Genius comes in many forms, and the intelligence of athletes is particularly unique. Athletes have a special knowledge of what their bodies are capable of and are accustomed to performing complex physical tasks under the most intense circumstances imaginable. While all athletes share this knowledge to varying degrees, their experiences give them a perspective of the media and public that few members of society get to see. Many athletes throughout history have used their knowledge to further their ambitions beyond athletics once their physical peaks have been passed.
In North America, it is common for athletes to attend colleges and universities in pursuit of a higher education and an opportunity to play their sport at a higher level of competition. Athletes typically have extraordinary academic resources at their disposal and many have taken advantage of them to graduate early and pursue multiple degrees. Many of the members of this list have excelled both in the classroom and on the field, which has helped many of them succeed following graduation.
Whether athletes use their minds to succeed in business, entertainment, or other sectors, these athletes have the tools to be successful in several different avenues. They have demonstrated that they are more than a laser-rocket arm and the ability to transform into Beast Mode. They are successful businessmen and entrepreneurs that have used their fame to launch brands and build pizza empires. While the public may not realize it, these individuals are among the most brilliant athletes in sport.
15 Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol may come across as somewhat aloof, but the Spanish basketball star is one of the more intelligent players in the sport. Gasol currently speaks five languages after teaching himself to speak Italian and French. Prior to being selected in the NBA Draft, Gasol was enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Barcelona. During a 2010 appearance at a children’s hospital, Gasol quizzed doctors about the treatment of scoliosis and shocked doctors with his knowledge of the subject. He has also celebrated his life as a Renaissance man with a book Pau Gasol Life Vida.
14 Craig Breslow
In addition to being a veteran Major League pitcher, Craig Breslow is one of the smartest players currently in the game. Breslow broke into the MLB after attending Yale, where he double majored in biochemistry and biophysics while leading the Ivy League in ERA. He scored a 34 on his MCAT and was admitted to New York University medical school when he applied in 2004. Breslow spends time in his offseason conducting genetic research and raising awareness for pediatric cancer.
13 Marshawn Lynch
While Marshawn Lynch’s vocabulary during Super Bowl media appearances may be misleading, the man is actually an intelligent and savvy individual. Lynch used his widely publicized interviews to help launch his BeastMode clothing line, which was in full view while he doled out his canned responses. Demand for these items was so extraordinary that all of his men’s apparel is currently on back order, proving the stunt was an overwhelming success. In a recent interview, Marshawn discussed his intention to return to the University of California: Berkeley to complete his degree in social welfare. Lynch said that he plans to use this knowledge to further his Fam First Foundation to assist youth in the Bay Area.
12 Dikembe Mutombo
Since retiring from the NBA in 2009, Dikembe Mutombo has done a lot more than appear in GEICO commercials. Mutombo opened the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital on the outskirts of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was the first modern medical facility in the area opened in over 40 years and Mutombo personally donated millions of dollars for the project. Mutombo speaks nine languages and originally attended Georgetown with the intention of becoming a doctor. In addition to the Bachelor’s degree he earned from Georgetown, has been honored with honorary diplomas by several institutions.
11 Ryan Newman
Ryan Newman may participate in a sport not traditionally seen as intellectual, but he is certainly no slouch when it comes to qualifications. Newman earned a Bachelor’s degree in vehicular structural engineering from Purdue University and used that credential to talk trash on Tony Stewart. While he no longer works on the cars he drives, Newman does work with the Ryan Newman Foundation and operated an animal rescue ranch in Statesville, North Carolina.
10 George Parros
An NHL enforcer is hardly the career path you would expect from a Princeton graduate, but George Parros tends to defy the norm. Teammates mock his love of crossword puzzles, but few on the ice would dare cross Parros, who ranked among the league’s most frequent fighters during his career. Parros helped popularize the “Movember” movement across the league with his trademark facial hair and he was an early adopter of the personal grooming trend. Since retiring, Parros has taken his talents to Sportsnet where he works as an analyst.
9 Chris Borland
Chris Borland made headlines earlier this week by becoming another in the trend of NFL players retiring early in order to avoid physical injury. After earning a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Borland had a fantastic rookie campaign, where he filled in for veteran NFL linebacker Patrick Willis. Borland racked up 84 tackles and two huge interceptions during his rookie campaign, but decided to step away from the game due to potential detrimental effects to his health, notably brain disease. Borland conducted his own research and decided the negative outweighed the positive, considering he would only earn $3 million over four seasons of hazardous work. Borland now has many pundits questioning whether he is a trendsetter for future early retirements.
8 Simon Mignolet
Simon Mignolet has taken a circuitous route to become one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League. While playing for Sunderland, Mignolet pursued his degrees from the Catholic University of Leuven, submitting assignments remotely. His hard work paid off because Mignolet graduated with a degree in politics and he has mentioned pursuing a Master’s following retirement. Mignolet speaks five languages, which certainly is useful with the international club environment that Liverpool has fostered in recent seasons under Brendan Rodgers.
7 Matt Birk
After Matt Birk retired following a long career in the NFL as a player, he was quickly scooped up by the leagues front office. Birk agreed to become the league’s Director of Football Development, which will utilized his on field expertise as well has his economics degree from Harvard. As a player, Birk was regarded as one of the most skilled offensive linemen in the league, earning six Pro Bowl appearances. Birk has lost an incredible 75lbs since leaving the league and is now in charge of operating the NFL Combine and the NFL’s career development symposium.
6 Alex Smith
You wouldn’t expect the first overall pick in the NFL Draft to be a genius, but Alex Smith tends to defy expectations. Smith finished his economics degree at the University of Utah in only two years while maintaining a 3.74 GPA. Smith had done coursework towards a Master’s Degree before the NFL came calling. During his time in the league, Smith has become regarded as one of the game’s most intelligent signal callers. Smith has earned widespread praise from coaches as being one of the best decision makers in the game.
5 Steve Nash
Steve Nash’s transition from the basketball court to Hollywood has been impressive. After injuries plagued his career in recent seasons, Nash utilized the downtime to become an accomplished filmmaker. Nash directed “Into the Wind” for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, which chronicled the tale of Terry Fox. Nash has also directed commercials and successfully interned at a New York advertising agency in the off season. Nash is clearly an expert in the subject having earned endorsement deals with Vitamin Water and Nike.
4 Marion Bartoli
After triumphing at Wimbledon in 2013, Marion Bartoli made the wise decision to retire after earning millions of dollars during her tennis career. Earlier in her career, she revealed that her IQ had been measured at 175, which is 15 points higher than Albert Einstein. Bartoli was coached from her youth by her father, a retired medical doctor turned tennis coach, who has been accused of being a domineering parent. In spite of her strained relationship with her father, Bartoli found success on the court and can now begin to tackle string theory now that she won’t have to practice her trademark serve any longer.
3 Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman received an extraordinary amount of attention for his legendary post-game interview with Erin Andrews. After calling out Michael Crabtree, Sherman’s celebrity status exploded, and he has been the subject of countless discussions since. While outspoken, Sherman is also brilliant. Sherman was the salutatorian in his high school class and graduated with a 4.1 GPA. He was the first person from Dominguez High School to earn a scholarship from Stanford, where he graduated with a degree in communications. Sherman clearly learned well because his entertaining shtick and on-field dominance has made him one of the most recognizable players in the league.
2 Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard’s excellence on the football pitch is unquestionable at this point. After becoming a club icon with Chelsea, he recently left for Manchester City and is set for a summer departure to MLS expansion club, New York City Football Club. Lampard scored incredibly high on intelligence tests with Chelsea and is rumored to have an IQ of 150. Lampard is also the only Premier League player with a GCSE academic qualification in Latin and has 12 GSCEs total.
1 Wladimir Klitschko
The World Heavyweight Champion is not usually a title of academic distinction, but then again Wladimir Klitschko is not your typical boxer. Klitschko, in addition to being undefeated since 2004 and married to Hayden Panettierre, speaks four languages and advocates for democracy in his free time. When not training for title defenses, Klitschko earned his Ph.D. in sports science from Kyiv University after presenting his dissertation. He also found the time along with his brother, Vitali, to help lead the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine. The Doctor lives up to his nickname both inside and outside of the ring.
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