Every professional athlete, both great and not-so-great, retires. Some exit after just a year, injured or unable to transition to the professional level. Many make it into their 30s. Some stay in the majors until their mid or even late 40s. But the career always ends, usually with half a lifetime left.
Athletes exit able to do just about anything they want, and that means some of them do some pretty weird stuff. How weird? Here are my 10 favorite post-athletic careers.
10) Mookie Wilson, center fielder. Post-baseball career: truck driver. Wilson hit the ball that went under Bill Buckner’s glove to end Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. That paved the way for a Game 7 Mets victory – their last World Series title – and 18 more years of Red Sox misery. Now, he drives a truck. Seems kinda anti-climactic.
9) Johnnie Morton, wide receiver. Post-football career: MMA fighter. Morton played in the NFL for 11 years before retiring. He fought Bernard Ackah in his first MMA fight and was knocked out in 38 seconds. Then he refused to take a post-fight drug test and was banned indefinitely. I think the only possibly shorter career would be “nuclear bomb catcher.”
8) Gerald Ford, center/linebacker. Post-football career: 38th and 40th President of the United States. This is my catch-all tribute to athletes who go on to politics. On the football field, Ford helped the Michigan Wolverines win two undefeated national championships. As president, he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that was kinda it (discounting two assassination attempts). This is probably the most extreme example of good athletes becoming bad politicians (see also: Jim Bunning, Heath Shuler).
7) Jake Plummer, quarterback. Post-football career: handball player. Plummer sucked as a quarterback. He retired and became a professional handball player… and didn’t do much better. He lost his first tournament to future Hall of Famers John Bike and Danny Bell, begging the question: handball has a Hall of Fame?
6) Vinnie Jones, midfielder. Post-soccer career: actor. I kinda learned this in reverse, but it turns out that actor Vinnie Jones, the second-most badass British actor to come out of the Guy Ritchie movement (behind murder-enthusiast Jason Statham), first played professional soccer in Europe. He wasn’t that great a soccer player, but he’s turned out to be a pretty good actor… which is more than I can say for former linebacker Brian Bosworth.
5) Shaquille O’Neal, center. Post-basketball career: policeman. O’Neal earned reserve officer status with both the Los Angeles Port Police and Miami Beach Police while still in the NBA. He is also an honorary U.S. Deputy Marshall and part of the Safe Surfin’ Foundation, which tracks sexual predators. O’Neal has shown interest in undercover work, but I have to wonder: who on the planet wouldn’t recognize Shaquille O’Neal?
4) Mike Tyson, boxer. Post-boxing career: pigeon trainer. I’m not sure what’s stranger: that Tyson became a pigeon trainer, or that he kinda sucks at it. While a reality show about Tyson’s pigeon training is in the works, in the past he’s gotten into legal trouble over his fledgeling (haha) business. Failing to file the proper paperwork, Tyson nearly lost all 350 of his pigeons back in 2005 when he couldn’t build the coop.
3) George Foreman, boxer. Post-boxing career: grill salesman. Foreman won a gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics and twice won World Heavyweight Boxing Champion titles. But ask most people today – especially anyone in or recently graduated from college – what the words “George Foreman” immediately bring to mind, and they’ll all mention his grill. Make fun of Foreman’s commercials all you want, but Foreman made over $200 million endorsing that thing.
2) Doc Ellis, pitcher. Post-baseball career: drug counselor. Drug counseling probably isn’t the most interesting job in the world, but Ellis was easily one of the most interesting drug-takers in baseball history. He once threw a no-hitter while on LSD (and later made a sweet cartoon)! He also once got maced by a security guard in Cincinnati and, in retaliation, promised to and hit the first three Reds he faced in a game two years later. He walked the fourth and threw two pitches at the fifth’s head before getting pulled. I’d take counsel from that guy!
1) Curt Schilling, pitcher. Post-baseball career: video game designer. His first game is called “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,” an MMORPG that launches Tuesday. I don’t know what will be in the game, but I’m hoping for the “Blood-Sock of Vengeance.”
Thanks to DigBoston writer Kris Jenson for the idea.