There’s something inherently awe-inspiring about professional athletes, isn’t there? The dedication, the grit, the drive. Now, imagine coupling that with serving in the military. Yep, some athletes have not only thrilled us with game-winning touchdowns or clutch three-pointers but have also worn a different kind of uniform – that of our nation’s military. Here’s a look at ten such heroes.
Undoubtedly one of the most well-known athletes-turned-soldiers, Pat Tillman left a promising NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals after 9/11 to join the U.S. Army. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan before tragically losing his life in combat.
While many remember him for his valor, Tillman was also a scholar. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in marketing from Arizona State University.
One of baseball’s greatest hitters, the Boston Red Sox slugger was also a fighter pilot during World War II and the Korean War, missing a total of five MLB seasons. Ted wasn’t just any pilot. He was a true ace, even once safely crash-landing a damaged plane, saving his crew, during the Korean War.
The legendary heavyweight champion traded his boxing gloves for army fatigues during WWII. While he didn’t see combat, he boosted troop morale with exhibition matches. Beyond his exhibition matches, Louis was pivotal in desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces, playing a role in ending the military’s color barrier.
This Cleveland Indians pitching sensation was the first MLB player to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. He served as a Chief Petty Officer on the USS Alabama. Not just content with serving, Feller was instrumental in helping to raise millions for the war effort through war bond sales.
Before becoming an NBA legend with the San Antonio Spurs, “The Admiral” graduated from the Naval Academy and served two years as a civil engineering officer. While at the Naval Academy, Robinson was two-time All-American, and his basketball skills made him legendary within the Navy ranks even before his NBA fame.
After winning a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He was wounded in action but made an inspiring return to the NFL. Bleier’s comeback after his injuries in Vietnam is well documented, but he also wrote a book, “Fighting Back”, chronicling his inspiring journey.
Before becoming the iconic coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Landry flew 30 combat missions as a co-pilot in B-17 bombers during WWII, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. Beyond his military and coaching careers, Landry was deeply spiritual. His Christian faith played a significant role in his approach to coaching and life.
Before his legendary career with the New York Yankees, Berra was part of the D-Day invasion as a gunner’s mate in the U.S. Navy. Berra was known for his “Yogi-isms,” humorous quips like “It ain’t over till it’s over.” His wit made him a beloved figure both in and out of baseball.
Winner of the 1939 Heisman Trophy, Kinnick opted for military service over a potential pro career. Serving as a Navy aviator during WWII, he tragically died during a training flight. The University of Iowa’s football stadium is named Kinnick Stadium in his honor, and they have a tradition, the “Kinnick Wave”, where fans wave to the nearby children’s hospital.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback legend, before throwing touchdowns, was a graduate of the Naval Academy and served in the Navy, including a tour in Vietnam. Staubach wasn’t just a football and military hero. After his NFL career, he succeeded in real estate, establishing the Staubach Company, which was later sold for hundreds of millions.
From touchdowns to take-offs, from home runs to home bases overseas, these athletes have shown an unparalleled commitment to both their sport and their country. It’s one thing to play for a team, but another to fight for an entire nation. Hats off!