Athletes That Have Turned To Very Normal Careers

Professional athletes have very demanding careers. They must maintain amazing physical strength and ability in order to excel in their fields. A common but often ignored attribute among athletes is mental endurance. Sports stars are typically incredibly mentally sharp, and this skill can make for success in any professional field. Sports fans have seen this transferable skill benefit many athletes who went on to pursue unexpected careers after retiring. There is a long list of sports pros who found success as politicians, medical professionals, lawyers, and more. Although retired athletes may not immediately seem like competitive candidates for such jobs, sports can be the ideal starting point.

Athletes are honing these skills more and more as they become more knowledgeable about the financial risks that come along with a professional career in sports. Players often retire while they are still young, so it is easy to blow through financial earnings quickly. NBA player Pau Gasol spoke on how difficult life after the NBA can be. "An NBA career is very short," he told The New York Times. "When you're just thirty, you can be retired and then you have a whole life ahead of you, but you are not prepared to manage many aspects of your life." 

With all of the risks that threaten post-retirement success, it is no surprise that athletes have planned ahead.

Baseball star Mo Vaughn works in real estate

Maurice "Mo" Vaughn's Major League Baseball career lasted 12 years. During that time, Vaughn played for the Boston Red Sox, the New York Mets, and the Anaheim Angels (via SABR). The player's successful baseball career came to an abrupt end in 2003 due to continued pain from arthritis in his left knee (per the New York Post).

Vaughn's retirement led him to pursue new and unexpected endeavors. He started Vaughn Sports Academy to fulfill his dream of passing on professional expertise to young baseball players. Children are paired up with former professional baseball player-coaches who help them perfect their skills. The program's site shares, "Vaughn Sports Academy will be a place where kids of all ages and expertise can come to practice baseball, join workshops and train with some of the most elite coaches in the country, including Mo Vaughn himself."

Beyond coaching, Vaughn went on to start one of New York's most highly-respected real estate businesses. According to The New York Times, even former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg backed the company, Omni New York. So, what makes Vaughn's real estate business so notable? It rehabilitates buildings in low-income neighborhoods to offer safe and affordable living spaces to local residents. The former baseball player shared why he decided to pursue real estate: "We were trying to find the best way to give back and get involved in the City of New York," he said (per The New York Times). It seems Vaughn has made quite a positive impact on his community since leaving baseball.

Former NFL player Drew Bledsoe owns a winery

Drew Bledsoe is known for his time as a New England Patriots quarterback. He spent a total of 14 seasons in the NFL before retiring in 2007 at age 35, according to ESPN. He foreshadowed his post-football plans when he spoke on his departure from the NFL. "The reason for the decision is not because I don't want to play anymore," Bledsoe shared, per ESPN. "The reason is there's a lot of other stuff I'm excited about doing. The positives of retiring outweighed the positives of returning and my desire to still play." Perhaps the former football player was alluding to the winery he would later start.

Bledsoe founded Doubleback Winery in 2007 with his wife, Maura, and quickly hired winemaker Josh McDaniels. According to the business' website, it was a "long held dream." The retired athlete began planning the winery while he was still in the NFL. Luckily for Bledsoe, Doubleback proved to be successful early on, with its first vintage making the Wine Spectator Top 100 List. The company continues to grow, as Bledsoe and his business partner bought land in Oregon in 2021 to expand the winery beyond Washington, per KGW 8.

Boxer Manny Pacquiao ran for president

Manny Pacquiao became a professional boxer at only 16 years old. It was clear that this athlete was rather ambitious from a young age. That ambition seemingly followed Pacquiao into adulthood. He has one of the most impressive boxing careers in history, with his match against Floyd Mayweather being the best-selling fight of all time, according to Forbes. Pacquiao is also boxing's lone eight-division world champion. The sports star went on to become a boxing politician.

That's right, Pacquiao pursued a career in politics while still taking on opponents in the ring. He became a congressman in his home country of the Philippines in 2010. In 2016, he was elected as a senator (via USA Today). Pacquiao did not retire from boxing until 2021, when he announced he would be running for president in the 2022 election. According to USA Today, the former athlete hopes to tackle poverty and corruption if he is elected. Pacquiao took to Twitter to share some of his planned areas of focus: "We need progress. We need to win against poverty. We need government to serve our people with integrity, compassion and transparency," he wrote in part. The athlete also shared a memorable 14-minute video on Facebook for his supporters titled "Good bye Boxing."

Jim Bunning pursued politics after baseball

Although the late Jim Bunning passed away in 2017, his legacy lives on. The baseball player began his career in 1955 and continued playing Major League Baseball professionally for 17 years, per the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He mostly played for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Tigers during his baseball years. When Bunning retired from MLB in 1971, he pivoted into politics. 

The Kentucky politician served in the U.S. Senate from 1999 to 2010. A highly-conservative Republican, he was known for being very stern in his beliefs during his time as a senator, according to USA Today.

During Bunning's Senate farewell speech in 2010, he stated: "Many people often talk to me about how different my baseball and public service careers are, but they really are not so different. I have been booed by 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium standing alone at the pitcher's mound, so I have never really cared if I stood alone here in the Congress as long as I stood by my beliefs and my values." It's clear that this baseball player brought what he learned on the field into the world of politics.

Randy Johnson left MLB for photography

MLB legend Randy Johnson became one of the Arizona Diamondbacks' greatest assets when he joined the team. Johnson first made a name for himself as a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, but when the athlete was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015, he decided to accept the honor of representing the Diamondbacks. Johnson shared a statement regarding his induction and the decision to represent Arizona. "I want to express my most sincere thanks to all the teams I played for — Montreal, Seattle, Houston, the New York Yankees and San Francisco — and particularly all of the fans for supporting me. I'm very humbled by this honor," he said, in part (via ESPN).

It is perhaps Johnson's humility that led him to ditch stardom after retiring from baseball in 2010. Instead, the former MLB player focused on his interest in photography. It turns out that Johnson began working on his photography career even before pursuing baseball. "I studied photojournalism at the University of Southern California from 1983-85. Baseball became my occupation for two decades but my love of photography never left," he shared on his photography site. The retired baseball player now spends his days snapping shots of wildlife and beautiful landscapes. He also has photos in Spin, Rolling Stone, and other outlets, along with concert photography in all kinds of mediums.

Basketballer Bill Bradley ran for senator

Before Bill Bradley's candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States and his three terms as a New Jersey senator, the politician played for the New York Knicks. In 1964, Bradley played basketball in the Tokyo Olympics and won a gold medal. The Missouri-born basketball player joined the Knicks in 1967 and played for 10 years before running for senator, according to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. When the former athlete switched over to politics, he brought with him an impressive educational background. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and master's from Oxford University, "where he was a Rhodes scholar" (via Bill Bradley's website).

Since leaving both politics and baseball, Bradley has ventured into theater. It seems the ex-basketball player enjoys pursuing unexpected career paths. Per The New Yorker, Bradley debuted a one-man show in 2021. The performance runs through the timeline of his life as a politician, scholar, former basketball player, and investment banker. Bill Bradley has had a rather eclectic professional journey and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Pro wrestler Jesse Ventura became a governor

WWE star Jesse Ventura has always been a fascinating person. As an announcer and wrestler, Ventura's controversial statements and quirky costumes stood out. His career path post-wrestling garnered a great deal of attention, as well. Like many athletes, the former wrestler decided to go into politics after leaving sports. He was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998 after spending only $250,000 on his campaign, per History. Whether voters favored Ventura for his political prowess or his WWE fame is up for debate, but he did make a few favorable moves while in office. According to History, Ventura passed legislation for a light rail plan. He also coined the term "Jesse Checks" for tax rebates he sent out yearly.

After Ventura's single term as governor and previous position as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, he starred in his own show for TruTV. "Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura" debuted in 2009 and ran for three seasons. As the show's title suggests, the program investigates popular conspiracy theories. According to The Atlantic, there was speculation that controversy around the show led to its cancellation.

NASCAR star Danica Patrick is a driver analyst

IndyCar Series winner Danica Patrick was the first female race car driver to have won the competition. The history-making racing star ended her NASCAR Cup Series career in 2018 after breaking numerous records paving the way for future female racers. Per Patrick's website, she was "the first woman to win a NASCAR Cup Series pole." In 2015, she also set a new record: most top-10 finishes of a NASCAR Cup Series female racer.

Following Patrick's impressive career as a race car driver, the sports star went on to pursue entrepreneurship and broadcasting. In 2021, it was announced that Patrick would join the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) broadcasting team as a driver analyst, per CBS Sports. She also owns the athleisure clothing brand "Warrior," which gives her the opportunity to share her style. "I've always been interested in fashion," she shared with People. "When I was a little girl, if I didn't like my clothes, I would just cut them and make them look different. Now, athleisure clothes are pretty much what I live in." Patrick said she was determined to provide a quality product at an affordable price point, too.

Jack Kemp left the AFL to work in the White House

The late Jack Kemp got his start in the American Football League as quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers and the Buffalo Bills. According to ESPN, the retired athlete began his political career as a congressman representing western New York. During his time in Congress, Kemp pushed for tax cuts. He hoped lower taxes would result in economic growth across the country. In defending his stance, Kemp told the House that the tax code in place at the time "rewards consumption, leisure, debt and borrowing, and punishes savings, investment, work and production," per The New York Times. The politician's tax cut plan was well received and became Republican policy.

After the former football star left Congress, he went on to serve as secretary of housing and urban development in the White House, per The New York Times. Kemp was one of the first professional football players to successfully pursue politics after retirement. He opened the doors for the numerous athletes we see in government today.

Wayne Chrebet went Wall Street

New York Jets player Wayne Chrebet left football after a concussion cut his career short. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the football player mentioned the doctor's recommendations that he stop playing: "They retired me before I even woke up," Chrebet revealed. "If I was single, I could see fighting the doctors and saying, 'It's my choice.' But when you've got your wife and parents and friends wondering if you're going to get up after every hit, it's just not fair to them anymore."

This injury ended the athlete's football career, but he had many more opportunities on the horizon. Chrebet worked for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and eventually was hired as "Barclays' Assistant Vice President in the Wealth and Investment Management division" (via Prince Marketing Group). The former NFL star brings his knowledge of the sports and entertainment industry into the workplace, which may have helped him land these roles.

Mark Hamilton is a doctor

Mark Hamilton of the St. Louis Cardinals shifted his focus to the medical field after leaving baseball. The former baseman enrolled in med school, and he became a doctor during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton spoke on his journey in an interview with AP News. His transition into the medical field was not an overnight decision. "Academia was always important to me," he said. "I always felt like I was going to do this."

Hamilton explained that he did not anticipate he'd begin his new career during a pandemic. "I have had an incredible journey to becoming a doctor over the last four years, and not once did I think that I would find myself entering the field in a time like this," he shared with AP News. Per the CBC's "Day 6," Hamilton comes from a family of academics and athletes, so this career shift might not shock the former baseball player's loved ones. "When I was young, my father was a very prominent researcher in oncology and pathology, and I always wanted to be a physician," the doctor told the outlet. He also revealed that his grandfather played basketball professionally.

Former NFL player Dwayne Woodruff is a judge

Dwayne Woodruff played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 12 seasons and earned the MVP title in 1982. His impressive NFL career may have prepared him for the cases he would tackle as a judge. Yes, Woodruff went into law after leaving the NFL. He became a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In an interview for NFL Player Engagement, Woodruff explained how he balanced his professional football career with his law studies. "I'd go to the stadium [in the morning] and leave early evening. Then I'd go to class from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., then study, and then home by midnight."

While juggling law and sports, Woodruff's time with the Steelers was paused and ultimately concluded when he sustained a knee injury that required reconstruction surgery. He completed his education, and the NFL star's dedication to both careers led him to become an attorney while still in a contract with the Steelers, per NFL Player Engagement. This set Woodruff up to land his current role as a Pennsylvania judge. He is also the Board Director of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, per their website, which noted Woodruff's calling "to give guidance to youth."