The Smartest Athletes Prove Brain Is Just As Powerful As Brawn

Athletes | 7/2/20

There’s a long-lasting stereotype in sports that the bulging and bruising athletes are all brawn and no brain. These “gods among men” have made it to the highest heights of their profession at the expense of their intellectual evolution. While it is true that some athletes turn pro before getting their degrees, not all of them place their physical health over their education. Alex Smith graduated from Utah in two and a half years with a 3.74 GPA. Grant Hill graduated with a double major in political science and history before being drafted by the NBA. These are the smartest players in professional sports, and their educational achievements might surprise you!

Alex Smith Entered College Halfway To His Degree

alex smith nfl
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

A stand out athlete at Helix High School in San Diego, NFL quarterback Alex Smith didn’t bet his future on his arm. While he was pairing up with Reggie Bush on the field, he was exercising his brain with classes at San Diego State.

When it came time to head off to college, Smith enrolled at Utah, where he only needed two and a half years to earn his degree in economics with a 3.74-grade point average.

Cameron Brate Picked School Over Sports

cameron brate nfl
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

There is no denying that Harvard University is one of the best colleges in the world. There is also no denying that Harvard doesn’t have a prestigious college football program. That didn’t stop stand out tight end Cameron Brate from enrolling, though.

Brate graduated with a degree in economics and spent time outside of football and classes interning at local Boston hedge fund companies. In 2018, he became one of the highest-paid tight ends in the NFL.

Grant Hill Had Smarts In His DNA

grant hill nba
Sporting News via Getty Images
Sporting News via Getty Images

Grant Hill’s father wasn’t just a great athlete, he was also a Yale graduate, leaving big shoes for his son to fill when it came to academics. Those expectations didn’t dissuade Grant, who enrolled at Duke University where he would have a chance to win a national championship while double majoring in political science and history.

Hill was drafted 3rd overall when he turned pro, and today is a part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

Ken Dryden Got A Law Degree

ken dryden nhl
Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images
Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images

One of the greatest goalies in NHL history, Ken Dryden was no slouch when it came to his education either. When he was originally offered an NHL contract, he turned it down to attend Cornell University instead.

After getting his degree in history, Dryden turned pro. In 1973, still early in his career, Dryden became frustrated with contract negotiations and sat out the season. During that break, he got his law degree. By the time Dryden retired from the NHL, he had won the Stanley Cup six times.

Ryan Fitzpatrick Is The Bearded Legend Of Harvard

ryan fitzpatrick nfl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

For most of his NFL career, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a journeyman quarterback. A tale of hot and cold, there are times he stuns on the field with the throws he can make. Then the next game he’ll leave you baffled with his decision making.

Still, Fitzpatrick, legendary beard and all, is the best NFL player to ever come out of Harvard. He was also the first quarterback in league history to throw for more than 400 yards in three consecutive games.

Jeremy Lin Was The Underdog, Even In College

jeremy lin nba
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Long before Linsanity took over the NBA, Jeremy Lin was the ultimate underdog. Despite succeeding both academically and athletically in high school, he was not heavily recruited. Lin eventually found his way to Harvard, where again he shined both on and off the court.

Lin graduated with a degree in economics and was named an All-Conference player for the Ivy League school three times. Lin then started his NBA career with the Warriors before breaking out as a Knick thanks to a few unfortunate injuries to his teammates.

Pat Haden Has Three Degrees

pat haden nfl
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Pat Haden played for the Los Angeles Rams from 1976 until 1981 and earned one Pro Bowl selection. Prior to his NFL career, he was a standout player for the University of Southern California. While Haden could have gone pro after graduating Magna cum laude and being named a Rhodes Scholar, he instead decided to attend Oxford and continue his education.

Haden joined the NFL after graduating from Oxford. After his short playing career was over, Haden went back to school for his third-degree – a J.D. from Loyal Law School.

Craig Breslow Put Off Med School For His MLB Career

craig breslow mlb
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

MLB relief pitcher Craig Breslow was drafted in 2002, made his Major League debut in 2005, and continued to play professionally until 2018. A product of Yale, Breslow was on a pace to go to medical school before becoming a successful MLB star.

Since going pro, Breslow has deferred his admission to med school in favor of staying in sports. In 2019, he joined the Chicago Cubs organization as the team’s Director of Baseball Operations.

Chris Young Studied Race Relations

chris young
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

A two-sport athlete at Princeton, Chris Young found professional success as a pitcher for the San Diego Padres. Considered a risk by the team after multiple elbow surgeries, he flourished for the Friars.

At Princeton, Young wasn’t just flexing his muscles, but his brains as well. While he was being scouted by MLB teams, he was also working on his thesis, “The Impact of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball on Racial Stereotypes in America: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Stories about Race in the New York Times.”

Matt Birk Went From Ivy League To Super Bowl Champion

matt birk nfl
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Matt Birk was one of the best NFL prospects to ever come out of Harvard University. An offensive lineman by trade, it would be easy to think all he cared about was beating up defenders.

Before entering the NFL, Birk graduated with a degree in economics. He would go on to be selected to six Pro Bowls while winning one Super Bowl. He retired in 2013 and the next year was named the NFL director of football development.

Shane Battier Could Have Been A Teacher

shane battier nba
Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT
Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT

Another standout athlete with intelligence from Duke, Shane Battier is widely considered by his NBA peers to be one of the smartest players in league history. That’s because, before entering the NBA, Battier graduated with a degree in religious studies.

Instead of taking his degree and going into teaching, Battier became a two time NBA champion who was taken with the sixth overall pick in the draft. After retiring, Battier joined the front office of the Miami Heat.

George Parros Was More Than Just A Mustache

george parros nhl
Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images
Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

A one time Stanley Cup champion famous for his legendary facial hair and love for fighting, George Parros was also an incredibly intelligent student. While attending Princeton, where he was forced to stay clean shaven, he received his degree in economics.

To earn that degree, he wrote his thesis paper on the West Coast Longshoremen’s labor dispute and its lasting impacts on the economy. After retiring in 2016, Parros joined the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.

Ross Ohlendorf’s Thesis Was 140 Pages Long

ross ohlendorf mlb
Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Ross Ohlendorf may have been raised to run a farm, but when push came to shove, he chose to pursue his dreams of playing baseball. The star pitcher went to Princeton, where he got the attention of several MLB clubs.

Before being drafted, Ohlendorf wrote a 140-page senior thesis titled, “Investing in Prospects: A Look at the Financial Successes of Major League Baseball Rule IV Drafts from 1989 to 1993.”

Myron Rolle Said Goodbye To The NFL For A Career In Medicine

myron rolle nfl
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Many of you might not know the name Myron Rolle. He played his college ball at Florida State, where he became a Rhodes Scholar Candidate. He then delayed declaring for the NFL Draft to attend Oxford.

At Oxford, Rolle got his M.S. in medical anthropology. After a short NFL career, he returned to FSU, joining the medical program. In 2017, he graduated and began his residency in neurosurgery at Harvard.

Bill Bradley Chose Princeton Over 70 Other Schools

bill bradley nba
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images
Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

It must be nice to be wanted. Coming out of high school, Bill Bradley had 75 scholarship offers. He turned them all down to attend the more academically inclined Princeton, where he went on to become a Rhodes Scholar.

Bradley then went to Oxford for two years before joining the Air Force Reserves for six months. It was finally after this that Bradley entered the NBA, where he won two championships with the Knicks.

Brad Ausmus Finished His Degree While Playing Professionally

brad ausmus mlb
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Brad Ausmus had two big goals leaving high school. He wanted to play baseball professionally, and he wanted to attend an Ivy League university. As a senior, he was drafted by the New York Yankees, turning one of those dreams into a reality.

While playing in the Yankees’ minor league system, Ausmus attended Dartmouth, where he got his degree in government and never got a grade lower than a B. During his MLB career, he won three Gold Glove Awards and was named an All-Star once.

Alan Page Literally Did It All

alan page nfl
James Flores/Getty Images
James Flores/Getty Images

Coming out of Notre Dame with a degree in political science in 1967, Alan Page was taken with the 15th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. With the team, he would go on to become a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and the first player in league history to be named the MVP.

As if that weren’t enough, Page went back to school during his professional career and earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1988 he was enshrined in Canton. Five years later he began serving on Minnesota’s Supreme Court as an associate justice.

Heath Shuler Went From The NFL To Politics

heath shuler nfl
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

To NFL fans, Heath Shuler is best known as a draft bust. He was taken with the third overall pick in 1994 and failed to live up to those lofty expectations. The good news for Shuler is that he had his intelligence to fall back on.

When he retired, Shuler stepped into the real estate industry. In 2007, he took a dive into politics, winning a seat in the House of Representatives for North Carolina.

Chris Nowinski Became A Published Author

chris nowinski nfl
Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images
Stephen J. Boitano/LightRocket via Getty Images

Chris Nowinski found out leaving Harvard that life in the NFL was not easy. When his professional football career failed to work out, he got into professional wrestling, working his way up from the independent circuit all the way to the WWE.

Sadly, Nowinski’s wrestling career was cut short by concussions. The experience led him to pen, “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis,” which turned him into one of the early pioneers of head trauma awareness in professional sports.

Tim Green Followed Both Of His Passions

tim green nfl
George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

Tim Green was a beast for Syracuse University. Not only was he skilled on the football field, but he also graduated summa cum laude. The Atlanta Falcons liked what they saw, and took Green with the 17th overall pick in 1986.

Green played in the NFL for eight seasons before retiring and enrolling in law school. Once he became a practicing lawyer, he began publishing books as well, including one New York Times bestseller.