Do you remember the days when guys like Jim Brown and Carl Weathers brought their NFL toughness to the big screen? Well I don’t, because I’m too young, but that’s beside the point. I still enjoy watching Carl Weathers and Stallone go at it every time I watch the Rocky series, which is on marathon-style almost every weekend if you hadn’t noticed. How come we barely see the bad boys of the NFL in big Hollywood films anymore? Instead, we see Emmitt Smith and Warren Sapp on the silver screen, wearing dance shoes.
Glenn Whipp of the Los Angeles Times recently penned an article questioning where the old days of the NFL’s stars having a presence in Hollywood had gone. He recalled that several decades ago many prominent players were able to form second careers as actors. The first to really capitalize on this was Jim Brown, who appeared in the 1967 box office hit “The Dirty Dozen”. For the next few decades NFLers brought their tough images, or ironic comedies of them, to the big screen. The list included Bubba Smith, O.J. Simpson, Alex Karras, Howie Long, and many others. Moving forward a few years, who can forget Brett Favre’s cameo in “There’s Something About Mary”, or L.T.’s appearances in “Any Given Sunday” and the “Sopranos”. But my all-time favorite is Taylor telling kids not to do drugs in “The Waterboy”.
But I’m sure you’ve figure out by now that there was a business end to this. Fred Williamson, who most recently appeared as the captain in “Starsky and Hutch”, noted that the economics of the game at that time pushed many players to find other sources of income:
“When we played, with the money you made, you’d better have another career handy.”
So how does this translate to today’s game? Whipp professes that current players are earning millions of dollars, and have little reason to “moonlight” as actors during the off-season or in retirement. I think he’s on to something here. Besides the appearances of Michael Irvin and a few others in “Longest Yard”, I can’t remember the last time I saw an NFL player in a big film. But the situation is less black and white than Whipp makes it out to be. Star football players are still making their presence felt in Tinseltown, they are just exploring new avenues. Rather than the Hollywood scene being completely quiet for athletes, I think TV may be the savior for NFLers looking to extend their brand or earn a little extra cash. Smith’s and Sapp’s short-lived dancing careers were nothing to scoff at. I’m sure they got a hefty check for their services. Moreover, these types of shows will continue to produce new seasons, and recruit more athletes as long as they keep up their ratings.