Because They Can: Athletes in Entertainment

While watching sports analysis on (my go-to procrastination move these days), I stumbled upon an interesting tidbit. Several NBA analysts were discussing which one player they would most like to build their team around. The usual suspects were mentioned: Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, and last but certainly not least, LeBron James. Former NBA player John Barry chose King James without hesitation, calling him the most amazing athlete he’s seen in any sport. Whether it was “basketball, football, baseball, or cricket,” Barry would make James the centerpiece of his squad. He was so confident in LeBron’s abilities that he boldly claimed that LBJ could spend a couple days learning a team’s playbook and then make a serious impact in an NFL game.

LeBron was an all-state receiver in high school, but do we actually believe this? To be perfectly honest, I think I do. I wouldn’t go so far as to draft him for my cricket team, but I would seriously consider giving him a chance, if nothing else than for publicity. This got me thinking. LeBron and his seemingly transcendent skills within the sports world seem to be a microcosm of famous athletes within the entire entertainment industry. Just as LeBron could get a tryout with the New York Rangers if he really wanted to, in show business, there’s nothing an athlete can’t do.

The more I see pro athletes on TV shows and in movies (Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Gates, Michael Strahan, and The Rock, to name a few recent ones), the clearer it becomes that professional sports is the only platform from which anything else is possible. We’ve already touched on acting, so how about music? Of course there was the abysmal rapping of Shaq, Ron Artest, USA soccer midfielder Clint Dempsey, and the Spurs’ Tony Parker. But what about the impressive latin jazz debut album of longtime Yankee outfielder Bernie Williams, The Journey Within? Not too bad, actually. Athletes have also managed to conquer the business world, introducing their own shoe lines, athletic apparel, and anything else you could possibly think of. No lie, I once saw a tiny billboard for an obscure Chicago dog groomer featuring Sammy Sosa during the prime of his career (unfortunately, the dogs made Sammy sneeze and he was out for two to three weeks). That’s how marketable and entrepreneurial these guys are. Fashion models, comedians, grill innovators—the sky’s the limit. Even politics are not out of the question. There’s wrestler-turned-Minnesota governor Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura. And keep in mind that Schwarzenegger was an athlete first. Before he was addressing the people of California on the state of the environment (to which he responded, “Don’t worry about that”), he was an iron-pumping Mr. Universe.

I know what you’re thinking. Musicians and actors cross over all the time, and you’re right. 50 Cent is a rapper, producer, actor, model, designer, Vitamin Water spokesman—a straight mogul. I won’t even try to count all the things Oprah does. But even the most resourceful, most resilient, and most multi-talented person in show biz could never make his or her way into professional sports (Billy Crystal’s Yankees cameo doesn’t count), let alone have any success there. So am I saying that a career in sports is harder and requires more specialized skill than a career in acting or singing? That’s exactly what I’m saying. Actors and musicians certainly deserve plenty of credit, but a change in Americans’ tastes will never pave the way for bad hitters or slow defensive backs as it has paved the way for the success of Lady Gaga and Asher Roth. Success in sports requires a set of essentially non-negotiable skills, which cannot be said about much else in life. So, of course, Ray Allen a.k.a. Jesus Shuttlesworth will never outshine Denzel on the silver screen, but he did get a chance to. On the flip side, the closest Denzel could ever get to besting Allen in an NBA game was the streetball ass-kicking he received on the set of He Got Game, a Spike Lee joint. We can talk all we want about how elite and successful Donald Trump and Martha Stewart are, but Chris Paul could conceivably learn the nuances of the market or learn how to make potpourri out of frickin’ anything. But even if The Donald and Jailbird Martha somehow weren’t so old, white, and in all likelihood, uncoordinated, they could still never learn to dish like CP3.

So I’m not saying athletes should sing or act. They shouldn’t. (I once saw Met’s third baseman David Wright in a commercial and wanted to kill him after 30 seconds.) But they could if they wanted to, because as professional athletes, they’re already attending the most exclusive VIP party in America. After that, crashing a few house parties is a cake walk.

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