Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports

Athletes encounter many different challenges. Some of them may have to get through with demanding training and deal with injuries, lost matches, and personal adversity. Also, there are cases in which athletes realize they lack the skills to play the sport at a professional level.

There are numerous reasons why athletes change their sport. Some of these reasons include losing their passion for the sport, being banned from their current sport, and feeling too old to compete. Here is the list of athletes that tried and failed at other sports.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Bleacher Report

Marion Jones

Marion Jones is one of the athletes who were forced to abandon a sport because of a suspension due to misconduct. She was included in the list of the most high-profile athletes embroiled in the BALCO scandal case. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: The Oakland Press

After she admitted to using steroids, she had her three gold and two bronze medals won at the 2000 Sydney Olympics taken away. Consequently, she was sentenced to probation and barred from sports. She then opted to turn to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Once a promising university-level basketball player, Jones struggled after spending years away from the sport and retired with an average of 2.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.

Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is one of the greatest NFL players of all time and generally known as the greatest wide receiver in NFL history. He holds the NFL records for a wide receiver for most catches, touchdowns, and receiving yards. He is the all-time leader in most statistical categories.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Golf Digest

There is no question about Rice being able to play football and play it well, but his skill as a golfer is a little more debatable. He wanted to become a pro golfer, but he won’t rise to any leaderboards. Before retiring from football in 2005, Rice played golf for over 20 years. 

Due to a sponsor’s exemption, he joined the golf world in 2010, participating in the French Express Classic. He placed at the 151st spot, 17-over, and just one shot ahead of the 152 players in the last place. After the competition, Rice never again played golf competitively.

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar is widely regarded for his WWE work. He has a legacy as one of the most dominant professional wrestlers of the modern era and a former UFC heavyweight champion. But, he once pursued a career in the National Football League (NFL).

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Sportskeeda

Lesnar originally aimed to become an NFL star. He put aside his WWE career after his game in 2004 at WrestleMania XX. He signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings after impressing at the NFL combine, but a month after he signed, he was released.

His football career lasted only one pre-season. He developed a habit of getting into fights until a cut ended his football career. Although his MMA career included becoming UFC Heavyweight Champion, consecutive first-round losses also ended his MMA career as quickly as it had begun.

Jimmy Bullard

Jimmy Bullard, former football Premier League “Funny Guy, had his career brought to an end by a series of injuries. So, he wanted to turn to the only other game he knew, golf.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Daily Mail UK

Bullard played for Wigan, Fulham, and Hull in the Premier League. He was called up to the England squad three times in his prime, but he never managed to earn a full cap.

In 2012, he retired from soccer and attempted to break into the professional golf world in 2013. He decided to compete for the EuroPro PGA tour, but he failed. It was clear that Bullard cannot reach the standard to make it at that point, and he quickly turned his back on the project.

Manute Bol

Manute Bol was a professional Sudanese basketball player who became the tallest NBA player in history. He is 7-foot-7 tall, and it was expected that Bol’s best attribute was his blocking abilities. He was considered to be one of the best blockers in the league. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Business Insider

Bol was never really looking for a serious career in another sport. He chose to try other sports to raise funds for charity. He attempted boxing and horse riding sports. 

Most importantly, he tried ice hockey when he signed a one-day Indianapolis Ice contract in 2002. Unfortunately, Bol couldn’t skate, so you can imagine how it went. Still, he raised money to support hungry people in his birthplace, Sudan.

Dwain Chambers

Dwain Chambers is among the fastest Europeans in history. He set a European record of 60 meters in 6.42 seconds, and is the fourth fastest European in the history of 100 meters (9.97 seconds).

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Independent

In 1997, Chambers set the world junior record. But, he was disqualified in 2003 for doping at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

He was granted a two-year athletics suspension and a permanent ban from the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. He later attempted to get into the NFL Europe and the Rugby League later on, but both failed.

Chris Chelios

Former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios tried his hand at bobsled in 2004. It is possibly the most unusual sport for an athlete to have shifted to on this list. Chelios made the fifth most NHL appearances of any player in history. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Brad Person / USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of the NHL lockout, he started training with the U.S. Bobsled Federation. He planned to participate in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.   

Eventually, Chelios joined the Greek team, who took him on board. However, he was unfortunately unable to compete. He went to the Olympics in 2006, but he played in ice hockey and became the U.S. team captain.

Johnnie Morton

Johnnie Morton was the former National Football League (NFL) wide receiver who played for the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions, and the San Francisco 49ers in an 11-year career in which he played 182 NFL games.  

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Detroit Lions

He has the most humiliating and shocking transition from one sport to another. He tried a career in mixed martial arts (MMA). Since leaving the NFL in 2005, he made his MMA debut in 2007. Morton fought against Bernard Ackah, and he was defeated after 38 seconds. 

After his defeat, Morton never fought an MMA battle again. He even declined to take a drug test after the fight, causing many to conclude that he lost so dramatically through doping.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is well-known for his title, the greatest sprinter of all time. In 2011, Bolt revealed that he wanted to play soccer professionally, particularly for Manchester United, whom he supports. In anticipation of an offer for a trial, he posted a video of his abilities, but he failed.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: News Bytes App

In September 2018, Bolt made his Mariners debut and scored twice in his second trial match. 

However, concerns arose about his potential in a second sport to become an elite athlete. Bolt turned down an invitation from Maltese club Valletta, supposedly because the club could not fulfill his salary demands.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan was the most famous example of an athlete shifting sports. During high school, Jordan tried out for the varsity basketball team. However, he failed in joining the team. But, he did continue his journey to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Richmond Free Press

However, he sought to dominate another sport as he traded the National Basketball Association (NBA) for Minor League Baseball (MLB) in 1994. Jordan’s decision to try MLB was when he first retired from basketball in 1993. 

Later on, he declared that the reason he did it was his father, who died that year. He shared that his father had once imagined him as an MLB player. The transition to MLB was short-lived. Despite Jordan doing well for a beginner, it was widely regarded as a failure. Michael Jordan returned to the NBA finally in 1995.

Tyreke Evans

Tyreke Evans is a professional basketball player. He was selected by the Sacramento Kings in the 2009 NBA draft. In 2010 he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He played with New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Indiana Pacers.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Los Angeles Times

When he had been disqualified from the NBA in 2019 for violating the league’s anti-drug program, he tried his hand at golf. This was a complete failure from the very first game. 

He discovered that you could be good in one sport and a failure in another.

Ken Harrelson

Ken Harrelson is an American former professional baseball player. He was an All-Star first baseman and outfielder and played in Major League Baseball.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Sports Broadcast Journal

When another player took over first base in his team, he decided to pursue his dream to become a golfer. But the change was not very successful. He only played in nine tournaments.

He is retired now and is remembered as a baseball player and popular broadcast announcer for the Chicago White Sox. 

Terrell Owens

Terrell Owens played American football as a wide receiver. He played in the National Football League for 16 seasons and is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first-team All-Pro. He holds several NFL records.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Deadline

He tried basketball as his second career but failed. Although he scored seven points in a promising debut game, he just couldn’t succeed with baseball on the professional level. 

John Smoltz

The former baseball pitcher, John Smoltz, played 22 seasons in Major League Baseball. He is an eight-time All-Star and won the National League Cy Young Award in 1996. In 2015 he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Yard Barker

He tried golf as a second career but just couldn’t make it. Smoltz missed the cut at the 2018 U.S. Senior Open. He attempted to earn his over-50 card but failed to advance out of the first stage after tying for 54th. 

In the South Georgia Classic in 2011, he missed the cut by 27 shots – nine strokes worse than the next-to-last golfer. 

Jose Canseco

José Canseco, a former Major League Baseball player was an outfielder and a designated hitter. He was known as a premier power hitter

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: NBC News

He won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards and was a six-time All-Star. 

In May of 2008, he tried another sport by challenging former NFL back Vai Sikahema to a boxing match. After getting knocked out in the first round, he decided he was better with baseball. 

Joe Frazier

Joe Frazier was known for his formidable punching power as a boxer and relentless fighting style. He was the first to beat Muhammad Ali. He finished his career with a record of 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: The Guardian

Frazier didn’t make a career change but occasionally took part in other sports as well, and mostly fail. 

In 1973 he swam a 50-meter heat in the program “The Superstars,” and was defeated. He accepted then that a fabulous boxer wasn’t automatically an all-rounder. 

Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow is a former successful professional football quarterback. He played football for the University of Florida and was the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Timtebow

He changed to baseball to pursue a career in Major League Baseball but was not as successful as with football. After five years as a minor leaguer with the New York Mets, he retired from baseball.

Chad Johnson

The former football wide receiver, Chad Johnson, played football for Santa Monica College and Oregon State University. He also played 11 seasons in the National Football League. He is a six-time Pro Bowl receiver.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Bleacher Report

Johnson didn’t change to another sport as such but embarked on a four-day trial hoping to join the MLS’ Sporting Kansas City in 2011. 

He only made it to the reserve team – quite a comedown from his NFL status.

Carl Lewis

Carl Lewis is a former track and field athlete. He won nine Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver, and ten World Championships medals. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Texas Medical Center

He tried a complete career change by becoming a singer. It was disastrous and he is “famous” for his failures when leading the National Anthem at a few sports events. 

A clear example that sportspeople are not always good at everything!

Emmanuel Yarborough

Emmanuel Yarbrough was an American martial artist and known for his career in amateur sumo. He is in the Guinness World Record Book as the heaviest living athlete. In 1992 and 1994 he won silver medals in the Sumo World Championship after he’d won bronze in 1993. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Bleacher Report

In 1994 he tried to make the move from sumo to UFC, competing in UFC 3. In total, Yarborough fought only three MMA fights. The fights were described as “not only a bizarre spectacle but also a spectacular failure.”

He moved back to sumo and in 1995 won the World Amateur Sumo Championships.

James Toney

James Toney is a former professional boxer. He participated in three weight classes and held multiple world championships. These include IBF middleweight, super-middleweight, and cruiserweight titles.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Boxing News

In 2010 he entered a UFC competition. He was defeated in the first round. He did not take part in other UFC competitions and returned to boxing.

Kimbo Slice

This is in a way a strange story. Kimbo Slice became world-famous as he defeated challenger after challenger in street fights in a TV program.  

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Los Angeles Times

In 2007 he took part in structured MMA fights and won his first fight. UFC then gave him the chance to fight on “The Ultimate Fighter” television program. He lost his debut fight and won only once on the program. 

Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is a former very successful professional basketball player. He played for six teams in the National Basketball Association during his 19-year basketball career. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Deadline

He didn’t change careers but claimed to be “the greatest athlete” and challenged numerous top athletes in their own sports. He failed at most of these challenges. His volleyball game with gold medalist Todd Rogers against Walsh and Treanor is remembered as one of his great failures. 

Shaquille is an example that if you are excellent in one sport, you are not necessarily a good all-rounder. 

Rick Rhoden

Rick Rhoden is a professional former Major League Baseball pitcher. During his 16-year baseball career, he played for various top teams. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: The Sand Trap

After retiring in 1989 with 151 career wins he tried his hand at golf. He started in the Celebrity Players Tour and long-term success was expected. But he had only three career top-10 finishes in Champions Tour events. 

He never reached the same professional level of success in golf as with baseball.

Tie Domi

Canadian Tie Domi, is a retired professional ice hockey player. During his successful hockey career of more than 16 years, he was known for his fighting attitude. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Newsday

In 1995 he tried to play soccer and Canadian football. He played only one season in the Canadian International Soccer League and appeared in two preseason exhibition games. The change to soccer and football was not successful. 

He left both soccer and football and kept on playing ice hockey and retired after a very successful career in 2006. 

Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson represented New Zealand 71 times as a very successful rugby union player. The games include 60 tests in which he scored a total of 234 points. He retired in 2002. 

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: Otago Daily Times

Wilson’s dream was to also be a cricketer and started with cricket while still playing rugby. It was not successful. 

He achieved only 103 runs and a strike rate of 92 in One Day Internationals and after six appearances he disappeared from the cricket scene.

Justin Gatlin

The American sprinter, Gatlin, has won 5 Olympic and 12 World Championship medals. In the early 2000s, he was banned for four years due to failing a drug test.

Famous Athletes Who Failed in Other Sports
Image Source: World Athletics

During the ban, he turned to football. In 2007 he tried to get into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers team as a wide receiver, but was unsuccessful and not included in the team.

After the ban period and the football failure, he returned to athletics and became the oldest sprinter to win a medal in the 100 meters at the World Athletics Championships. 


The stories above tell how athletes experienced failure as part of their journey. 

They might have failed in some other kinds of sports, but they have shown great talents and skills in their respective field of sports. 


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