Athletes’ Second Careers: These Retired Athletes Found New Success
Even the greatest professional athletes only have a relatively small window of time to compete at the highest level in their respective sports. All athletes must eventually take their talents off the field. While some stay involved in sports as coaches or owners, many athletes’ second careers are much more surprising.
Retired athletes have often found astonishing success in totally new realms. As it turns out, fierce competitors on the field often bring their skills to business, acting, and even music. Some athletes’ second careers are even more lucrative than professional sports. Take a look at these ex-athletes who left sports to dominate other careers.
1. Terry Crews
As a defensive end for Western Michigan, Terry Crews earned All-Conference honors and won a MAC conference championship. The Los Angeles Rams selected Crews in the 11th round of the 1991 NFL draft.
He played with the Rams, Chargers, and Redskins before stepping away from football in 1997.
After the NFL, Crews followed his true love of acting and blossomed into a TV and film superstar. He’s come a long way from his breakout role in Friday After Next to the critically acclaimed Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Crews’ celebrity has reached such incredible heights that TIME named him the 2017 Person of the Year.
2. George Foreman
Two-time heavyweight champion of the world George Foreman was a beast in the boxing ring. Big George was relentless, retiring in 1997 with 81 professional fights under his belt (76-5). He was involved in some of the sport’s biggest showdowns – even his losses like the famous “Rumble in the Jungle” were a marvel.
It’s only fitting that Foreman has ham hocks for hands considering the business venture he chose after boxing. Foreman endorsed a product now known worldwide as the George Foreman Grill, aka the George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine. The heavyweight raked in over $200 million by endorsing and slapping his name on the kitchen appliance.
3. Mike Tyson
George Foreman may have made a killing in the ring, but Mike Tyson was a straight up killer. In his prime, Tyson was (and often still is) considered one of the most powerful, talented boxers of all time. Not surprising, considering he won 44 of his 50 fights by knockout.
Tyson’s post-boxing career couldn’t be any more different from his run as one of the most terrifying fighters on the planet. The former heavyweight turned to entertainment, acting in films and putting on a one-man show. He even starred in an animated series, Mike Tyson Mysteries.
4. Magic Johnson
Earvin “Magic” Johnson was the face of the Showtime Lakers. The Hall of Famer is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars to ever grace the NBA. Johnson unfortunately cut his basketball career short after discovering that he is HIV positive. Despite prematurely ending his playing days, Magic had a pro career most legends can only dream of: 12x All-Star, 3x MVP and 5x NBA champ.
The magic didn’t stop when he retired, though. Johnson’s competitive spirit translated into the business world seamlessly; his company Magic Johnson Enterprises is worth an estimated $700 million.
Magic’s love for the city of Los Angeles has also remained a staple of his work. With a group of investors, he bought the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2014. Johnson also returned to the Lakers as the team’s president of basketball operations in 2017.
5. Michael Strahan
When the New York Giants selected Michael Strahan early in the second round of the 1993 NFL draft, fans had high expectations. The star Texas Southern defensive end lived up to the hype in every way imaginable.
Strahan was a cornerstone of the Giants secondary, earning seven Pro Bowl Selections and leading the league in sacks for two years. In 2007, he helped the G-Men to a Super Bowl victory.
After 15 years, fans finally got to see Strahan’s lovable, infectious smile unmasked. The former Defensive Player of the Year turned to a career in television after retiring from football. After a number of guest appearances on Live! with Regis in Kelly, Strahan took over for Regis Philbin. He co-hosted Live! with Kelly and Michael from 2012-16.
Since leaving morning television, Strahan has continued as a host for The $100,000 Pyramid on ABC.
6. David Beckham
David Beckham has become one of the most recognizable faces in soccer since he first started playing for Manchester United in the early ’90s. After over two decades of playing with the biggest clubs in the world, Beckham is now taking on a new role.
Beckham crossed the pond to play for MLS team the LA Galaxy – and now he’s got his own MLS team. Beckham bought an expansion team in 2014, and the Miami-based club is set to debut in 2020. Even if the team doesn’t pan out, Beckham can dip into his $450 million bank account to try elsewhere.
7. Ronda Rousey
The UFC has exploded in popularity since its inception in 1993. Women’s MMA wasn’t added until 2012, but thanks to their first signed fighter, Ronda Rousey, it grew remarkably fast. Rousey made her mark on fans’ memories as the first female UFC Champion.
After retiring from UFC, Rousey decided to take her talent from the octagon to the ring. With a global following and blossoming acting career, “Rowdy Ronda” is a perfect addition to the WWE family. After making a number of guest appearances from 2014-17, Rousey signed a full-time contract in 2018.
8. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Long before Dwayne Johnson took over entertainment industry, he was trying to make a name for himself as a defensive tackle on the 1991 national champion Miami Hurricanes. Johnson didn’t make the NFL, so he headed north to compete in the CFL.
Only two months into his first season with the Calgary Flames, Johnson was cut. Though this effectively ended his dream career as a professional football player, Johnson found success elsewhere.
Dwayne Johnson entered the ring and “The Rock” was born. His success in the WWE was massive and his momentum never slowed. Johnson transitioned his wrestling fame to film and television, working his way up from guest appearances to starring roles.
As if that wasn’t enough, Johnson continued to spread his wings as a director and producer. The Rock essentially ditched his career in Canadian football to single-handedly run Hollywood.
9. Bernie Williams
Center fielder Bernie Williams was a staple of the unstoppable ’90s New York Yankees. It took several years for the organization to figure out Williams’ role on the team, though. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner’s numerous failed attempts to trade Williams eventually proved serendipitous and vital to the team’s success.
During his baseball career, Williams indulged his passion for music and playing guitar. He even released his first album while still playing professional baseball in 2003. When No. 51 hung up his pinstripes in 2006, he turned his full attention to his music career.
10. Tony Hawk
Tony Hawk helped revolutionize the sport of skateboarding and is by far the sport’s most famous athlete. The innovative vert skater was the first to land a 900 (2.5 turns) and claimed first place in over 70 competitions.
Even years after retiring, Hawk still shreds. He also promotes the sport across the country and around the globe. Hawk has built a business empire; he owns skateboard company Birdhouse and launched the RIDE Channel on YouTube. Tony Hawk’s video games and sponsorships are a goldmine for the pro skater turned entrepreneur.
11. Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez remained one of the most captivating players to watch through much of his controversial 22-year MLB career. A-Rod’s two Golden Gloves, 10 Silver Sluggers, and three MVPs only just scratch the surface of his accomplishments.
Since retiring, Rodriguez has entered the business world; the ex-ball player founded A-Rod Corp. According to its website, the company “manages investments across a broad array of industries, including real estate, sports and wellness, media, and entertainment.” Read on for more retired athletes who rake in the cash like A-Rod by running their own companies.
12. Dave Bing
In 12 years playing in the NBA, point guard Dave Bing set the tone as a 7x All-Star. Bing earned six of those All-Star selections in his first nine years as a member of the Detroit Pistons. When Bing left the game, the Pistons honored their go-to scoring machine by retiring his number 21.
Bing worked at a steel processing company for two years after retiring from the NBA. He then opened his own company, Bing Steel. In 2009, Bing ran for mayor of Detroit and won. Detroit’s star point guard held office until 2013 before stepping down.
13. Jack Nicklaus
Jack “The Golden Bear” Nicklaus is widely regarded as the greatest golfer of all time. That title is well-supported by his 18 major championships, 73 PGA Tour wins and 117 professional wins. Nicklaus isn’t just a famous golfer, though – he does much more for the sport.
Aside from winning big on the tour, Nicklaus has made a living by actually designing golf courses. Along with his sons, he runs the Nicklaus Design company. The Golden Bear has also penned numerous books – topics range from instructional (golf swings) to inspirational (course designs).
14. Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant first joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a fresh faced 18-year-old straight out of high school and didn’t leave until he was 37. In that time, Kobe piled up an MVP award, 18 All-Star selections and five NBA championships. Kobe was such a legend, the Lakers even retired both of his jersey numbers.
Although Kobe only hung up his jersey for good at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season, it feels much longer with how much he’s accomplished since. The Black Mamba has maintained his intense “mamba mentality” in various business endeavors, including establishment of Kobe Inc. in 2014. He and business partner Jeff Stibel launched venture capitalist firm Bryant-Stibel and have already invested in numerous businesses.
15. Wayman Tisdale
Wayman Tisdale flaunted an impressive basketball career before he retired from the game at 32. The 6’9″ power forward out of Oklahoma became the second pick in the 1985 NBA draft. He enjoyed 12 years in the NBA, splitting time between the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns.
When his formerly impressive numbers declined in his final three years with the Suns, Tisdale had no trouble stepping away from basketball. For Tisdale, this meant stepping into his first true love: music.
Tisdale, a bass guitarist, made a second career in music, playing smooth jazz. He actually released his first record while still playing pro basketball in 1995. His group, Power Forward, played under the Motown label. They produced an incredible eight records before Tisdale passed away in 2009.
16. Arnold Palmer
Over the course of his impressive golf career, Arnold Palmer earned the well-deserved nickname of “The King” for his impact on the game. He also played a pioneer role as golf’s first “face of the sport” on TV. The first nationally televised golf tournament in 1953 set the stage for Palmer’s perfectly timed first pro appearance in 1954.
Palmer dipped his hand into a number of golf-related business ventures after retiring. The legend owned his own golf course in Orlando, FL and helped design over 300 courses, including China’s first golf course. Palmer was also a founder of The Golf Channel. Of course, he also branded everyone’s favorite sugary beverage combo of sweet tea and lemonade, the Arnold Palmer.
17. Roger Staubach
Although Roger “Captain America” Staubach was selected in the 1964 NFL draft, he didn’t get to play his first game until the 1969 season. Staubach served in the Vietnam War from 1965-69. Once he returned to the league, Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl championships. He also earned six Pro Bowl selections along the way in his 11 NFL seasons.
To keep his success rolling off the field, he began The Staubach Company near the end of his career in 1977. After retiring in 1979, he became a titan in the business of commercial real estate. In 2008, The Staubach Company sold for $613 million.
18. Vinnie Jones
English soccer player Vinnie Jones became known for his “hard man” image over his 16-year career. Jones played for eight professional teams, but fans remember him best as a member of Wimbledon’s “Crazy Gang.” In the 1988 FA Cup Final, the team upset Liverpool for one of the most shocking wins in the competition’s history.
Like many athletes’ second careers, Jones’ chosen occupation made use of his on-field image. When he left soccer and turned to acting, Jones kept his bad boy image.
The tough footballer seamlessly transitioned into playing crazed characters on screen. He landed roles in various action films, playing Bullet Tooth Tony in Snatch and Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand. As the insane Mad Maynard in EuroTrip, Jones was almost a little too good.
19. Mario Lemieux
The Pittsburgh Penguins got lucky when they selected Mario Lemieux with the first overall pick of the 1984 NHL draft. Lemieux went on to play 17 seasons in the NHL and win two Stanley Cups, all with the Pens.
But the Penguins consider Lemieux their savior for more than just his great play.
Lemieux first retired from hockey in 1997. When the Pens declared bankruptcy in 1998, Lemieux bought the team and its minor league affiliate.
After returning as both a player/owner in 2000, Lemieux retired for good in ’06. Since then, he has remained the team’s owner.
20. Roger Penske
Roger Penske made a living buying, racing, and selling race cars. After years of racing, Penske earned a reputation as budding talent in the sport. However, he decided to stop driving competitively in order to focus on a Chevrolet dealership he owned.
One year after he retired from driving, his racing team Penske Racing (now Team Penske) made its debut. Today, Team Penske is valued at $142 million while his family business, the Penske Corporation, is worth nearly $2 billion.
21. Hakeem Olajuwon
Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon was. A. Beast. For all but the final season of his 18-year basketball career, Olajuwon was the lifeblood of the Houston Rockets. The center’s legendary Dream Shake on offense was second only to his impenetrable defense. In ’94 and ’95, he helped his Houston team win back to back NBA Finals.
When Olajuwon’s playing days drew to a close, he continued his success in the city of Houston. The Rockets’ greatest center to play the game also saw incredible success in the real estate market.
Olajuwon has reportedly made over $100 million on H-Town real estate investments. With over $200 million in the bank, Olajuwon is living The Dream indeed.
22. Derek Jeter
For two decades, Derek Jeter was the face of the New York Yankees. With 14 All-Star selections and five World Series titles, New York’s captain earned fitting nicknames like Captain Clutch and Mr. November.
Baseball’s king of the postseason wasn’t done winning after his final at-bat in 2014.
The same year he retired, Jeter launched his website The Players’ Tribune. The unique site has proven wildly successful as an online media platform with pieces written by athletes. In 2017, Jeter partnered with Bruce Sherman to buy the Miami Marlins MLB team.
23. Ion Tiriac
Ion Tiriac of Romania was once one of the top tennis players in the world. Tiriac won the 1970 French Open and once ranked as high as No. 8 in the world in his time playing in the ’60s and ’70s.
Like many athletes’ second careers, Tiriac’s post-retirement path was also an incredibly lucrative one.
Tiriac’s success as a tennis player is a footnote compared to his accomplishments in business. Tiriac earned billionaire status through various investments, petroleum distribution, auto dealerships, and real estate.
24. Oscar de la Hoya
Oscar De La Hoya, aka “The Golden Boy,” made a killing over the course of his incredibly successful boxing career. While De La Hoya’s final career record of 39-6 is impressive, his six world championships at different weights are even more stunning.
De La Hoya last stepped into the ring in 2008. However, he’s remained heavily involved in the sport as a promoter with the firm he established, Golden Boy Promotions. As the majority shareholder of one of boxing’s most successful promotions, ODLH continues to rake in the dough with his second career.
25. Carl Weathers
Before Carl Weathers became a silver screen sensation, he made a living on the gridiron. Weathers was undrafted out of college in 1970, but signed with the Oakland Raiders where he would appear in seven games in two seasons.
After his brief NFL stint, Weathers played with the CFL’s B.C. Lions from 1971-74.
When Weathers moved on to acting, he struck gold. The ex-football player landed the famous role of Apollo Creed, starring alongside Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky franchise.
Weathers has continued to act alongside titans in the entertainment industry. He appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and played the hilarious Chubbs in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore. Many athletes’ second careers bring them far less fame than their first – but Weathers was a brighter star on screen than in the NFL.
26. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan is His Airness, the GOAT, Air Jordan, the face of basketball. MJ took over the NBA almost the moment the stepped on the court; his path of destruction continued until he hung up his jersey. Jordan won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and collected an otherworldly five MVPs, among a museum’s worth of other accolades.
Even though MJ played his last NBA game in 2003, he remains the biggest influence in basketball. The legend stays in the game with his Jordan Brand athletic apparel and Air Jordan sneakers.
There was no way the end of Jordan’s playing days would keep the fierce competitor away from the game. In 2006, Jordan bought a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) and in 2010, he became majority owner.
27. Bill Goldberg
The Los Angeles Rams selected Bill Goldberg in the 11th round of the 1990 NFL draft. The defensive tackle never saw playing time during his first two NFL seasons. He then spent two years in the now-defunct World League of American Football before returning to the NFL. Goldberg spent three seasons (and finally saw action) with the Atlanta Falcons.
When injury forced an early end to his NFL career, he entered a new arena. Bill dropped his first name to become the WWE monster known simply as Goldberg. From the late ’90s through the early ’00s, Goldberg enjoyed massive success in professional wrestling.
28. Gale Sayers
The NFL journey was short, yet unforgettable for Gale Sayers. The Kansas Comet played seven seasons with the Chicago Bears, earning All-Pro honors in the first five of those seasons. His impact as a running back and kick returner made Sayers the youngest Pro Football Hall of Fame selection at age 34.
Knee injuries cut Sayers’ final two seasons – and pro football career – short, but the retired athlete went on to an incredible second career. Sayers dipped his toes into multiple industries as a tech entrepreneur; he founded Sayers Group LLC and sports marketing firm Sayers Enterprises.
29. Jerry Richardson
Jerry Richardson’s NFL career was not exactly long. He joined the Baltimore Colts in 1959 as a receiver/tailback and only made it for two seasons. Richardson’s career as a professional football player may have been short, but he only needed one season to claim an NFL championship.
After his brief football career, Richardson began a series of business ventures in the food industry. He worked his way up from owning a Hardee’s franchise to becoming CEO of Flagstar – the controlling company of many major food chains, including Hardee’s and Denny’s.
In 1995, Richardson became the owner of NFL expansion team the Carolina Panthers.
30. Kevin Johnson
All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson had quite a career with the Phoenix Suns. KJ played a major role in quickly turning the woeful Suns into one of the toughest teams in the Western Conference. Johnson spent 12 seasons in the NBA. Though he only reached the Finals once, he was one of the league’s must-watch ballers through the ’90s.
After retiring, Johnson returned to his hometown, Sacramento, CA where he worked as CEO of after-school program St. HOPE. Then, Johnson entered politics. In 2008, he ran for mayor of Sacramento and won. He served as mayor for the next eight years and established numerous programs in the city before stepping down in 2016.