Crossover Athletes That Made It

The crossover athlete is an idea that we hear about all the time.


Great at basketball, not so much at baseball.

The crossover athlete is an idea that we hear about all the time. “She’d be a great baseball player with that swing” or “He’d be a natural basketballer with that long reach,” you know, the kind of thing you hear every time you’re watching sports with friends. But has anyone ever made it? We’ve all heard of the disasters, but what about the successes? Well, there are some, and here are the names to prove it.

Jim Thorpe

If you have anything more than a passing interest in college football, then you’ll know that the Jim Thorpe Award is given each year to the top defensive back. Thorpe himself is a legend, appearing both in the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

But did you know that he was also an accomplished track and field athlete? Now, we say accomplished, but that’s a bit of an understatement. He won a gold medal at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm in both the pentathlon and decathlon events. If that doesn’t count as a success, then we’re not sure what does.

Bob Hayes

Most might know him as the Pro Football Hall of Famer that won Super Bowl VI with the Dallas Cowboys, but “Bullet Bob” was also once the fastest man on Earth. Usain Bolt eat your heart out. Hayes won the gold in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in both the 100-meter and 4X100-meter relay.

He held multiple records throughout his life, and any sports fan of a certain age will remember him for his speed. Interestingly, he’s the only athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympics and a Super Bowl.

Gene Conley

As one of only two athletes to win championships in two major pro leagues (the other is Otto Graham), Conley is in a select group. He won the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves back in 1957 before heading for the NBA. He also played for the Boston Celtics and won the championship in 1959, 1960 and 1961, proving that the baseball/basketball crossover is possible and becoming an inspiration for many. Unfortunately, the most famous athlete to attempt this, Michael Jordan, failed to have the same success.  

Deion Sanders

Sanders batting in the MLB.

The only player to ever play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl, Deion “Primetime” Sanders is in a class by himself. Unfortunately, although he played in three World Series, he has three losses. On the football field, he had his glory, though winning the Super Bowl with both the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys.

Sanders is also the only player to have ever hit a home run in the MLB and score a touchdown in the NFL during the same week. A pretty remarkable feat which he accomplished in 1989.

Bo Jackson

If you don’t know the name Bo Jackson, then perhaps you’re not much of a follower of either football or baseball. Jackson is the only player ever named an All-Star in both baseball and football. Most sports fans consider him to be the greatest athlete of all time and were it not for a hip injury that cut his footballing career short, who knows what he could have achieved.

He famously refused to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his selection in the 1986 draft, and instead, waited a full year to be picked up by the then-LA Raiders in the next draft.

Richard Seymour

Now some may suggest otherwise, but there’s no doubt that poker players put a lot of hard graft into their game, and so there’s a lot of merit to the assertion that it is indeed a sport. And though many athletes have spent time at the table, most are ambassadors or doing it for fun. Seymour, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. A defensive end for the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, he now enters plays at pro poker events and has been doing quite well for himself, finishing 18th at the WPT Five Diamond Main Event in Vegas.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

If you know your American sports, then you’ll know that Babe was the greatest female athlete the U.S. has ever produced. She won 41 LPGA events and 11 majors. But did you know that she was also an All-American basketball player? And if the women’s game had been pro, she would have been one of the game’s top stars.

Not impressive enough? She also won two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Tragically, she died of cancer at the young age of 42. She still had so much to offer the sport of golf, and it’s anyone’s guess how many more majors she could have amassed if her life hadn’t been cut short.

Jim Brown

The greatest footballer of all time.

Hands down, the best football player to have ever graced a field is the legend, Jim Brown. He’s a Hall of Hamer that broke records in every season that he played and won the Super Bowl with the Cleveland Browns. Interestingly though, Brown entered college on a scholarship thanks to his exploits on the Lacrosse field. In fact, he was so good that he is considered by many to be the best Lacrosse player of all time. The best of all time in two sports? Incredible.

It’s a testament to the man that even though he only played the sport during his college years, he is still regarded as the best by seasoned pros who have spent their entire careers with a lacrosse stick in their hands.

A Few That Didn’t Quite Make It

We mentioned Michael Jordan earlier, but there have been others that have failed where the likes of Jim Brown and Babe Didrikson Zaharias have succeeded.

Brock Lesnar may have made it in the WWE and the UFC, but his fledgling NFL career was cut short by a car accident that resulted in a groin injury. Conor McGregor was destroyed by Floyd Mayweather on his foray into the boxing ring while Tony Romo tried and failed to make the jump from NFL to golf. There have been others, but we’ll leave it at that because after all, this is a post about success.

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