Athletes Who Famously Played Two Sports
These athletes were so talented they had to choose which sport to pursue professionally.
When it comes to sports, some pro athletes are multi-talented. While they may dominate in one particular league, they can also more than hold their own in other fields. Several of these athletic stars juggled multiple sports in high school and college before choosing one to focus on. Others went on to play in more than one league professionally.
Here’s a closer look at the athletes whose skills famously translated to more than one sport.
The name Michael Jordan is synonymous with one sport: basketball. Widely considered one of the best — if not the best — NBA player of all time, Jordan’s record in the league speaks for itself. He played 15 seasons in the NBA, winning six championships with the Chicago Bulls, as well as six NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards, 10 scoring titles (both all-time records), five MVP Awards, 10 All-NBA First Team designations and many more accolades.
Jordan’s athletic prowess isn’t limited to basketball. After his first three consecutive finals with the Bulls, he decided to take a break from the sport and instead tried his hand at baseball. He signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1994 and played as an outfielder for their Minor League team, Birmingham Barons. He only played for about a year before returning to basketball.
Though Tim Tebow was one of the most successful college football players in history, his professional career didn’t go as smoothly. He was drafted to the Denver Broncos in the first round in 2010. However, he left the league after only three mediocre seasons.
While his NFL career wasn’t as memorable as may have hoped, Tebow didn’t just quit athletics altogether. In 2016, his agents revealed he was pursuing a career in professional basketball. He signed a minor league contract with the Mets that same year and has remained in the minor leagues as a left fielder or designated hitter since then.
Russell Wilson has a history in both baseball and football. The athlete started out playing both sports for North Carolina State University from 2008 to 2010 before transferring to the University of Wisconsin. He played minor league baseball for the Tri-City Dust Devils in 2010 and the Asheville Tourists in 2011. In 2018, the Yankees acquired him from the Texas Rangers, assigning him to the Double-A Trenton roster.
Though Wilson has been playing baseball on and off for years, he’s undoubtedly better known as a football star. Since being selected by the Seahawks in the 2012 NFL draft, the athlete has certainly made a name for himself. In addition to being named the NFL Rookie of the Year in his debut season, he has a Super Bowl win under his belt and holds the record for most wins by an NFL quarterback through seven seasons. In 2019, he also became the highest-paid player in the NFL, thanks to a four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Seahawks.
John Elway had a legendary 16-year football career with the Denver Broncos, but that almost wasn’t the case. The athlete was also an excellent baseball player and juggled both sports while at Stanford University. Upon graduation, he was selected by the Yankees in the 1981 draft and played for the team’s short-season affiliate, the Oneonta Yankees, in 1982. But by 1983, the NFL was also clamoring to get Elway in the league, forcing him to choose between the two sports.
In 1983, Elway was selected as the first pick by the Baltimore Colts. At the time, the Colts were considered one of the worst teams in the league, and Elway was wary of playing for them. When his agent revealed the athlete was considering sticking with baseball instead of playing for the Colts, the team ended up trading him to the Broncos — and the rest is football history.
Is there any sport that Herschel Walker hasn’t tried? He was a standout on the track and field team in high school and also participated in football and basketball. After graduating, he continued to compete in both football and track at the University of Georgia, becoming a three-time All-American and the winner of the 1982 Heisman Trophy. He was later elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
After college, Walker began his professional football career with the New Jersey Generals of the US Football League before joining the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. He also went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. Outside of football, Walker competed on the bobsleigh team of the 1992 Winter Olympics. He also has a brief mixed martial arts career and holds a fifth-degree black belt in taekwondo.
You may know him as “Prime Time,” and for good reason. Deion Sanders remains the only athlete in history to appear in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. The star athlete was a member of the NFL for 14 seasons from 1989 to 2005. Throughout his NFL career, he played for the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens.
As if being an NFL star wasn’t enough, he also had a part-time career as a baseball outfielder. He was in the MLB for nine seasons from 1989 to 2001. Over that time, he played for the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves (who lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the ’92 World Series), the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants.
To this day, Bo Jackson is the only professional athlete in history to be named an All-Star in baseball and a Pro Bowler football. Jackson played both sports at Auburn University, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1985.
After college, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Jackson in the first overall pick of the 1986 draft, despite that the athlete publicly stated he didn’t want to play for the team. After refusing to sign with the Buccaneers, Jackson decided to focus on baseball, signing a three-year contract with the Kansas City Royals.
Jackson went on to also play for the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels before resuming his football career. From 1987 to 1990, Jackson also played for the Los Angeles Raiders, getting selected to the Pro Bowl in his final year. He eventually retired from football after suffering a hip injury in 1991.
Jim Brown started out his athletic career playing football, basketball, track and lacrosse at Syracuse University in the 1950s. He was a first-team All-American as a senior football player, but also excelled in all three of the other sports. He was the second-leading scorer for the basketball team, finished fifth place in the National Championship for decathlon in 1955, and was named first-team All-American in lacrosse his senior year. Whew — talk about being seriously athletic.
The Cleveland Browns picked Brown in the first round of the 1957 draft. He spent nine years in the NFL and still holds the record as the team’s all-time leading rusher. Brown was also voted into the Pro Bowl during every season he played.
Jackie Robinson was an all-star athlete starting in high school. He played and lettered in football, basketball, track and baseball in high school and was also on the tennis team. After graduating, he continued participating in multiple sports at Pasadena Junior College before moving to UCLA. At UCLA, he became the school’s first athlete to win varsity letters in four sports: baseball, basketball, football and track. At the time, he was one of only a few black students who played mainstream college football.
Professionally, Jackie Robinson is, of course, known best for breaking the baseball color line when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers 1947. During his 10-year career in the MLB, Robinson won Rookie of the Year, was named an All-Star for six consecutive seasons and became the first black player to win the National League MVP Award in 1949. In 1997, he became the first professional athlete in any sport to have his uniform number (42) retired across all major league teams.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
You may know Dwayne Johnson as a wrestler, but he started out as a football player. He played for the University of Miami, with the team winning a national championship in 1991. After going undrafted in the 1995 draft, he signed with the Calgary Stampede of the Canadian football League. He was cut from the team in the middle of his first season and began training as a professional wrestler shortly after.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
Johnson secured a contract with the WWF in 1996 and rose to prominence quickly, eventually garnering his well-known nickname “The Rock.” He won several championships throughout his wrestling career, including being a two-time Intercontentinal Champion and a 10-time world champion. These days, Johnson is well into his third act of life, ruling Hollywood as one of the world’s highest-paid movie stars.
J.J. Watt may be best known for his football skills, but his athletic skills extend far beyond just that one sport. In high school, he lettered in basketball, baseball and track and field, along with football. He also captured the state title in shot put at Wisconsin’s 2007 Division II Championship during his senior year.
In college, Watt went on to focus on football, first receiving a scholarship offer from Central Michigan University and then transferring to play defensive end at the University of Wisconsin. In 2011, he signed to the Houston Texans. Over his years as a professional football player, he has been named to the Pro Bowl fives times and is also a five-time first-team All-Pro. In 2017, he was named both Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.
He may be the most famous football quarterback of all time, but Tom Brady was once also considered a baseball star. In the 1995 MLB draft, he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 18th round. The team was determined to keep him, offering him the salary typically offered to much earlier draft picks. But Brady was more passionate about football and eventually decided to play for the University of Michigan instead.
Believe it or not, Brady wasn’t a top choice of a draft pick coming out of college. He was selected by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft —and we all know how that turned out. Brady has spent his entire 19-season career with the Patriots, helping them win six out of nine Super Bowls (more than any other football player in NFL history). He also won four Super Bowl MVP Awards (again, the most ever received by a single player), three league MVP awards and countless other accolades.
In high school, Colin Kaepernick played football, basketball and baseball and was nominated for All-State selection in all three sports during his senior year. After earning several accolades as a baseball pitcher during these years, he received several scholarship offers in that sport from various colleges. Despite that, Kaepernick was determined to play college football and ended up accepting an offer from the University of Nevada.
While playing football for the University of Nevada, Kaepernick was drafted in the 43rd round of the 2009 MLB draft by the Chicago Cubs. He turned down the opportunity and continued to focus on football, signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He remained with the team until 2016, breaking the NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game. Kaepernick has since become known for his activism and parted ways with the league after his silent, now-famous protest during the National Anthem drew backlash.
Having graduated from Louisiana State University at an All-American hurdler, Jones went on to compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Though she was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles, she tripped on the penultimate hurdle, ending up in seventh place. She competed again in the 2012 Olympics, but just missed the podium, finishing fourth.
Though she never won gold in hurdles as once expected, that wasn’t the end of Jones’ Olympic career. In 2012, she joined the U.S. national bobsled team. She was selected to compete in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but the team failed to medal, finishing their event in 11th place.
Dave Winfield may be a MLB Hall of Famer, but he played both baseball and basketball in college and had his pick of sports after college. Following his graduation from the University of Minnesota, the athlete was drafted by four teams in three different sports. The San Diego Padres drafted him as a pitcher in the fourth pick in 1973, while both the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the ABA’s Utah Stars also drafted him.
The Minnesota Vikings also selected him in the 17th round of the NFL draft, despite Winfield never playing college football. He remains one of six players ever to be drafted by three professional sports and one of only three athletes to be drafted by four leagues.
Of his many offers, Winfield ultimately chose baseball — which obviously turned out to be the right call. Over his 22-year career, he played for six teams, including the Padres, Yankees, California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays, Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians. He ended his career as a 12-time MLB All-Star, a seven-time Golden Glove Award Winner and a six-time Silver Slugger Award Winner. He’s also a member of both the College Baseball of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame.