While it may be cool to dress like a nerd in professional sports today, (exhibit A: the Wizards’ JaVale McGee), not every player can back up those thick framed glasses and suspenders with... actual brains. Sports smarts is one thing, but it is those athletes who can flex their mental muscles in multiple areas as well as their physical muscles (thanks to their underlying commitment to education) that really separate themselves from the pack.
So here it is, a list of 10 guys who won’t only school you in their respective sport, but who will also outwit you with their crazy intellect. In other words, a truly despicable group of people.
Nicknamed the “Harvard Man” (hey, it’s catching on), the current Buffalo Bills quarterback is actually the 26th alum of the Ivy League institution to play in the NFL. The economics major paved his way to Cambridge with the help of a 1580 SAT score, and went on to finish the infamous Wonderlic Test (an NFL entry exam of sorts) in a record nine minutes! While the Bills season has slipped away, their brainy quarterback can take refuge in the fact that he signed a $59 million million extension when the going was good.
Earning his sociology degree at the University of Santa Clara, Nash went on to be quite the societal figure when Time named him one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2006. The Canadian (by way of South Africa) native is one of the sport’s world’s most renowned philanthropists, putting his knowledge of human issues to good use with the Steve Nash Foundation, which raises funds for disadvantaged youth. The two-time NBA MVP is also a budding filmmaker and producer, having worked on commercials, shorts and the ESPN 30 for 30 doc, Into the Wind.
Born in Honolulu, the former New York Mets pitcher and '86 World Series champ studied French and Southeast Asian history at Yale, before being drafted ninth overall by the Mets in June 1981. Darling went on to play 12 years in the big leagues, and while he wasn’t able to finish up at Yale, a thumb injury during the ‘87 season opened the door for Darling to earn credits towards his degree at NYU. Darling can now be seen on SportsNet New York (SNY) as a commentator for the Mets, and has authored The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound.
Known just as much for his career in politics as his career on the court, Bradley served a three-term stint as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey, after 12 years as a member of the New York Knicks. Before his pro career, Bradley nerded it up big time at school; he graduated magna cum laude at Princeton followed by a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford. Bradley almost became the first professional athlete to become President when he ran for the Democratic Primary in 2000, but lost out to Al Gore. He has since moved on to several endeavors, which include being on the Board of Directors for Starbucks.
While trade rumors involving his name are swirling, the Los Angeles Lakers forward can always fall back on his aspiring career in medicine, if this whole basketball thing gets tired, of course. Prior to joining F.C. Barcelona in ’98, Gasol was enrolled at the University of Barcelona medical school, with the lofty goals of helping cure diseases like AIDS. Gasol even sat in on a spinal surgery at the Childrens Hospital in Los Angeles, where he regularly visits young patients. Gasol is also self-taught in Italian and French, and speaks five total languages (along with English, Spanish and Catalan). In fact, he’s been known to speak in foreign tongues with teammate Kobe Bryant on the court, to throw off opponents. Couple of showoffs, if you ask me.
If you wanted to find the truest definition of a geek in the landscape of professional sports, look no further than Battier. After an illustrious school career, in which he was a two-time Academic All-American (and the Academic All-American of the Year in 2001) at Duke, Battier went on to the NBA where he played for the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets (and is now set to sign with the Miami Heat). While he graduated with a 3.5 GPA majoring in religion, Battier is better known throughout the league as the NBA’s biggest tech and gadget geek, as evidenced by his old gig with HOOP Magazine as a reviewer of new products.
While he had a tough upbringing in Compton, California, Wiley attributed his “humble roots” in helping fight the adversity and negative influences around him. Wiley thrived in football at Saint Monica Catholic High School, but also excelled as a student; he was class Valedictorian his senior year and a member of the National Honor Society. (He was also the 1998 National type-writing champion with 82 words per minute!) Wiley went on to attend Columbia University before his nine-year NFL career, and is now a successful businessman and ESPN TV host. We’ll just skip the part about him being on the Millionaire Matchmaker this past season. Oops, too late.
The farthest from a household name on this list, Rolle may be one of the smartest athletes in professional sports that no one knows about. While he is currently without an NFL team, after being cut by the Tennessee Titans in September, Rolle can fortunately say he has some “fallback options.” A Rhodes Scholar, Rolle received his master’s in medical anthropology at Oxford, after graduating premed at Florida State University – in just 2.5 years. (In fact, Rolle finished FSU early along with current Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder.) With non-sports aspirations of being a traveling neurosurgeon, Rolle may not have to worry about signing up with a new squad just yet.
Currently riding a solid six-year career as a MLB reliever, Breslow is arguable the smartest man currently playing on a major sports franchise. After studying molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale (3.5 GPA), Breslow took the MCAT in preparation for med school, and scored a remarkable 34 on the exam (average score is 28, mind you). While he was accepted to NYU Medical School, Breslow opted for a life of dissecting big league hitters instead, and currently calls the Oakland Athletics home. Just last year, the Sporting News named Breslow the smartest athlete in professional sports.
Here’s a guy who just looks smart. Heck, even his name makes him sound more intelligent. But just in case he needed to prove it to you nosy bastards, Okafor was the Academic All-American of the Year back in 2004 at the University of Connecticut, and graduated with a degree in finance (3.8 GPA) in just three years. In 2008, as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats, Okafor launched the African Initiative to Save Lives, with the goal to save one million lives in Sub-Sahara Africa.