Greatest Athletes Who Served in the US Military

Source: FPG / Getty Images

Being a professional athlete seems like a dream job to many. The fame, praise, and huge paycheck would be enticing to anyone. But throughout the history of American pro sports, some players have left that life behind in favor of another calling — the military.

Over the last century, many star players felt compelled to serve their country, even if it meant putting themselves in harm’s way and leaving their families behind for a job that pays nowhere near the amount they made as pro athletes. These are the highest paying military jobs.

Many athletes, like Ty Cobb and Yogi Berra, served during the large-scale, global conflicts of World Wars I & II. Several others have made the same sacrifice more recently. David Robinson was the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft, but he did not play pro ball until 1989 because of his commitment to the Navy. Former Arizona Cardinal Pat Tillman famously turned down a contract extension to enlist in the wake of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks.

In honor of Veterans Day, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed historical articles from media and military sources, including the Department of Defense, to compile a list of the greatest athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Like the military, sports requires determination, team work, focus, and preparation. Many great coaches, like John Wooden and Gregg Popovich, served in the military, which likely prepared them for the high-pressure leadership roles they would take on in athletics. These are the greatest coaches of all time.

It should be noted that this is not a comprehensive list. Many other players left behind their athletic careers to serve but did not receive the same publicity as these superstar players. Athletes are listed in alphabetical order by first name. Each of the military service’s five branches — Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard — are represented.