The career of a professional athlete is relatively short. Most athletes, even the most talented, are retired by the young age of 40. Many athletes are retired by age 30 due to injuries and other issues that can impact a career. And life for many athletes after retirement is uncertain and even disappointing. Various studies have found that as many as half of all professional athletes are broke within five years of retiring from professional sports. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Some athletes have gone on to greater success after leaving their chosen sport. Here we look at 10 athletes who were more successful after they retired.
10. Mario Lemieux
Known to fans as “Super Mario,” Lemieux is widely regarded as one of the top five hockey players to ever lace-up a pair of skates. He also has the distinction of being the only person to win the Stanley Cup trophy as both a hockey player and a professional hockey team owner. Mario Lemieux won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. He then won a third Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 as owner of the team. In fact, since retiring as a hockey player in 2006, Mario Lemieux has built a career as perhaps the most successful athlete turned owner in sports history. He is credited with saving the Pittsburgh Penguins from bankruptcy in 1999, and has worked to keep the NHL team in Pittsburgh despite several attempts to move the franchise to another city. Mario Lemieux also overcame cancer in the form of Hodgkins Lymphoma and has established a foundation in his name that funds promising new medical research projects. Not too shabby.
9. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley never won a championship during his 16-year career as a star in the NBA. However, the 11-time All-Star, who was known during his playing years as the “Round Mound of Rebound,” has carved out a very successful career for himself as a broadcaster, pitchman and outspoken commentator on everything from politics to race to how to raise children. In fact, it never seems that Charles Barkley is far from controversy. Nevertheless, he remains as visible and in-demand today, 15 years after he retired from playing professional basketball. In addition to being a color commentator for TNT’s NBA programming, Charles Barkley has worked as a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, written several books and even mused about running for Governor of Alabama—though he later changed his mind about entering politics.
8. Vinnie Jones
Vinnie Jones is a legendary soccer player in his native England, and best known in North America as an actor. From 1984 to 1999, Vinnie Jones terrified opponents as a member of several prominent British Premier League soccer teams, including Chelsea, Sheffield and Leeds United. He won a championship in 1988 as a member of the team Wimbledon, and captained the Welsh national soccer team on several occasions. Along the way he also regularly head-butted opponents and kicked them in the testicles. Known as a “hard man,” Vinnie Jones is still remembered as one of the most fearsome players in English soccer history. And he has successfully parlayed that image into an acting career since retiring from professional sports. Vinnie Jones has starred in a wide range of films including Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, X-Men: The Last Stand (as Juggernaut) and Swordfish. And his film career shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
7. Gerald Ford
He never played professionally, but Gerald Ford is regarded as one of the greatest college football players in U.S. history and went on to be the President of the United States. That’s a pretty impressive post-athletics accomplishment and one that lands him a spot on this list. A linebacker at the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford led the team to consecutive national championships in 1932 and 1933. In fact, with Gerald Ford as their star player, the Michigan Wolverines also went undefeated in both championship years. Gerald Ford was so good on the field that the University of Michigan retired his No. 48 jersey. And although he became President following the resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974, Gerald Ford remained a lifelong football fan—attending games while in office and having the Naval band play the University of Michigan fight song, “The Victors,” before state events rather than the traditional song “Hail to the Chief.” Legend has it that Gerald Ford also had his staff wake him up when traveling overseas on presidential business to give him updates on University of Michigan football game scores.
6. Hakeem Olajuwon
Nicknamed “The Dream” during his professional basketball career for his conduct on and off the court, Hakeem Olajuwon had a very successful career in professional sports—winning back-to-back NBA Championships with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995. He was also named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1994. However, since retiring from basketball in 2003, Hakeem Olajuwon has amassed a fortune in real estate deals. By most estimates he has earned more than $100 million from buying and selling high-end properties in the Houston, Texas, area. Remarkably, all of Hakeem Olajuwon’s real estate deals are carried out in cash, as it is against his Muslim faith to charge interest to anyone. Today he divides his time between Houston and Jordan, where he moved with his family to pursue Islamic studies and continue carrying out lucrative cash-only real estate deals.
5. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson started out as a football player—winning a national championship on the 1991 University of Miami Hurricanes team before playing briefly for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League (CFL). However, after being cut by the Stampeders two months into the 1995 season, Dwayne Johnson turned his attention to professional wrestling, where he became a fan favorite as “The Rock” and won 10 world championships. But as successful as he wrestling career was, Dwayne Johnson has found his biggest career success post-retirement as an A-list actor of action movies. This summer alone, Dwayne Johnson has starred in box office hits Furious 7 and San Andreas. Other recent credits include starring roles in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Hercules and the television show Ballers. With no signs that his movie career is slowing down, we can expect to see a lot more of Dwayne Johnson on the big and small screen in coming years.
4. George Foreman
During his early years as a heavyweight boxer, George Foreman was known as an inarticulate and fearsome hitter who regularly demolished his opponents. A two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist in 1968, George Foreman did it all in the ring, including legendary bouts against Mohammed Ali. But since retiring, George Foreman has reinvented himself as a hugely successful pitchman and the force behind the “George Foreman Grill.” Known as the “lean, mean, fat-reducing grilling machine,” the George Foreman Grill has sold like hot cakes around the world, and George Foreman himself gets 40% of the profits—making him much more money than he ever earned in the ring. George Foreman is also a spokesman for several other ventures including car companies.
3. Michael Jordan
He has defined his sport as few athletes have and continues to be synonymous with the word “basketball.” Michael Jordan did it all on the basketball court and can count six NBA championships and five NBA Most Valuable Player trophies to his name. But since retiring in 2003, Michael Jordan has continued to find success in retirement and is now a billionaire, according to Forbes magazine. Most of Michael Jordan’s success has continued to come from corporate endorsements from companies such as Nike and Gatorade. He has also been a spokesman in retirement for blue chip companies such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola. In fact, it is estimated that Michael Jordan still earns more than $40 million a year in corporate endorsements. However, Michael Jordan also owns nearly 90% of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and has many real estate ventures. No wonder everyone wants to “Be like Mike.”
2. Arnold Palmer
He became a professional golfer in 1954 and didn’t officially retire until 2006, but Arnold Palmer has parlayed his success on the golf course into many lucrative ventures and side businesses. He helped to found the Golf Channel, has designed more than 200 golf courses worldwide—including the first professional golf course in China—has an iced tea and lemonade mixture named after him, and hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament each year at the Bay Hill golf course in Orlando, Florida. He’s even a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and also has several golf clubs and golf clothes that bear his name and signature. With so many ventures on the go, it is not surprising that people call Arnold Palmer “Mr. Golf.” To prove how successful Arnold Palmer has been in retirement, consider that he earned less than $2 million in 734 PGA Tour career starts over 53 years but earned more than $30 million off the course in 2008 once he was finally retired.
1. Roger Staubach
Known as “Captain America” during his professional football career with the Dallas Cowboys from 1969 to 1979, Roger Staubach is the rare athlete who found success in retirement in a line of work that has nothing to do with sports. And although he won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1970s, it is in commercial real estate where Roger Staubach achieved the most success. In 1977, while still a professional football player, Roger Staubach started a commercial real estate business called The Staubach Company, which he poured his energies into full-time once retiring from football in 1979 at the age of 37. The Staubach Company invested primarily in commercial office buildings with a focus on renting space to major corporations such as AT&T, K-Mart and the McDonald’s Corporation. The Staubach Company also invested in some high-rise apartment complexes over the years. Roger Staubach continued to serve as chairman and chief executive officer of the company until June 2007 when he retired for good. In 2008, Roger Staubach sold his company to Jones Lang LaSalle for a whopping $613 million—with Roger Staubach himself, and his children, the main beneficiaries of the sale. Now that’s impressive!