It takes special talent to play professional sports, but not quite as much intellect it would seem. While some athletes achieve greatness in the classroom before going on to become stars in their respective sports, others just have their eye on the big pay cheques that professional sports offer. They get out of college as quickly as they can enter the draft before they even earn their degree and do not turn back for one second.
When you consider the lifespan of a professional athlete, you would think they would be hitting the books and earning a degree because the money isn’t always going to be there. And the way some players go through money because of fines or a posh lifestyle, they could use a backup plan for the future. Sports is not a guaranteed life profession you can always count on.
But for every player who has tossed away their education, there is one with their nose still in a book trying to learn. Some have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, financial analysts, and even politicians, while others leave you scratching your head wondering ‘what were they thinking’ with their poor judgement.
Here are eight players who showed that being very smart and earning a degree were just as important as making it to the big show, and for some, even more. While seven other players show that maybe they shouldn’t have skipped college all together and should have spent a little more time in the classroom reading, and less time tossing a ball around.
15 Degree: Alex Smith
Alex Smith didn’t let a little thing like being drafted first overall in the 2005 NFL draft get in the way of his studies. After three years at the University of Utah he got his degree in economics before declaring for the draft, and Smith went right back to the books to get his masters degree. Perhaps that was the reason for his slow start in San Francisco. But now in Kansas City, Smith, or shall we say, Doctor Smith, is one of the leagues smartest quarterbacks, and is known to be more of a game manager. As for the doctor title, Smith earned an honorary doctorate from Utah in 2014. They say quarterbacks are the smartest players on the team, having to make fast decisions with 300 pound men rushing after you. No wonder Dr. Smith makes it look so easy in the pocket for the Chiefs.
14 Not So Bright: Derrick Rose
There is no shame in asking for help in your academics. Tutors are always available, and most teachers will take the extra time if you need it, especially if you are a gifted athlete like Derrick Rose. However, the former first overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft needed a little more to get into the University of Memphis, as Rose was accused of cheating on his SAT tests in high school, by way of having someone else take his tests for him. His academic dishonesty would be found out in 2009, with his school in Memphis hit the hardest, as their entire 2007-08 season was vacated due to their star former players cheating. It has to make you wonder what Rose would be doing today if it wasn’t for a good friend with just enough brains to get the first overall pick into university.
13 Degree: Myron Rolle
Myron Rolle’s NFL career wasn’t long, only spanning three years from the time he was drafted in 2010 by the Tennessee Titans, before announcing his retirement in 2013. But what he did after retirement is where he truly made a name for himself. He returned to Florida State, only this time he was there to enrol in the school's College of Medicine. In 2017 he graduated, and got a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Also in 2010, he was selected as the second smartest athlete in all of sports by The Sporting News. So he has the brains for sure, and considering the issues in the NFL with head injuries and CTE, it’s probably best he saved his brain any further trauma and put it to good use as a doctor.
12 Not So Bright: Antonio Cromartie
We have all had that moment where we can’t remember someone’s name. It’s usually on the tip of your tongue, and generally an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or a colleague of yours. Not your own children. But when you have 14 of them, it gets a little difficult to remember who they all are, or for that matter, which mother did they come from. Think about it, Cromartie could probably tell you each name on the offence, probably drop you the name of the defence and maybe the kicker as well, but don’t ask him who is fifth youngest is. While 14 is an impressive number of children and he could field his own 7 on 7 football team, Cromartie has also had three children after he had surgery to, you know, stop that from happening again.
11 Degree: Erick Rowan
You wouldn’t think a guy who wears a sheep mask would be as smart as he is, but according to WWE.com, Erick Rowan has an IQ of 143. It makes you wonder how he got brainwashed into Bray Wyatt’s Wyatt Family? Portrayed as the strong, silent type, Rowan’s long red beard, bald head and sheep mask don’t scream genius to anyone, but apparently the Bludgeon Brother is a trained guitarist, and can solve a Rubik's cube faster than average. He did graduate from the University of Minnesota Morris, and has travelled the world through professional wrestling. Rowan is making the claim true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, as the 6-foot-8, 315 pound monster might actually just be the brains behind the entire Wyatt Family operation. Though I wouldn't suspect a gimmick change away from his sheep mask any time soon.
10 Not So Bright: Enzo Amore
It’s hard to tell where the character ends and the real man begins when it comes to the former certified G of the WWE. Enzo has got himself into plenty of trouble already in his short stint on the main roster. That has included him getting kicked off the bus by Roman Reigns on a tour, and having to dress in the hallway because of his continued talk about how much money he has. And now Amore is in hot water with recent allegations of assault, earning him a release from the WWE while holding the WWE Cruiserweight championship. Considering how many strikes are against him already, and the focus on assault in the world today, Amore may no longer be the realest guy in the room, especially if he never gets back into the ring again.
9 Degree: Ryan Fitzpatrick
When students come out of Harvard, you mostly think business leaders and politicians, not NFL quarterbacks. But Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a starting quarterback in the NFL since leaving the Ivy League. He famously scored a 48 out of 50 on the NFL’s wonderlic test, and his SAT scores to get into the prestigious Ivy League school was 1580 out of a possible 1600. Tabbed as the fifth smartest man in sports, Fitzpatrick finished with a degree in business, and just finished his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He holds the record for most career touchdown passes by an Ivy League quarterback with 166, and is among Harvard's greatest of all time. As part of Harvard, he led them to the 2004 Ivy League championship, going a perfect 10-0 earning MVP honours for the Ivy League that season.
8 Not So Bright: Ndamukong Suh
Fines in sports are normally meant to stop players from committing fouls or personal conduct penalties, instead of handing out suspensions and making them miss games. Ndamukong Suh, one of the most aggressive players in the NFL, on the other hand, isn’t going to let a little money stop him from playing the game the only way he knows how. From the start of his career until 2014, Suh was fined seven times for a total of $255,375. He was also suspended for one game, which cost him an additional $165,294. Considering he is one of the best defensive tackles in the game, the former second overall pick isn’t broke by any means, having signed a $140 million contract with the Miami Dolphins. If you figure each fine was costing him roughly $50,000 on average, Suh can take 2,800 more personal conduct penalties before that contract money is all gone.
7 Degree: John Bradshaw Layfield
John Bradshaw Layfield had plenty of success in the ring during his time with the WWE. Layfield is known to be one of the most successful wrestlers outside the ring, and is a self-made millionaire, author of books on finances, and even appears on Fox News to discuss finances. He founded Layfield Energy, was featured in Fortune Magazine, and published a book titled Have More Money Now. Although, Layfield has been known to be a bully in the WWE locker room, with his hazing of wrestlers and announcers being well documented. JBL left the WWE in 2017, but considering how successful he has become, you can bet the WWE is more than willing to open the doors back up to him any time he wants.
6 Not So Bright: Metta World Peace
Does this entry really need much explaining? The NBA player formally known as Ron Artest changed his name to Metta World Peace in September 2011 while a member of the Los Angeles Lakers to inspire youth and bring them together all around the world. Not sure how one man, who did win one NBA Championship in 2009-10 with the Lakers while he was still Mr. Artest, can think a name change is going to bring the world together, but it’s all legal. And remember, this was the same man who started a brawl between the Detroit Pistons and his then team, the Indiana Pacers, after being upset over a foul. Perhaps Mr. World Peace needs to be Mr. Inner Peace first before he tries to change the world.
5 Degree: Jeremy Lin
Another Harvard graduate, only this time on the hardcourt. Jeremy Lin graduated with a degree in economics from the Ivy League school and is one of the smartest players in the NBA today. Lin become a household name in 2011 when he was with the New York Knicks, spawning the Linsanity phrase after his clutch play helped turn the Knicks around. After the hype died down, Lin moved around the NBA before landing in Brooklyn and it’s a miracle he even made it to the NBA in the first place, let alone has had a career that has spanned eight years. There aren’t too many times you can credit Harvard for making things easy on you, but Lin has said that because of the zero spotlight he had at the Ivy League school, he never had the same pressure other players had going through college to become star NBA players.
4 Not So Bright: Rob Gronkowski
As one of the best tight-ends in the game today, Rob Gronkowski has made a lot of smart decisions in his NFL career, and has been rewarded nicely for his efforts and ability to get open for Tom Brady to sling him a pass. However, for the man known as Gronk, he is the literal embodiment of your typical jock player. Notorious for his offseason bachelor lifestyle, Gronk probably isn’t talking work politics or the effects of global warming with his teammates, especially when he is ready to set sail on his party ship. If you ever needed to explain to someone what a jock was, all you need to do is point them to Gronkowski. Of course, with his many Super Bowl rings, we’re sure he isn’t too concerned with what people think of him.
3 Degree: Shaq
Shaquille O'Neal is one the NBA’s greatest personalities to ever play the game. He transcended the game and appeared in movies, had a rap career and now is a full-time analyst. But some could say that Shaq was a full-time student, as the 7-foot-1 giant earned his first degree from LSU because he promised his mother he would do so back in 2000. He then earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix in 2005, he worked on his doctorate in Human Resource Development at Barry University, and wrote his paper on The Duality of Humour and Aggression in Leadership Styles. He earned his doctorate in 2012, and has said he still wants to continue in school, this time going to law school. And to cap it all off, he studied directing and cinematography with the New York Film Academy's Filmmaking Conservatory.
2 Not So Bright: Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is a basketball player. A basketball is round. Kyrie Irving plays basketball on the planet Earth. The earth is … flat? Yes, the Boston Celtics point guard once believed the Earth was flat, before becoming educated and doing a complete 180 on the subject. But that isn’t really something you can walk away from. I’m sure he wouldn’t say a basketball is flat, would he? His reasoning was because there was no real picture of earth. We assume he means a three-dimensional one, because technically speaking there are pictures of Earth from the moon and other astronauts who have gone in space. Perhaps Mr. Irving should have stayed at Duke longer than one season and took an astronomy course. He probably could have learned a thing or two.
1 Degree: Kane
The Big Red Machine has been in the WWE since 1995, but become Kane in 1997 and has been that character ever since. Even the horrible Corporate Kane edition, with him in a suit and tie. But people should get used to seeing Kane, or Glenn Jacobs, wearing a suit and tie, because he’s one of the smartest wrestlers outside the ring, including a very active role in politics. He also owns an insurance company in Knoxville, Tennessee, has been involved in US Senate races, and has considered running for the republican party. This is a guy who for the first part of his career couldn’t talk without jamming a device to his throat. Kane graduated from Truman State University (previously Northeast Missouri State University) in 1990 with a degree in English Literature.