10 Famous Athletes Who Are Also Incredibly Smart

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February 9th, 2011 in Entertainment, Feature

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Despite the prevalence of "dumb jock" jokes, the world of professional sports has fielded some truly gifted minds. These athletes didn't just challenge the meathead stereotype: they demolished it, and they proved with their college education and off-the-field pursuits that they could do a whole lot more with their lives than just get good at playing ball. From upper-level schools to extraordinary business pursuits, these athletes demonstrated an ability to make themselves fully rounded, and to use their sporting skill as a means to a successful end.

  1. Bill Bradley: It's the rare pro athlete that makes a mark on national politics, but such were the gifts of Bill Bradley. Bradley (pictured above) was a gifted basketball player from youth, going on to play at Princeton University, where he earned a gold medal as part of the U.S. Olympic team, then playing for ten years with the New York Knicks. He won two championship titles before retiring from the game in 1977, after which he was elected to the U.S. Senate representing New Jersey. He's also a published author with six non-fiction titles to his name, and as of early 2011, he was hosting a talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. He's a member of the board of directors of Starbucks and is also a prominent investment banker.
  2. Craig Breslow: Craig Breslow is only 30 but he's already been dubbed "the smartest man in baseball" by The Wall Street Journal. His older sister was diagnosed with pediatric thyroid cancer when Breslow was 12, spurring his interest in medicine and leading to his eventually creating the Strike 3 Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds for pediatric cancer research. He played baseball at Yale, but he also graduated with a degree in molecular physics and biochemistry, and he was even accepted to med school at NYU thanks to a 34 on his MCAT. The dude is basically the smartest relief pitcher you will ever meet.
  3. Myron Rolle: Tennessee Titans safety Myron Rolle is an unassuming guy with a world-class brain. He played for Florida State, where he finished his pre-med exercise science degree in under three years before winning a Rhodes Scholarship and getting a master's degree in medical anthropology from Oxford. As in, England. He's said that if he weren't a football player, he'd want to travel the world practicing philanthropic medicine.
  4. Ross Ohlendorf: Austin-born Ross Ohlendorf, currently starting pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, graduated from Princeton with a 3.8 GPA studying operations research and financial engineering. (You know, the easy stuff.) His SAT score was a ridiculous 1520, and in a recent off-season he worked as a volunteer intern for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, contributing to programs designed to trace diseases in livestock. You get the sense that baseball isn't his entire life, just the thing he happens to be doing right now.
  5. Chris Nowinski: Wrestling is no longer the costume sport for maladjusted 13-year-old boys: the brief tenure of Chris Nowinski shows that even Harvard-educated guys can take a pounding. Nowinski was WWE's first Harvard alum, having studied sociology at the Ivy League school. He suffered a number of concussions during his wrestling career, and he retired in 2003 before going on to write Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, which examines the dangers of concussions in football and pro sports. He's now an expert in the field and serves as president of the Sports Legacy Institute, which is devoted to athlete brain trauma.
  6. Alan Page: After a national championship playing football with Notre Dame, Alan Page went on to play with Minnesota Vikings and then the Chicago Bears. He was one of the Vikings' "Purple People Eaters," the ridiculously efficient defensive line in the 1960s and '70s. While still with the Vikings, Page also attended law school; in the mid-1980s, after his NFL career was over, he became Assistant Attorney General and then later an associate justice on the state supreme court. He was the first black man to serve on Minnesota's state court. He's in the NFL Hall of Fame, to boot.
  7. Ryan Fitzpatrick: Buffalo Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick scored a 1580 on the SAT, which means he smoked pretty much everyone reading this article right now. He majored in economics at Harvard, getting a top-flight education to bolster the playing skills that would eventually lead him to Buffalo. He's not even 30 yet, but he's already recognized as one the smartest players in the game.
  8. Ken Dryden: Ken Dryden was a goaltender for the Montreal Voyageurs and the Montreal Canadiens throughout the 1970s, but before he played pro, he studied at Cornell, and he also earned a law degree from McGill University. After he retired he worked as a commentator and author, and in 2004 he was elected to Canadian Parliament. As mentioned above, jumping from pro sports to top-tier politics is rare, but Dryden had the brainpower to make the move seem effortless.
  9. Matt Birk: Playing center for the Baltimore Ravens is probably not a picnic, but neither is studying economics at Harvard. It's impressive that Matt Birk has done both. He's said he was offered a Wall Street job out of college before football came along, so given his track record, it seems likely that he'll continue to make his mark on the financial world after he leaves the field. He's also founded a charity to help at-risk youth.
  10. Moe Berg: Moe Berg might be the most fascinating pro athlete who ever lived. A catcher for a number of teams throughout the 1920s and '30s, Berg wasn't a particularly stellar player, but he was known for being one of the oddest and smartest guys in baseball, reading multiple newspapers every day and even appearing on quiz shows. During World War II, Berg worked for the United States Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) as a spy in Europe. He was an enigmatic but brilliant man, and one of the most interesting characters in sports history.

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