Published on April 18th 2010 by Leon Shepherd

Many have tried but only a handful of professional athletes have been able to make the crossover into a successful acting career. This list showcases ten of the numerous athletes who have tried their hand at making the crossover to acting. As you will see, some were more successful than others. Please keep in mind that this list is not based on the athlete’s professional career, but solely on their body of work as an actor. Also, I’d like to point out that professional wrestlers were not considered for this list. So, without further ado, here’s my Top 10 list of Professional Black Athletes Turned Actors.


10. Shaquille O’Neal


Pro Sports Career:Center for the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, and the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1992 to present.

 Notable Acting Roles:                                                                                                                               - Neon in Blue Chips. (1994)                                                                                                                         - Himself in Scary Movie 4 (2006)


9. Ray Allen


Pro Sports Career: Shooting guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, Seattle Supersonics & Boston Celtics from 1996 to present.

 Notable Acting Roles:                                                                                                                             Jesus Shuttlesworth in He Got Game (1998)                                                                                      -   Marcus Blake in Harvard Man (2001)


 8. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Pro Sports Career: Center for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989.

Notable Acting Roles:                                                                                                                               - Hakim in Game of Death (1978)                                                                                                              - Roger Murdoch in Airplane (1980)                                                                                                         - The Djinn in Tales From the Darkside (1985)


7. Rick Fox


Pro Sports Career:Forward for the Boston Celtics & Los Angeles Lakers from 1991 to 2004.  

Notable Acting Roles                                                                                                                                -Chick Deagon in He Got Game  (1998)                                                                                                 -      Jackson Vahue in Oz (1997-2003)                                                                                                        - Harry in Meet the Browns (2008)                                                                                                         -     Himself in The Game (2007-2009)


6. Terry Crews


 Pro Sports Career: Defensive end & linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins & the Philadelphia Eagles from 1991 to 1996.

Notable Acting Roles:                                                                                                                                Damon in Friday After Next (2002)                                                                                                       -Julius Rock in Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009)


5. Bubba Smith


Pro Sports Career:Defensive end & defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and the Houston Oilers from 1967 to 1976.

Notable Acting Roles:                                                                                                                   -           – Claude in Good Times (1978)                                                                                                                   -Puddin in Semi-Tough (1980)                                                                                                                   -Strong Man in The White Shadow (1980)                                                                                 -         -Moses Hightower in six Police Academy movies. (1984-1989) 


4. O.J. Simpson


Pro Sports Career: Running back for the Buffalo Bills and The San Francisco 49er’s from 1969 to 1979.

Notable Acting Roles:

Harry Jernigan in The Towering Inferno (1974) 

Kadi Touray in Roots (1977)                                                                        

John Walker in Capricorn One (1977)                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Joe Gallagher in Goldie and the Boxer (1977)

Detective Nordberg in all three “Naked Gun” movies. (1988, 1991, 1994)



3. Carl Weathers


Pro Sports Career: Linebacker for the Oakland Raiders (1970-71) and the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League (1971-73)

 Notable Acting Roles:
  Apollo Creed in Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), and Rocky IV (1985)
  Dillon in Predator (1987)
  Action Jackson in Action Jackson (1988)
  Adam Beaudreaux in Street Justice (1991-93)
  Chief Hampton Forbes in The Heat of the Night (1993-94)


2. Fred Williamson


Pro Sports Career: Defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders & Kansas City Chiefs from 1960-1967.  

Notable ActingRoles:  

Tommy Gibbs in Black Caeser (1973)

Jagger Daniels in Three The Hard Way (1974)

John Bookman in Original Gangsters (1996)

Captain Doby in Starks and Hutch (2004)

Appeared on the TV show Julia (1969-1971)

__________________________________________________________________                                                                                                                                                                                                                 1.  

1. Jim Brown


Pro Sports Career: Halfback for the Cleveland Browns (1957-65)

Notable Acting Roles:
Robert Jefferson in The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Slammer in I’m Gonna Git you Sucka (1988)                                                                                     -  Jimmy Lait in Three the Hard Way (1974)
Montezuma Monroe in Any Given Sunday (1999)
Fireball in The Running Man (1987)
Appeared on the TV shows CHiPs (1979, 1983), Knight Rider (1984), T.J. Hooker (1983-84), and The A-Team (1986)

Entertainment, Sports | Comments (23)

23 Responses to “Top 10 Athletes Turned Actors”

  1. Shack Says:

    Wow what a nice list for a Monday morning. Have no problem with the rankings (JB is clearly No.1)and I didn’t know “The Hammer” played for the Steelers at one time. You forgot to list FW’s role in your favorite movie…The Legend of _____ Charley.

    Also of note is that both O.J. and FW were on MNF.

    Know I’ll come up with a few more but being the “Historian of this Blog,” I believe you should list Woody Strode in this TT as he was a pro football player and fine actor who acted well into his 80′s. Believe he was also an Olympian. He may have been the very first AA to make the transition from pro sports into acting.

  2. Leon Says:

    I forgot about Woody Strode. And yes he definitely deserves to be in the top 10.

  3. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Great list. I did not know that Terry Crews was an pro ball player. Wow…I love learning something new. which one makes the most money as an actor?

  4. Shack Says:

    Would Michael Warren qualify? Guess not since he played w Jabbar @UCLA but did not play “pro.”

    What about Rosey Grier and Wilt Chamberlain? One that REALLY Qualifies is Bernie Casey. With their body of work (especialy Casey and Grier) they might knock Shaq, Allen and Fox out of the TT.

  5. Terrance Says:

    another great list Leon. Where there any Females?

  6. Shack Says:

    As Resident Historian of Research indicates Paul Robeson was the first to play pro football and turn to acting as did Woody Strode some years later!

  7. Leon Says:

    Lenora, I didn’t know that about Terry Crews either. As far as who makes the most money, I don’t know. It’s something I’ll have to research.

  8. Leon Says:

    Shack, I considered Wilt, but he only made 1 movie, Conan The Destroyer.
    Rosey Grier, Bernie Casey, Paul Roberson (great research to remind us of what he achieved) and W. Strode could easily replace the bottom 4 on the list.

  9. Leon Says:

    Terrance I was hoping to put at least one female on the list, but couldn’t find one.

  10. Lenora Dorsey Says:

    Lisa Leslie

  11. Leon Says:

    I considered Lisa L. & Serena W. , but they have only done 2 to 3 small tv speaking parts between them, and no movie roles.

  12. Trisha Says:

    Great list Leon….now I get where you were going…Can’t wait to see what’s next

  13. Leon Says:

    Thanks Trisha!

  14. Lyn Says:

    great list Leon keep ‘em coming! YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB!

  15. Leon Says:

    Thanks Lyn! I appreciate your support.

  16. Monique Says:

    I am good with this list. Fred Williamson and JIm Brown I think were both notable sports figures who did well in the acting game. Terry Crews is my boy,,,his acting ability is great….thanks for sharing I will past this link on to my friends.

  17. Leon Says:

    Monique…good comments. Thanks for sharing & thanks for your support.

  18. MarkSpizer Says:

    great post as usual!

  19. Leon Says:

    Thanks Mark!

  20. Tom-Tom Says:

    Where is Bernie Casey (LA Rams receiver) , Mike Warren (UCLA Basketball Guard) Woody Stroud (NFL)???? Must not be any old school people who put this list together.

  21. Leon Says:

    As I stated in a previous comment, Bernie Casey & Woody Strode deserve to be on the list.
    And, it clearly states in the heading, the list is based on professional athletes.
    Michael Warren was not a professional athlete.

  22. napnar Says:

    mark Breeland in the lords of discipline. How about patrick ewing in the exorcist 3?

  23. Leon Says:

    Napnar, I hope you’re joking. Besides, they both acted in only one movie.