Athletes are usually celebrated for their physical prowess, which leads to achievements and success on the court, field, or track. However, occasionally, prominent athletes step away from their chosen sport and onto the stage, trading their famous uniforms for musical instruments. Such transitions are not always successful, but they are interesting and give fans a glimpse of the hidden talents they did not know their heroes possessed.
Music and sports are intrinsically linked. Every English Premier League stadium blasts songs and the club’s anthems before a game to help build an electric atmosphere. NBA and NFL teams are well-known for playing inspiring tunes in their locker rooms to motivate their players, while music is frequently played throughout ice hockey games in the NHL.
Every individual and team you see on sports betting websites incorporate music into their routines, whether to pump themselves up before a game or fight, unwind after an arduous workout, or enjoy some downtime while travelling to and from venues. However, some athletes take their love and passion further and attempt to embark on a music career, releasing singles or albums.
Shaquille O’Neal, often known as Shaq, is the perfect example of an elite-level sportsman who successfully transitioned to music. O’Neal is a legend in NBA circles, having become an NBA champion four times during his 19-year career. The 7ft 1in 325 lb mountain of a man is widely regarded as one of the best basketball players and centers of all time.
People who have followed O’Neal’s career know he is an astute businessman with a list of business ventures as long as his arm; no wonder he has over $400 million net worth. It is not only business and investing that O’Neal enjoys but also producing music.
In 1993, O’Neal released “Shaq Diesel,” his first rap album, which went Platinum; it was that popular. The former NBA star has so far released five studio albums and one compilation album, in addition to featuring alongside several other artists’ work.
It is not only rapping that ignites the fire in O’Neal’s belly. If you are a fan of electronic dance music, look out for DJ Diesel because that is O’Neal’s DJ name. He performed at the world-famous Electic Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2021 and released his first EDM album, Gorilla Warfare, in August 2023.
The late Kobe Bryant broke dozens of NBA records and is considered one of the best basketball players to have ever stepped foot on a court. However, during his high school year, Bryant was a member of a rap group called CHEIZAW, which Sony Entertainment signed. Sony’s management team wanted to eliminate the group and have Bryant record alone, cashing in on his youth and NBA fame.
Bryant appeared on Shaquille O’Neal’s fourth album, “Respect,” in 1998, but his name did not feature in the credits. In January 2000, Bryant released his first single, “K.O.B.E.,” with Tyra Banks singing the hook. Sony forced Bryant into a more radio-friendly sound far removed from his underground hip-hop roots. The song was not well-received despite Bryant’s fame, and Sony abandoned plans for an album.
Although disappointed, Bryant continued producing music and appearing on tracks and in videos, but he died in a helicopter crash in 2020, so we will never know if Bryant would have become a musical star.
Deion Sanders was an American Football player well-known for his flamboyant fashion sense and for high-stepping into the endzone, followed by extravagant touchdown dance celebrations. Often seen wearing custom-made showy suits and flashy jewelry, Sanders’ friends named him “Prime Time,” Sanders capitalized on his image by embarking on a musical career while still active in the NFL.
Sanders released a rap album entitled “Prime Time” on Boxing Day 1994 on MC Hammer’s Bust It Records label. The album peaked at 70 on the US Hip-Hop chart and 14 on the US Heatseekers chart. Although not a commercial success, Sanders continued collaborating with MC Hammer, featuring in several music videos and songs.
Challenges and Criticisms Musical Athletes Face
Although top-tier athletes can use their fame and status to promote their musical careers, they face challenges, criticism, and preconceptions that hinder them. For example, critics often claim athletes are venturing into music as a hobby or vanity project rather than having a genuine interest and love of music. This leads to critics and other music lovers having difficulty taking sportspeople seriously as musicians.
Sports fans are often overly loyal to their teams and favorite athletes, so they will avoid buying and listening to music produced by one of their rivals. Through no fault of their own, athletes can alienate themselves from entire states, thus massively reducing their reach and potential success.
Furthermore, it is massively challenging to juggle a career as a professional sportsperson with writing and producing music. Both careers are incredibly demanding due to the time required to reach the top of those professions. Those time restrictions are often why athletes do not embark on musical careers until they retire from the games that made them stars.
The crossover between music and sports is fascinating. You can hear a track, and it instantly transports you to the arena or stadium of your favorite team. Athletes have used music to prepare for games and events since the year dot and will continue doing so forever and a day. Some athletes are so passionate about music that they make it their mission to combine their sporting prowess with creating tracks for their adoring fans.
Not every musical athlete enjoys success when they release content into the public domain; success on the field does not always translate to hits on the radio waves. Regardless, the next time a sportsperson performs on stage or releases a single or album, try not to be too judgemental. Instead, celebrate the athlete for having the courage to express themselves and for doing something they love. You never know; they may inspire you to do something similar.