There’s one claim that’s repeated ad nauseum about college athletes – they major in ‘eligibility.’ What exactly does that mean? Well, though colleges claim that all student athletes are students first and athletes second, when you’re playing at a school whose athletic program rakes in hundreds of millions a year, it can be easy to feel like the athlete part is the bigger priority. Additionally, many college athletes treat their college playing time as just a training ground for professional sports, and can’t really focus on their time in the class – after all, fame and fortune is just around the corner! So, many college athletes choose to major in subjects that are perceived to be easy, whether they actually enjoy the subject or not. Why? Well, all they want is a major that will get them a GPA high enough to allow them to play their sport of choice.
Whether it’s because of this, or because athletes just have a lot in common with one another, there’s a handful of majors that get repeated over and over again in college athletes – a phenomenon called “clustering.” A Journal World study examined athletes from Big 12 schools and found a lot of interesting repeat majors. For example, over 50% of the Baylor football team majored in general studies; at the infamous Texas A&M, over 1/3 of the men’s basketball and football players choose agricultural leadership and development – a major chosen by less than 1% of non-athletes.
Many athletes just major in whatever subject will give them the most time on the field. However, there are a few exceptions. Despite their success on the field, there are some athletes who want to pursue their passion in the classroom, whether it’s an ‘eligibility guarantee’ subject or not. They’re willing to work a bit harder, or be a bit different from their team mates.
Here are 15 athletes with college majors that are a little bit out of the ordinary.
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15 Dhani Jones (Self Representation)
Dhani Jones is a linebacker who had a decade long career in the NFL playing for teams including the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals. His personality also landed him a spot hosting the Travel channel show Dhani Tackles the Globe. Back when he was a college star, however, he wasn’t quite content to go with general studies as his major. Instead, he took advantage of an opportunity at the University of Michigan that allowed students to design their own major. Jones (whose post-football pursuits also include owning a creative agency in New York City) picked a major called ‘self representation.’ What exactly does this entail? You’d have to ask him – after all, he designed it.
14 Heather Stanning (Sports Technology)
Countless athletes major in subjects related to sports, with exercise science being perhaps the most common choice. Heather Stanning selected a slightly more unusual sports-related major during her college years. Stanning, who rowed for Great Britain alongside partner Helen Glover, went to Bath University to study sports technology. As opposed to exercise science students, who examine the athlete and the way their body works, sports technology students apply engineering knowledge to create cutting edge, high tech products for athletes. For example, many who select this major go on to work for international sports brands, designing athletic wear, gear, and more. Having been an internationally ranked athlete herself, Stanning will definitely have a unique perspective to bring to the board room, if that’s a career path she ends up taking.
13 Ellis Hobbs (Art and Design)
Ellis Hobbs, a former corner back with the Philadelphia Eagles, had a relatively short NFL career due to a career-ending neck injury. For a few years, he struggled to figure out what to do with his life post-football, and eventually stumbled upon the perfect career for him. What, exactly? Hobbs is the co-founder of Prive Society, a concierge service whose target audience is businessmen, professional athletes, and the individuals who want to live that kind of lifestyle. Hobbs is thrilled with his new career path, and his Iowa State college major in Art and Design does give a bit of a clue at why he succeeded in such a creative enterprise.
12 Matt Forte (Finance)
Though he’s had a great career so far and shows no signs of slowing down, Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte could have a successful second career post-NFL thanks to his practical major. Many NFL stars opt for the more abstract major of Economics, but Forte is all about business. According to the description from Tulane University, Forte’s alma mater, the finance major teaches students concepts of valuation, investment, and financial structure. After graduating – if they don’t end up going into the NFL – Tulane claims that finance majors embark on careers in corporate finance, commercial banking, and as financial analysts in investment banking firms. Forte could end up doing pretty well for himself in retirement thanks to his unusual (for the NFL) degree.
11 Myron Rolle (Medical Anthropology)
Myron Rolle is known as one of the smartest guys in the NFL, and he definitely didn’t let his education take the back seat. He placed an equal focus on academics and athletics, and even postponed his NFL career in order to pursue a master’s degree. Not just any master’s degree – Rolle ended up attending the prestigious Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, obtaining a degree in medical anthropology. The brainy major is definitely not one you see too frequently. Rolle is a pile of contradictions, constantly straddling the line between football player and devoted academic. His degree turned out to be more valuable to him than his draft status, and Rolle ended up retiring from the NFL after only one year in order to enroll in medical school. Perhaps Dr. Rolle will end up being a team doctor later on in his career.
10 David Robinson (Mathematics)
Former NBA star David Robinson comes from a rigid educational background – his alma mater is the U.S. Naval Academy. Enrolment at that particular institution entails that students must commit to serving for two years in the Navy, and Robinson indeed had to defer his NBA dreams while he honoured his Navy commitment. However, the time spent there did him good – while a student, he shot up seven inches from an impressive 6’4 to a superstar NBA height of 7’1. The Naval Academy is all about discipline, rules and commitment, so it might not come as much of a surprise that Robinson’s major was mathematics, a subject that has a strict, rigid set of rules and equations.
9 Kyle Korver (Visual Communications)
When you look at an NBA player, you don’t immediately assume that they’re a creative, artsy type, but that’s definitely the case for Atlanta Hawks player Kyle Korver. At his alumni mater, Creighton University, Korver opted to major in visual communications. His choice was definitely made thinking about passion rather than eligibility, and it shows – this artsy basketball player decided to launch a clothing line, Seer Outfitters Clothing. Korver isn’t looking to become the next major fashion brand – the clothing is sold to benefit the Korver Foundation. While Korver is definitely not the only creative mind working on the project, we bet he has a fair bit of input on the various designs gracing the t-shirts and other apparel – and it’s likely putting his college major to good use.
8 Danny Granger (Civil Engineering)
Small forward Danny Granger has had a long career in the NBA and just recently passed his ten-year mark. However, this Phoenix Suns player has a passion other than basketball – and it’s one you might not expect. Many athletes grow up wanting to be professional athletes and just pick whatever college major seems easiest, as they know all their time and focus will be spent on the court or field. Granger is a little different. Ever since childhood, he had a dream of becoming a civil engineer – a passion that he states he still has today. Once he hit a growth spurt and soared to his current height, he figured he’d give basketball a shot. However, who knows – after he retires from the NBA, he may very well be one of the engineers at work designing sports arenas rather than the athlete playing within them.
7 Dikembe Mutombo (Linguistics and Diplomacy)
Dikembe Mutombo spent nearly twenty years in the NBA playing for a wide variety of teams. However, this athlete, who immigrated to the U.S. from his country of origin, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has always had another goal. When attending Georgetown University and playing for their basketball team, Mutombo also opted to double major in linguistics and diplomacy. He began putting that degree to use during his NBA years, acting as a spokesperson for CARE, an international relief agency, travelling to Somali refugee camps during the Somali Civil War, and more. He opened the Biambo Marie Mutombo Hospital in Congo in 2007 and after retiring from the pro sports world in 2009, has only continued to work towards helping promote global development.
6 Patrick Ewing (Fine Arts, Poster/Print Design)
Professional athletes are probably more likely to grace posters plastered up around the city and the internet than to design them – unless they’re Patrick Ewing. Ewing, who came to the United States from Jamaica, struggled in school growing up due to his accent and language skills. However, he excelled in art, and ended up majoring in Fine Arts with a focus on poster and print design at Georgetown University. While fine arts may seem like an easy major, Ewing didn’t pick it for that – his work in the arts demonstrates it was clearly a passion of his. He has exhibited some of his own art pieces, created art for Discover’s Private Issue credit card, and alongside college instructor Linda Louis, he co-authored an Abbeville Press book on children’s art.
5 Walter Davis (Parks and Recreation)
Walter Davis is an NBA player who graced the courts for an impressive 15 years, primarily in the 1980s. His alma mater is the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and his major is a bit unusual. While many professional athletes seem to want to live in the lap of luxury in huge mansions, Davis’ major suggests he enjoys the great outdoors – he opted to major in Parks and Recreation (get those images of Ron Swanson out of your mind). One thing is for sure – he’s probably the man you want by your side when you’re planning a camping trip.
4 Clifford Ray (Fine Arts in musical performance)
Clifford Ray had a decade-long NBA career, spent with the Chicago Bulls and Golden State Warriors, and even stayed on for countless years after that coaching other rising NBA stars. However, he apparently has a whole different skill set – a much more musical one. At his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, Ray indulged his musical side by majoring in musical performance. Was he tickling the ivories, plucking the cello strings? Apparently, Ray’s specialty is woodwind instruments, and he is able to play the majority of instruments in that category. He’s stated that a masterfully played basketball game and a skilfully executed concert have similarities – something his experience as a college athlete majoring in musical performance likely helped him see.
3 Cameron Fleming (Aeronautics and Astronautics)
Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming is still a very fresh face in the NFL, having been drafted in 2014. He currently plays for the New England Patriots and, so early in his career, already has a Super Bowl ring. However, if you’re thinking he majored in something easy just to get to the NFL, you’d be wrong. Fleming, who attended the prestigious Stanford University, selected aeronautics and astronautics as his major. It’s definitely a passion major – in 2014, only 18 undergraduates were majoring in the subject at Stanford, meaning it’s likely hard to fade into the background during those lectures. While most of Fleming’s classmates go on to get advanced degrees, Fleming went to the NFL – but there’s definitely a chance he will pursue this unique major further once he retires.
2 Michael Jordan (Geography)
Michael Jordan is one of the biggest names in the NBA – ever. He’s still remembered for his impact on the sport. He definitely knows his way around a basketball court, but thanks to his college major, he probably knows his way around a map or world atlas just as well. While he was stunning crowds as a Tar Heel, he also spent his time at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill majoring in geography.
1 Kevin Willis (Fashion and Textiles)
A lot of professional athletes put their name on apparel and sports products, from running shoes to athletic shorts, but many don’t really have much input on the design. Sure, they tell the team they’re working with what they want and what they like, but they’re not actually doing the sketches themselves. Former NBA center Kevin Willis could – and has! After retirement, he proved that his major in Fashion and Textiles at Michigan State University wasn’t one chosen just for eligibility by embarking on a second career path as a fashion designer. In 2012, he debuted the spring/summer collection for Willis & Walker – and there was much more than just athletic wear. According to Willis, the inspiration for his clothing comes from his own experiences and his time in professional sports – his target audience is fashion-forward men who are over 6’3 in height.
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