TOP 10 Sportsmen You Never Knew Had a PhD

We worship our sports heroes for what they do on the field of play, but not many of us probably stop to consider that, as well as being able to catch a few ace balls and win the Super Bowl, there are some top athletes out there who also dedicate themselves to studying and self-improvement. Besides, you might check some top musicians with a doctorate degree at our website today.

There is a prevailing perception that sportsmen are not the brightest of the bunch, with the general thought being that if a guy wasn’t a top sportsman, he’d probably be a movie star or a rapper. But we’re going to challenge that perception by taking a look at 10 sportsmen who have completed a doctorate.

№1 Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal is well-known for his feats in the basketball court. Nicknamed ‘Shaq’, he was a broad, imposing player who played for six teams, and won four NBA championships – three of them with the L.A Lakers. He ended his career with the Boston Celtics in 2011.

‘Shaq’ completed his doctorate degree in education in 2012. O’Neal was actually a student at the Louisiana State University before entering the NBA, where he was studying for a degree but left early. He studied online for an MBA in 2005, before going onto receive his doctorate. He now wants to attend law school.

№2 Vitali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko is a former boxer, who won the WBC and WBO heavyweight championships before retiring. He holds an 87.23% knockout rate, and also proudly holds the second best knockout-to-fight ratio in the history of heavyweight boxing. Even better, he was never knocked down in any fight.

Klitschko is a boxer where there is more than meets the eye. As you might expect, his PhD is in Sports Science, which he completed at Kiev University. But his career has since taken a different path, as he is now actively involved in Ukrainian politics. Indeed, he is the current Mayor of Kiev and is nicknamed Dr. Ironfist.

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№3 Frank Ryan

Frank Ryan

Frank Ryan had a long and illustrious career in the NFL, playing 3 different clubs throughout 11 seasons. Los Angeles Rams, the Cleveland Browns and the Washington Redskins were the clubs he called home for a time before going onto work for the government as athletic director.

Ryan’s first love wasn’t football, and it also wasn’t his last. He completed a doctorate in Mathematics at Rice University whilst enrolled in the NFL. His family were perhaps a little upset that he actually thrust himself into football full-time – having all gone to Yale (he was the first family member to break this pattern) they probably expected him to put education first. He would later become math lecturer at Yale.

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№4 Socrates


Brazilian footballer Socrates was one of the world’s most gifted players, competing in two World Cups from his position of attacking midfield. He was known for his ability to pick a pass, his technique and was one of the coolest, most inventive players on the pitch.

Like his famous Greek namesake, Socrates was also a very clever chap. He earned a doctorate in medicine whilst still playing football, and went onto complete a PhD program  in philosophy. Footballers probably don’t come much smarter than Socrates, and he even entered politics, forming the Corinthians Democracy movement in protest at the military government.

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№5 Mikhail Youzhny

Mikhail Youzhny

Mikhail Youzhny is a Russian tennis player known for his high-octane game and volatile nature on the field. Currently ranked No. 48 in the world, Youzhny reached the semi finals at the US open in both 2006 and 210, and once stunned the tennis world by smashing his racket to shreds at the French Open.

Despite his temper, Youzhny completed his PhD in philosophy in 2010, with a thesis titled ‘Professional Tennis Players on the Court.’ Youzhny says that he chose to do the doctorate in his spare time, admitting it was a lot of work but, because it was centred on how tennis players matched up against one another, he was able to do his research whilst competing in tournaments.

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№6 Katherine Grainger

Katherine Grainger

Olympian Katherine Grainger is a British rower who holds three Olympic silver medals to her name, all of which she won in the 2012 London Olympic Games. As well as her medals, Grainger is also a six-time World Champion rows for Edinburgh’s St Andrew Boat Club in prestigious events. She is in fact Britain’s most decorated Olympian who isn’t male.

As well as chasing gold medals, Grainger is also active in her pursuit of education. Although no gold medals are on offer at King’s College London, this is where Grainger completed her doctorate in Law. She has since been made a fellow at the University, as well as Chancellor at Oxford Brookes University.

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№7 Ken Dryden

Ken Dryden

Ken Dryden is a Canadian former NHL goaltender, who played out most of his career at Montreal Canadiens and Boston in the NHL. With the Canadiens, Dryden won 5 Stanley Cups throughout the seventies. On a personal level, he captured the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1971 in recognition of him being the playoffs’ most valuable player.

NHL players probably don’t come a whole lot smarter than Dryden. Having earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history at Cornell University – deferring his NHL career in the meantime – he has eventually gone on to complete a number of doctorates, including ones at the University of British Columbia and University of Ottawa. He has authored several books and teaches a Canadian Studies course.

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№8 Morris Mott

Morris Mott

Another former star of the NHL, Morris Mott played close to 200 games throughout his career, with his greatest moments coming with the Winnipeg Jets. He also played for the Canadian national team, winning the Bronze medal at the 1968 Olympic games.

Like Dryden, Mott is also dedicated to his studies, knowing there is more to life than ice hockey. During his time at Winnipeg, he combined the sport with his education, earning a PhD in history at Kingston’s Queen’s University. He took a year out of hockey in 1976 to finish his studies, before being signed up by the Winnipeg Jets.

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№9 Tom House

Tom House

Tom House is a former left-handed relief pitcher whose career reached its peak with the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps best remembered for catching Hank Aaron’s 715th homerIN 1974, House’s reputation was left somewhat damaged by his admittance of using steroids in the 1970s.

Aside from his successful baseball career, House also completed a PhD in psychology at U.S International University. His degree was focused on sports psychology and was known early on in his career for his somewhat unorthodox approach to pitching. Owing to the psychological battle between pitcher and hitter, House’s interest in psychology no doubt gave him an advantage.

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№10 Billy Arnold

Billy Arnold

Billy Arnold was a former Indy500 racing driver who won the 1930 Indianapolis 500. This victory is particularly infamous because Arnold led all but two laps of the race – the most ever. He eventually won the race by over 7 minutes.

Arnold’s racing career was interrupted by the second world war, but before that he had completed a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Proving that there is much more to racing drivers than just a love of speed, Arnold went on to earn a PhD from the Michigan Institute of Technology.

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