Sports Stars With Surprising College Degrees

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One might assume a big deal college sports star could get a degree in "future professional athlete," but that isn't a college major. And so, many of our favorite super famous athletes have degrees in some of the strangest fields of study. At least, they seem odd to us because it's weird to imagine a sports star — or any star, for that matter — pursuing a path outside of their calling. 

The NFL will take anyone who is three years out of high school, so there are numerous athletes who attended school on a scholarship but left once they were drafted. Granted, that doesn't happen too often, so plenty of athletes across a wide range of sports attend and complete college before embarking on their careers. Of course, there are those who left but eventually went back to school and completed their degrees and some of their majors are somewhat surprising.

Few people would think of an NFL player and connect them with establishing a large-scale poultry operation. Fewer would link one of the NBA's greatest players of all time with a desire to become a meteorologist. Still, there are players who fit that profile, and many of them may surprise you. Of the plethora of sports stars who went to college and earned their degrees despite becoming international superstars, these are some of the strangest.

Von Miller learned he loves chickens

Von Miller entered the NFL in 2011 and has played for the Denver Broncos, the Los Angeles Rams, and the Buffalo Bills. He's been a defensive end throughout his career and has managed to help win two Super Bowls. A powerhouse linebacker in college, he was drafted second overall. When he graduated from Texas A&M University in 2011, he walked across the stage to receive his bachelor's degree in poultry science

If you're unfamiliar with poultry science, you're probably in the majority because it's not something folks outside the agricultural industry know much about. According to the University of Georgia's Department of Poultry Science, "Students study the genetics, embryology, and physiology of the bird, nutrition, diseases, poultry and poultry products, economics and business." Miller pursued his field of study because the man loves chickens, and he raises them in his spare time. 

In 2013, USA Today reported that Miller spent his third year with the Broncos raising chicks after purchasing 38 during the offseason. He kept the birds on his eight-acre property outside of Dallas. As he's moved to other cities, he's kept his passion for chickens going. While taking ESPN on a tour of his chicken farm in Texas, he shared that he accidentally fowl, er, fell into this hobby. "It started out by taking the easy class in college, then before you know it, it's my major," he laughed.

Alex Morgan studied an area of political science

Whether you're into women's professional soccer or not, there's a good chance you've heard of Alex Morgan at one time or another. Since graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010, she's been one of the most celebrated players in the game. Her list of athletic achievements could easily fill an entire article, which may be one of the reasons her major at Berkeley is so strange, as it has nothing to do with soccer. When she graduated from college, she did so one semester early and with a degree in political economy of industrial societies. That area of study focuses on the relationships between people, governments, and overall public policy, so it's more in line with someone who wants to be a professional politician or an employee of the State Department. 

As for what she hoped to do with that degree? Play soccer. It was always soccer. In an interview with Reuters, Morgan recalled a note she gave her mother when she was a kid that shows she had her eyes on the prize early on. "It said, 'Dear mom, my dream is to be a professional soccer player. Love, Ali.' My mom kept that for years," she shared. 

Morgan has gotten political regarding equal pay for female athletes over the years, so her study of complex interrelationships may prove useful off the field as the controversy over gender pay inequality gains more widespread attention.

Michael Jordan had a rainy day plan

Ask anyone familiar with the NBA in the late 20th century, and one name comes to mind when the term "greatest of all time" is thrown around. Michael Jordan is one of the best players in the sport's history, and he managed to build a massive career around sports merchandising, playing the game, and coaching. He dominated the courts for years and is widely recognized as one of the best professional athletes of all time, but that doesn't mean it's the career he always imagined for himself.

Jordan wanted to be a meteorologist, so when it came time to choose his degree path, he followed his dream. He accepted a basketball scholarship from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in coastal geography. Jordan explained what it was all about during a Q&A session at his Senior Flight School.

"I went to college and got my degree in coastal geography. Now, everybody wants to know, 'What is coastal geography?' Well, it's an introduction to meteorology," he said. "I always wanted to be the weatherman ... that's what I really wanted to do. So, if I wasn't playing basketball or baseball, I was going to tell you what the weather was going to be like tomorrow." Jordan didn't complete his degree the first time around, but he eventually returned. As he once told The New York Times, "My father used to say that it's never too late to do anything you wanted to do."

Eli Manning put his college degree to work

Like many of the athletes on this list, Eli Manning is considered one of the greats. He played 16 seasons for the New York Giants and retired with numerous records to his name. Speaking of his name, Eli isn't the only Manning to score big with the NFL; as many fans already know, he and brother Peyton Manning are football royalty. That's largely thanks to patriarch Archie Manning's successful career, which has collectively made the Mannings one of the "First Families of Football." The Manning moniker certainly holds sway on the gridiron, to say the least. 

Just like his pop, Eli attended the University of Mississippi, better known as Ole Miss. He balanced football with schoolwork, and ultimately earned a marketing degree. If there's one thing Eli and the rest of the Manning family have done well, it's market themselves, and Eli's chosen area of study has been helpful throughout his career, on and off the field. Since retiring from the NFL, Eli has taken a job with BVP, a private equity firm, which Bloomberg described as one that grows companies through brand marketing and business development. 

Ole Miss has shown its love for two of its most impressive alumni in an interesting way. Per FanNation, rather than sticking with something simple like a banner or a plaque, the speed limits all around campus are either 18 or 10 mph, which are nods to Archie and Eli's college jersey numbers.

Dhani Jones created his own major while in school

Dhani Jones was drafted in 2000 to play for the New York Giants. He went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, and the Cincinnati Bengals. He retired from the sport in 2010 with 11 seasons under his belt and has gone on to work outside the NFL by hosting shows on the Travel Channel, VH1, and CNBC. One of the reasons he's been able to move from one career to another may have something to do with his degree.

Jones attended the University of Michigan, where he played for multiple seasons and won numerous accolades throughout his college career. An interesting aspect of the University of Michigan that sets it apart from most universities is that students can pursue their own area of study outside the normal bounds of a traditional academic institution. Essentially, a student can design their own degree path, and Jones built his own major, which he called, as his HuffPost bio notes, "self-representation."

When Jones graduated, he became the first and only person with a degree in self-representation, and he's used what he learned to his advantage. Since leaving the NFL, he's represented himself in various areas of the entertainment industry. He hosted "Adventure Capitalists" for CNBC, where he sought entrepreneurs for investment. He hosted "Dhani Tackles the Globe" on the Travel Channel, and for VH1, he acted as the presenter on "Ton of Cash." He's also the co-founder of the Bow Tie Cafe in Cincinnati and has diversified in a variety of different fields.

Allyson Felix can teach children when she retires

Allyson Felix has been a dominating force in the world of women's track and field for years. She's won numerous awards, including seven gold medals at the Olympics, and has become a leading figure in her field. She has been named twice on Time Magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in 2020 and 2021, so hers is a name most people are familiar with, even if they don't follow the sport.

Felix began competing professionally as soon as she left high school, but that didn't stop her from attending the University of Southern California to pursue her degree, which, as you probably guessed, has nothing to do with track and field. Instead, Felix earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education. Felix worked hard to complete her degree, which she did to fulfill a promise she made to her father when she decided to run after a professional running career out of high school.

Felix decided to retire from the sport before the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, so there's a chance she might find her way to another career. If she does, she has her degree in elementary education to fall back on. However, it's unlikely she'll need to fall back on anything. As of this writing, Felix is the most decorated athlete in World Athletics Championship history, and that's for both male and female athletes. She broke the tie she held with famed runner Usain Bolt in 2019.

Ellis Hobbs' college career made his mom proud

Ellis Hobbs made waves when he was drafted out of Iowa State by the New England Patriots in the 2005 NFL Draft. He played with the team until 2008 and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. Unfortunately, his professional football career came to an end in 2011 due to a second devastating neck injury. While that ended his time on the field, he did have a backup plan, thanks to his degree, though he didn't entirely embrace it in his post-NFL career.

While attending school at Iowa State, Ellis studied art and design. He was all but guaranteed to have an amazing career as a professional athlete, but even so, he took his studies seriously, completing his degree while playing for the Patriots. That was primarily due to a promise he made to his mother, Nettie Hobbs. That accomplishment was important to Nettie, who told the Iowa State University News Service, "Anything can take him away from football, but now he can say, 'I have a degree from Iowa State University.' And I can say, 'My son graduated from Iowa State University.' And be proud of it. It's just wonderful."

Since leaving the NFL, Ellis Hobbs has branched out. His post-football career includes getting involved in making a movie and being the co-founder of a concierge service called Privé Society. 

Shaquille O'Neal has doctoral degree

Shaquille O'Neal, known to the world as Shaq, has been a significant fixture of professional sports since the early 1990s. He was drafted out of college to play for the Orlando Magic in 1992 as the first overall pick, before leaving as a free agent in 1996. He went on to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Miami Heat, the Phoenix Suns, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Boston Celtics before he retired from the NBA in 2011. The man has a long list of accomplishments, and several of them are academic.

Besides being considered one of the greatest players of all time, O'Neal has been a serious scholar for much of his adult life. He fulfilled a promise to his parents when he graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies in 2000. Per ABC News, he said at the time, "It took eight years, it should have taken six or seven. I had some other engagements."

After completing his undergrad, O'Neal earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2005. He still wasn't done with his studies, and he managed to achieve something that sets him apart from most of the athletes on this list because he received a doctorate in education from Barry University in 2012. If you ever happen to run into O'Neal while you're out and about, be sure to address him as "Dr. Shaq;" after all, he earned it.

Myron Rolle left the NFL for neurosurgery

Safety Myron Rolle was a professional football player only briefly, having been drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2010, although he never played a regular-season game with them. He then moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers and stuck around only in the offseason before leaving the game to pursue his true passion, which had everything to do with his education.

Rolle is not only incredibly smart, but he's a driven man who embraced his education. Per ESPN, he began studying at St. Edmund Hall in 2009 after being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, putting his NFL career on hold so he could attend Oxford. At the prestigious institution, he earned a Master of Science in medical anthropology. In 2013, he attended Florida State University's College of Medicine and graduated from the program in 2017. From there, he did his neurosurgery residency at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School, where he became a Global Neurosurgery Fellow.

All of those impressive educational accolades amount to one thing: Myron Rolle is a neurosurgeon, and by all accounts, he's pretty good at his job. His LinkedIn lists him as Dr. Myron Rolle, "Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital. MLR, Foundation Chair. Rhodes Scholar. Former NFLer." Of all the people on this list, he's the only one to pursue a specific educational path and then leave professional sports early on in his career to follow it. He's been recognized for his educational endeavors, and in 2021, he was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame.

Megan Rapinoe's education prepared her for activism

Megan Rapinoe is another highly influential athlete, both on and off the field. She joined Allyson Felix on Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list, which recognized her for her LGBTQ+ activism and her talent on the field. Rapinoe has long been considered one of the best players in professional soccer, and she's racked up some serious accolades throughout her career, including winning gold at the 2012 London Summer Olympics with the national team.

Before she was winning awards for playing soccer, Rapinoe pursued a degree, and she did so at the University of Portland alongside her twin sister, where she played for the Portland Pilots. Rapinoe focused on sociology for her undergrad, and she graduated with a degree in that field in 2008. As it happens, she's not the only player to pursue this major. As noted by the University of Washington's Department of Sociology, fellow 2019 Women's World Cup champs Crystal Dunn, Abby Dahlkemper, and Rose Lavelle also studied sociology when they attended their respective colleges.

While she doesn't appear to be falling back on her sociology degree anytime soon, Rapinoe's activism continues to steer towards education. She's worked with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and other organizations to eliminate discrimination against LGBTQ children in K-12 schools. Rapinoe continues to use her platform to promote positivity in athletics and LGBTQ inclusion across multiple areas of society, so it seems her education helped prepare her for her activism in a variety of sociological ways.

David Robinson's love for math landed him in the Navy

David Robinson is a name that often comes up when people argue over who the best NBA centers are, and that has a lot to do with the fact that he is one of the greats. Robinson played for the San Antonio Spurs from 1989 to 2003, and his skills landed him numerous achievements, including becoming a two-time U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame inductee, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, becoming a ballplayer wasn't always Robinson's dream, and he took a somewhat circuitous route getting there.

Robinson attended the U.S. Naval Academy, where he studied mathematics. When he graduated, Robinson owed some time to Uncle Sam, so he served for two years in the Navy, achieving the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade before he was finished. Despite earning a relatively low rank, his fellow players nicknamed him "The Admiral," and it's a name he kept throughout his entire career.

Among his peers, Robinson was known for his intellect, and his study of mathematics was something he was passionate about pursuing. His education didn't stop with his undergrad, and in 2012, he earned a Master of Arts in administration from the University of the Incarnate Word. Robinson explained his academic interests to San Antonio Magazine, saying, "I decided to get a master's because in a lot of things I'm doing — whether in philanthropy or business — I felt like I was a little behind." 

Kevin Willis is an NBA star and fashion design star

Kevin Willis was in the game for a long time. He started out with the Atlanta Hawks in 1984 and continued playing on various teams until he finished out his career with the Dallas Mavericks in 2007 at the age of 44 — making him one of the oldest players in the league ever. When he ended his basketball career, he fell back on his degree. Decades earlier, Willis attended Michigan State University, where he studied fashion and textiles

Like many of his peers in the NBA, Willis puts his name on a lot of clothing. That said, he's not exactly like the other players because he doesn't lend his name to established brands. Instead, he designs his own line of clothes. After leaving the NBA, he launched his second career as a fashion designer.

One of the reasons he got into fashion was his height, which led him to start Willis & Walker, a bespoke clothing line designed for taller men. In 2012, he hosted a fashion show for his spring/summer collection. Fashion is truly Willis' passion, which is clear given his thoughts on the subject. Per Crossover, he once said, "Although the NBA has definitely opened doors for me ... if I had the education and resources that kids have at their disposal today, I probably wouldn't have gone pro and would have become a fashion designer."

Cameron Fleming knows rocket science

Cameron Fleming began his professional career in 2014 as a 4th round pick for the New England Patriots. He's since become a free agent and has played for the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, and the Denver Broncos. He's a talented offensive tackle, but he made sure he had options outside of the NFL. Fleming pursued an academic career at Stanford that all but guaranteed he could find a job.

You know how people like to say "it's not rocket science" when describing something that's not complicated? Well, Fleming is an actual expert on what is and isn't rocket science: He graduated from Stanford University with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics. When most people follow that degree path, they continue into graduate school to further their studies, but Fleming didn't do that. Instead, he went into the NFL and pursued his other passion. Still, his degree makes him highly employable should he ever decide to use it.

Few people ever study and receive their undergraduate degrees in aeronautics and astronautics, which means there aren't many people qualified for that type of work. Fleming told ESPN  that he sees aerospace as a potential backup career should his time with the NFL come to an end. When the outlet asked why he studied what he did, he said, "It was an interesting major. It always kept me engaged. Kept me very busy as well. But it was something I wanted to do, and I just went for it."

Venus Williams stays busy with business

Venus Williams is a name pretty much everyone in the world associates with tennis, and there's a good reason for that. She and her sister Serena Williams are two of the most accomplished tennis stars to play the sport, and Venus' career has seen her reach the top of the rankings. She's played at every major event since she began her career and has taken home numerous titles, gold medals, and everything else a world-class tennis star can achieve.

Venus' skills on the court are well known worldwide, but she's capable in many other areas outside of tennis. She went to the  Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where she not only earned an associate's degree in fashion design, but graduated with honors. She's used her degree in her second job with the establishment of her own fashion line, EleVen. The tennis icon continued her education and earned a bachelor's in business administration from Indiana University East in 2015. That degree has helped her develop a successful business, but evidently, she's set on adding another degree to her resume. 

According to the Daily Mail, Venus Williams has expressed a desire to earn an MBA at some point. Whether or not that happens, she has proven her business acumen via a number of business ventures that have netted her tens of millions of dollars.

Clifford Ray's love for music guided his education

You need to have a lot of talent to play professional ball with the NBA, and Clifford Ray has no shortage. His professional career began in 1971 with the Chicago Bulls. A decade later, he ended his career as a player with the Golden State Warriors. Ray's time on the court wasn't completely finished though, as he spent the next few decades coaching or assistant-coaching seven teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics, and more.

While he was undoubtedly a presence on the court, he's probably best remembered these days for his coaching skills. However, they have little to nothing to do with his education. Like many who came before (and after him), Ray spent his time in college following something he was passionate about. In his case, that was music. While Ray was playing basketball at the University of Oklahoma, he was also studying musical performance, and he graduated with a BFA in the subject. He has long been a fan of music, and he can play pretty much any woodwind instrument, but as far as we can tell, he hasn't pursued the professional musician route. 

According to his LinkedIn, Ray spends a lot of his time fishing. Knowing what that takes, it's unlikely he's wailing on the saxophone while waiting for the fish to bite. Still... you never know.

Walter Davis is probably a fan of Parks and Recreation

Walter Davis entered the NBA in the 1977 draft, and he remained an active player for 15 years, spending most of his time playing with the Phoenix Suns. Before retiring in 1992, he played for the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers, and his career is filled with accolades. He's a six-time NBA All-Star, an Olympic gold medalist, and  1978's Rookie of the Year, so it's safe to say the man knows how to handle himself on the court.

You might think that someone with that kind of record would pursue an area of study that has something to do with playing the game, but Davis didn't take that route. He didn't opt for a marketing degree to work on his image during or after his playing career. He didn't opt to study fashion like some of the athletes on this list. Instead, while he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he focused on something truly surprising.

Per the Los Angeles Times, he earned his degree in parks and recreation. If you're only familiar with the television series, which is fantastic, the name does apply to a serious area of academic study. Ultimately, Davis didn't use his degree to work in a municipal office. Instead, as ESPN Classic noted, he worked in broadcasting and as a scout. The former free agent also got into the agency business — the travel agency business, that is. 

Patrick Ewing is an artist on and off the court

Patrick Ewing is another NBA player who many fans know all too well. He began playing back in 1985 when he was selected as the first overall draft pick by the New York Knicks. He remained with the team for most of his career before leaving to play a season with the Seattle SuperSonics and the Orlando Magic. He's widely considered one of the greatest players in NBA history, and since leaving the court, he's transitioned into coaching. 

He worked as an assistant coach on four NBA teams before settling in with Georgetown University as the head coach in 2017. Coaching at Georgetown was a natural fit for Ewing, as it was his alma mater. While he attended the prestigious university, he was a star on the powerhouse basketball team, and he played for four years before being drafted first overall. When he graduated in 1985, he'd earned a degree in fine arts. Years later, he used his love of art to become a published author: In 1999, he co-wrote "In the Paint," a book that teaches young artists how to express themselves. 

Clearly, he's all about imparting wisdom. As a college basketball coach, he not only guides students on the court, but helps them follow the path he walked before them. Incidentally, Ewing did that for his son, who is the spitting image of his father.