Whether we agree with it or not, younger sports fans idolize professional athletes, almost idolizing them as their heroes. But as we become adults, we realize that the real heroes are the ones who serve in the military, potentially risking their livelihoods – if not their lives – to protect our freedoms.
But then, there are those select few athletes who were “heroes” in both areas: both serving in the armed forces, and then going on to have distinguished careers as a professional athlete.
Here are 30 famous sports figures who also served in the United States Military.
Pat Tillman, U.S. Army
Perhaps the most well-known NFL player to serve in the U.S. Military, Patrick Tillman gave up his successful NFL playing career for military service. The former Cardinals safety enlisted in the Army Rangers with his brother Kevin in 2002.
On Tillman’s second tour of duty, in Afghanistan, he was killed in a friendly fire incident. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart, among several other military honors.
Roger Staubach, U.S. Navy
Prior to becoming one of the most iconic players both in the storied history of the Dallas Cowboys franchise and perhaps the NFL as a whole, Roger Staubach attended the U.S. Naval Academy where he won the 1963 Heisman Trophy, and after graduation he served in the U.S. Navy.
That service included a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. He served as a Supply Corps officer for the Navy at the Chu Lai base/port, which was a secondary air base providing relief for Da Nang Air Base.
Jackie Robinson, U.S. Army
From 1942 to 1944, Jackie Robinson served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. Unfortunately, his stint in the military was mostly known because of the issues he faced as a result of segregation. During boot camp at Fort Hood, Texas, Robinson was arrested and court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to give up his seat and move to the back of a segregated bus.
Robinson’s excellent reputation, combined with the efforts of friends, the NAACP and various black newspapers, shed public light on the injustice. This incident would also be the precursor to his efforts to “break the color barrier” in professional baseball.
Yogi Berra, U.S. Navy
Like so many Americans in the late 1940’s, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra was inspired to enlist in the United States military after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He had actually signed with the New York Yankees in 1943 before serving in the United States Navy as a gunner’s mate in the Normandy landings during World War II, where he earned a Purple Heart.
Berra actually manned a machine gun mounted on a ball turret in a landing craft support boat, enabling other soldiers to storm the beach in the hallowed invasion.
David Robinson, U.S. Navy
“The Admiral” wasn’t a nickname bestowed upon David Robinson just because it sounded cool. Rather, Robinson chose to go to the United States Naval Academy, where he would go down as the greatest player in the school’s history.
But, as part of enrolling at the school, he was potentially on the block for serving active duty. Instead, Robinson was commissioned in the Naval Reserve and was only required to serve an initial active-duty obligation of two years.