With free agency dying down and preseason still a week away, we're in a brief-yet-much-needed eye in the storm of activity this month. So I'm going to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart--the lost art of sports athletes going Hollywood.
Back in the day, it used to be a given that talented and popular athletes would try their hand at acting. Without the luxury of Twitter or 24/7 media coverage, this was the next-best way for them to get their name out there beyond their chosen sport. It was also a fairly easy way to get exposure--choose a non-demanding supporting role in a comedy or action film, work with the studios to ensure that the shooting happens during the offseason, show up on set and deliver your lines (sobriety was strictly optional).
The 80's and 90's were littered with such "breakout roles" by athletes. Admittedly, the quality of said movies were questionable at best, but most of them at least had their quirky "wink wink" charm that fit the time and place of the era, and the majority of athlete actors were at least self-aware enough to not take themselves seriously. Kareem Abdul-Jabar deadpanned his way through "Airplane!" where 99% of the movie was deadpan. Carl Weathers was a mainstay in the "Rocky" series and "Predator." Bob Uecker had a memorable cameo in "Major League." Shaquille O'Neal somehow managed to convince a team of Hollywood execs that he actually had acting talent, which is an impressive feat in itself. Michael Jordan was.....never mind, "Space Jam" sucked. Not even Bill Murray could save it.
This is all a roundabout way of asking the important question--what the hell happened to the "athlete actor?" Did the aforementioned new media outlets give them that mainstream appeal that rendered acting a redudant affair? Did they not grow up with those movies as well? Or did Brian Bosworth just poison the well for eveyone else?
I ask this with genuine curiosity. Through the last decade, popular pro wrestlers have made the jump, with varying degrees of success (The Rock being the most famous one, Steve Austin the most infamous one). And if you want to stretch your definition of "pro athlete", Jason Lee was a pro skateboarder before becoming best buddies with Kevin Smith. And there's also a handful of baseball players like Scott Hatteberg playing themselves in the upcoming "Moneyball" movie. But outside of cameos on shows like "Entourage", I can't think of the last time a mainstream athlete appeared in a mainstream movie. I'd like to see that trend change, and here's some guys who could make the transition perfectly:
--Peyton Manning. Already a mainstay on commercials, he has a winning combination of charm and self-awareness that can lend itself perfectly to a mainstream comedy or sitcom.
--Ray Lewis. Gritty crime dramas are all the rage these days. Lewis has the intensity and, ahem, experience to pull off some impressively convincing method acting.
--LeBron James. Not because I think he should, but because he's trying so hard to fit the Michael Jordan mold of global superstar, loved and despised by everyone, that starring in a crappy Warner Bros. cash-in is the next logical step.
--Dustin Pedroia. If I'm a casting agent, and a Hollywood exec tells me to find someone for the "Rudy" remake, Pedroia is the first person I'm calling.
--Chad Ochocinco. I want him to team up with Wes Welker in a wacky buddy cop comedy. The jokes write themselves.
--Anna Kournikova. Because they'll find some way to fuck up a potential "Wonder Woman" movie.