. He is known as "the baddest man on the planet."

Since Tyson retired from boxing in 2005 and is now 57, plenty of nonbelievers think the youthful 27-year-old will win the July 20 match.

Tyson moved into acting with a single episode appearance on Webster in 1987.
After retiring from boxing, Tyson got into acting with guest appearances on Law & Order: SVU, How I Met Your Mother, and Entourage.

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In multiple music videos, he tried his hand at an animated spoof, Mike Tyson Mysteries, aired on Adult Swim (Cartoon Network).

Mike has also published several books, including Undisputed Truth, a tell-all New York Times memoir published in 2013, and Iron Ambition, published in 2017. 

He also started a YouTube channel in 2017 and a podcast, Hotboxin' with Mike Tyson, in 2019.

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As for movies you've seen him in, he's been in Play It to the Bone, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, Rocky Balboa, The Hangover (I, II, III), Brothers, Scary Movie V, Entourage, Grudge Match, Meet the Blacks, and A Madea Family Funeral.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Sport: Bodybuilder

Schwarzenegger has played some of the most iconic roles in Hollywood with a unique accent that everyone can recognize.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Attends Event

He impressed us with his bulging bod before Arnold entertained fans with his Austrian accent.

He emigrated to the U.S. at age 21 in 1968. He quickly ruled the competitive bodybuilding ranks for a decade, earning seven Mr. Olympia and five Mr. Universe titles.

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He started acting in 1970 for Hercules in New York and appeared with his first big names in 1976 in Stay Hungry with Sally Field and Jeff Bridges.

Pumping Iron (1977) covered the 1975 South African Mr Olympia contest and became a key sports documentary.

He found the perfect role when he became Conan the Barbarian in 1982, starring with James Earl Jones and Conan the Destroyer in 1984.

However, his role as The Terminator (1984) made Schwarzenegger a household name.

Arnold is the Terminator

Other breakout roles include The Predator, Red Heat, Twins, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop, Last Action Hero, True Lies, Junior, Batman & Robin, The Expendables (2 and 3), Escape Plan, and The Last Stand.

Along with his acting career, Arnold fulfilled his political ambitions, serving as California's governor from 2003 to 2011.

Becoming a successful athlete can lead players to transition into a career on the screen.

Many start with commercials or uncredited movie roles, as these 13 famous actors have done.

Which athletic actor is your favorite person to see on the screen? And what's your favorite role played by any actor?

Sara Trimble is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. You can follow her on X.

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