It’s not much of a secret that a ton of professional athletes would love to break into Hollywood. Who can blame them? The best pros have at best a twenty-year professional shelf life in their game of choice, and after hanging them up there aren’t many options. You either retire outright, work within an organization, or go find a job on tv or radio. Why not go give acting a shot?
While athletes have been popping up in movies since cameras started rolling, there really haven’t been many truly admirable performances from the sports world. You’re probably thinking of a bunch right now off the top of your head, but were they cameos or actual meaty roles? Michael Jordan starred in ‘Space Jam.’ I’d consider Bob Uecker a co-star of the ‘Major League’ movies, just as I’d say Dan Marino co-starred in ‘Ace Ventura.’ Dennis Rodman has been in a ton of horrendous movies, but he’s usually near the top of the call sheet. OJ… you know what, let’s just skip OJ in this article.
When given extended screen time, athletes tend to prove one thing: they’re athletes first, and actors second. That being said, when athletes pop into movies for cameos they… well, they pretty much prove they're athletes first and actors second.
It’s pretty tough to be distracting in less than a minute or two of screen time, but the “actors” listed below somehow managed to take me out of the movies they appeared in. Below is a list of 10 athlete cameos that stunk (and 5 that were pure gold!)
15 Stunk: Roger Clemens (Kingpin)
The Farrelly Brothers are known for their off the wall, somewhat distasteful brand of comedy, but they’re also known for peppering their movies with athlete cameos. Roger Clemens played a character named “Skidmark” in 1996’s bowling classic ‘Kingpin.’ It was a terrible cameo in an otherwise great movie. One of biggest tough guys in baseball history, Clemens had no problem getting lost in his role as a white trash bar patron. While this quick scene ended on a pretty funny note thanks to Woody Harrelson, it was pretty obvious Clemens hadn’t taken many acting courses during the offseason. I may have let this one slide if it didn’t just feel like a complete retread of another Boston sports star’s cameo in a previous Farrelly Brothers movie – We’ll get to that later.
14 Stunk: Shaquille O'Neal (Grown Ups 2)
This one is basically a Lifetime Achievement Award. Not only is Shaq’s movie career about as unimpressive as his Boston Celtics tenure, he endorses some of the weirdest products in some of TV’s worst commercials. I initially balked at putting him on the list because in fairness, the guy is a star. He’s had top billing in movies… bad movies, but he’s top billed in said movies nonetheless. I was all set to leave him out until I remembered that dark afternoon I watched ‘Grown Ups 2.” Shaq plays a police officer, and every single one of his scenes are incredibly corny. I guess it’s better to have your character be remembered than loved… but I’ll admit it’s hard not to love Shaq even at his corniest. I'm second guessing this pick. Shaq might be gold... Nah, I'm sticking with it. That cameo stunk!
13 Pure Gold: Cam Neely (Dumb And Dumber)
I gave the Farrelly Brothers some flack for casting Roger Clemens earlier, but they deserve all the credit in the world for casting then Bruins star, Cam Neely as the loogey-hocking, bathroom stall frequenting town bully. I won’t go into much detail about the bathroom scene with Lloyd, but let’s just say it might not be too kosher in today’s climate. Cam Neely’s character was so memorable, the Farrelly Brothers had him reprise the role of Seabass in a post credit scene in yet another dud comedy sequel, ‘Dumb and Dumber 2.’ He also played a police trooper named Seabass in another Farrelly/Jim Carrey movie, ‘Me, Myself and Irene.’ Oh, and he is in the aforementioned party scene in D2 as himself.
12 Stunk: Mike Tyson (The Hangover 2)
One of the best scenes in the original ‘Hangover’ was the first meeting between the guys and Mike Tyson. Tyson ending his Phil Collins karaoke performance by slugging Alan in the face was one of the highlights of an already hilarious movie. Then, Hollywood did what Hollywood does. In the carbon copy sequel, they had to hit on every beat from the first movie, literally… so Mike Tyson had to come back, and Mike Tyson had to sing. When Mike Tyson appeared on stage at Stu’s wedding singing “One Night in Bangkok,” you could imagine how loud the theatre got. While the song makes sense in the overall scheme of the movie, Tyson is terrible at singing it. There were a million funny things they could have done with Mike Tyson, and they blew it.
11 Stunk: Jimmy Butler (Office Christmas Party)
‘Office Christmas Party’ was a decent comedy that I almost immediately forgot, but after watching it, something lingered in my mind. The plot revolved around a bonehead trying to save his company by wooing a powerful client. His plan was to throw a Christmas party, and lock down said client with an appearance by then Chicago Bulls star, Jimmy Butler. Now, don’t get me wrong, the movie was set in Chicago, and you could make an argument that Butler was the premiere winter-time athlete while this movie was in production in 2016, but something about it just felt extremely phoney, like some out of touch Hollywood suit made the call to “get a famous athlete.” I don’t recall Butler being too much of a distraction in the film, but his role basically consisted of showing up to a giant party set piece. Good for him I guess.
10 Pure Gold: Lance Armstrong (Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story)
Ah, remember when Lance Armstrong was America’s sweetheart? Remember the yellow Livestrong bracelet you undoubtedly wore every day? Before Armstrong got busted for PED violations, ran into massive legal trouble and basically ruined the public image he worked so hard to achieve, he had a brief but memorable cameo in the movie ‘Dodgeball.’ As Vince Vaughn’s Peter La Fleur is in the process of bailing on his team, he bumps into Lance Armstrong at an airport bar. Armstrong proceeds to tell him all about his struggles to recover from cancer and win numerous Tour de France titles, while guilting La Fleur back to the championship dodgeball game. So, while this may not be the best cameo in retrospect, it’s still a pretty funny scene that was actually pretty poignant and inspiring. It’s too bad we know what happened a few years later.
9 Stunk: Tom Brady (Ted 2)
I’m not a Seth McFarlane detractor by any stretch, but ‘Ted 2’ was a dud. The first one was a surprise hit, so naturally they made a sequel, and like most comedy sequels, it stunk. McFarlane and the screenwriters are all New Englanders, so it made sense they’d want Tom Brady to make a cameo in their movie. The cameo consisted of Ted and Mark Wahlberg’s character breaking into Tom Brady’s house to… not even sure how to put this… extract a sample from him. Yeah. I’m not opposed to going blue, and it’s expected in a movie like this, but come on… no pun intended. Brady throwing Ted with a perfect spiral was an inspired joke, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the scene. I’m actually pretty shocked Tom Brady even agreed to it.
8 Stunk: Shawn Bradley (Space Jam)
Picture this, you’re a space alien. You decide you’re gonna invade Earth and steal basketball talent from the best players in the NBA in order to take on Bugs, Daffy and Michael Jordan. You nab Patrick Ewing, set your sights on Charles Barkley, even scout the two stars of the Charlotte Hornets, Larry Johnson and Muggsy Bogues. Finally, you decide your fifth target will be… Shawn Bradley? Acting ability aside, one of my favourite moments in the movie is when Michael Jordan returns his NBA brethren’s talent. The other four display their skills, then they let Bradley jump 3 inches to dunk as the scene is already transitioning away. It’s like they had to constantly let everyone know that he was the worst of the five. The decent and long Shawn Bradley had a decent and long NBA career, and while it’s cool he’s immortalized in the classic movie.
7 Pure Gold: Lee Trevino (Happy Gilmore)
This is just a personal favourite of mine. No man has ever mastered the shocked head shake quite like golf legend, Lee Trevino. The running gag of him always seeming to catch Happy Gilmore at his worst behaviour will never fail at cracking me up. Not only was it a popular running joke in a classic movie, it’s become something my friends and I constantly do on and off the golf course. If someone shakes their head, mouth agape, it’s known as “the Trevino.” Besides just being a funny physical actor in the movie, Trevino also had one of the most memorable lines, “Grizzly Adams did have a beard.” It was a quick innocuous line that has somehow stood the test of time.
6 Stunk: Brett Favre (There's Something About Mary)
The cameo delivers on every level… except the acting. Everything about this cameo works in theory. The running “Brett” joke throughout the movie ends in one of the greatest comedy payoffs of all time in my opinion, but Brett is just such a block of wood. A good cameo is always a highlight of a movie, but sometimes it goes beyond a funny joke and just becomes distracting. That’s how I feel about this one. Go watch it again, and tell me which person in the scene isn’t the actor. Look, maybe I’m reaching a bit, and I’m sure a lot of you disagree with me. The guy’s a Hall of Fame quarterback, why should he have to be a good actor? Still, the fake movie director in me can’t help but think a few more takes may have made this scene a little better.
5 Stunk: Mike Modano And Basil McRae (The Mighty Ducks)
This is one that I just have beef with personally. The cameos themselves are harmless. Modano and McRae are obviously athletes acting, but they’re not terrible, and they’re in uniform so I can let it slide. But, with all due respect, why they heck is Basil McRae in it? Mike Modano was already a star in the league, and went on to lead the team in scoring. Basil McRae had 13 points and a -14 plus/minus. This had to be a scheduling issue, right? Fourteen North Star players outscored McRae, and there were some well-known names on that roster, so McRae was a curious choice at best. The Ducks players all acted like he was a moron for insinuating they didn’t know who they were, but I call bull. Those kids didn’t even know how to play hockey, they didn’t know who Basil McRae was.
4 Pure Gold: Bernard Gilkey (Men in Black)
This is as brief a cameo as one can possibly have, but it’s extremely memorable, especially for a young Mets fan such as myself. The big climactic fight between the Men in Black and the Bug takes place at the site of the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens, New York. It turns out one of the giant leftover structures is a dormant UFO, which the Bug flies off in. If you’re familiar with area you know that at the time, Shea Stadium (Citifield currently) was right in the same general area as the World’s Fair site. As the UFO flies over Shea, it distracts then Mets outfielder, Bernard Gilkey from catching a fly ball. The ball instead bonks him right on the head and he passes out. The quick scene must have tested well, because it was used in promotional material for the movie’s marketing.
3 Stunk: Kareem Abdul Jabbar (D2: The Mighty Ducks)
These kids couldn’t even play hockey in the original, then a couple years later they were all good enough to comprise the Team USA junior team? In ‘D2’ Gordon Bombay is getting a little too big for his britches when a party is thrown for him at a swanky Hollywood beach house. A few NHL stars of the day are there. He meets a couple US Olympic legends, and... Kareem Abdul Jabbar. What the heck is he doing there? I get it, he’s a Laker legend so that’s his home turf, but it’s a pee-wee hockey movie. The NHLers and Olympians make perfect sense in the context of the movie. Why did they reach out to a NBA legend? When you think about hockey, and all time great coaches, Kareem is definitely not the guy who comes to mind.
2 Stunk: Barry Bonds (Rookie of the Year)
I don’t think it can be argued that Barry Bonds has one of the biggest egos in baseball history. I mean, the guy was well on his way to being one of the all-time greats, but still decided to juice up to Herculean size because he wasn’t getting enough attention. Now that I say that, maybe I should give him a little credit for being a good sport with this cameo… Nah. How did Barry agree to appear in the 1993 film, ‘Rookie of the Year’ in the role of… “Big Whiffer.” Yeah, that was his role. Bonds, Pedro Guerrero and Bobby Bonilla were credited as “Three Big Whiffers.” Their roles consisted of striking out against a child. Barry, what were you thinking? If the movie was realistic, Bonds would have crushed those pitches, especially with all the "help" he was supposedly getting.
1 Pure Gold: Every Single Cameo (Baseketball)
‘Baseketball’ is one of my all-time favourite movies. Not only did it basically introduce us to the geniuses behind ‘South Park,’ it had some of the all-time greatest athlete cameos. The previously mentioned Kareem Abdul Jabbar played himself as a piece of living memorabilia entombed in plastic in the evil Baxter Cain’s trophy room. The late Dale Earnhardt played a cab driver in a classic scene which was a brilliant callback to an earlier sight gag in the movie. Reggie Jackson is the inspiration and bookend for the main character’s story arc, and has a hilarious cameo late in the movie after the championship game. Not only were athletes involved, many famous Sports Commentators had roles from Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne to Jim Lampley, Tim McCarver, Pat O’Brien, Al Michaels and Bob Costas. The latter two had some of the funniest dialogue in the entire movie.