It is true that you cannot trust everything, indeed most things, that you read on the web, and thus should approach all supposedly factual statements with skepticism and ready access to Google. That does not excuse websites that recklessly and irresponsibly spread misinformation however, or that through their own laziness and ignorance spread ignorance among others.
A slick sports website called Rant Sports provided a particularly galling example this week, when it presumed to post a list it called “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time.” All the sports sites draw traffic with this kind of trivia-mongering, but even trivia-mongering demands a modicum of research, care, and fact. This may be an opinion piece, but it isn’t the opinions that are problematical. Renae Juska, the fraud who created the list, obviously engaged in no research at all, so her”Top 25″ really was “First 25 I was able to jot down on a piece of paper.” As I will now demonstrate, Juska, on a site dedicated to sports, made an assertion that is demonstrably and objectively false, and under color of authority, misleading readers but just as wrongly, unfairly neglecting many athletes who would have to be ranked on any such list that was given the amount of research expected of a seventh-grader’s term paper.
Here are some examples of how misleading and poorly researched the list is:
- To begin with, all but one of the “top athletes” are male. Wrong. One of the greatest athletes-turned actresses died just last month, the great Esther Williams, a record-setting competitive swimmer who was unable to compete in the Olympics because of World War II. She was an athlete IN her movies, the most famous of which were aquacade spectaculars featuring Williams swimming, diving, doing what was later called synchronized swimming (she is credited with helping to create the sport), all while smiling and looking drop-dead gorgeous in a one-piece bathing suit. Does Williams qualify as a “Top Actor” over Number 16 on Juska’s idiotic list, the immortal Stacy Keibler, the only woman he deems worthy? Here are her credentials, as Juska cites them: “She began acting in 1998 and was a professional wrestler from 1999-2006. Her most well-known appearances have been in WWE Judgement Day, Summerslam and WrestleMania XX. She has also had guest appearances on How I Met Your Mother, Mayne Street and Samurai Girl.” Esther’s credits are here, and you can see her in action here:
To say there is no contest is not an opinion, it is fact. Of course, Juska probably never heard of Esther Williams, which means that she has no business making this list at all.
Believe it or not, it gets worse…
- The arbitrariness of the list is mind-boggling. At #20 is Kareem Abdul Jabaar, once known as Lew Alcindor. Except for some cameos on TV shows, his primary “acting” gig was playing himself in “Airplane.” Not included on the list was Alcindors’ fellow all-American and UCLA basketball teammate, Michael Warren, both members of the 30-0 1967 and 29-1 1968 Bruin teams that won two NCAA championship titles under legendary coach John Wooden. Warren was a great athlete, and is a real actor. Here is a sample of his credentials, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“Warren would go on to work as an actor in television. In addition to his starring role on Hill Street Blues, he had an earlier role on The White Shadow, and a co-starring role on the CBS television series City of Angels, and a recurring role on the Showtime television series Soul Food.Guest Star as Jason on Marcus Welby, M.D. Before Hill Street Blues, in 1974, he played the role of park ranger P. J. Lewis on the NBC adventure series Sierra, and in 1979, he starred as police officer Willie Miller on the CBS crime drama Paris, which was the first effort by Hill Street Blues executive producer Steven Bochco. He guest starred in “In the House” opposite LL Cool J as Debbie Allen’s ex-husband. He also guest starred on the Fox sitcom Living Single as Khadijah’s father, and later portrayed Joan’s father on the UPN/CW sitcom Girlfriends. Warren played Darrin Dewitt Henson’s boss on the Showtime show, Soul Food, in which he played hustler-turned-entreprenuer, Baron Marks. Warren had a recurring role on the ABC Family series, Lincoln Heights, as Spencer Sutton, Eddie’s father. Warren appeared as Virgil Tibbs’ former longtime police partner, Matthew Pogue on the episode of In the Heat of the Night “The Hammer and the Glove” in 1988. In 1996, he was on the Early Edition episode Hoops. In 2002 he appeared in “Normal Again”, an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as a psychiatrist trying to convince Buffy Summers she is delusional.”
Yet Warren’s fellow “Hill Street Blues” cast member, Ed Marinaro, a less talented and less successful actor who starred in Ivy League (read: low level) college football and was an undistinguished NFL player for a while, was listed all the way up the list on #8! Why? Because the list was pulled out of the air by someone ignorant of both sports and acting.
- Renae Juska, in fact, doesn’t even know what an athlete is. Among the most talented athletes in the world are professional ballet dancers, and nobody who has watched them would deny that they are elite athletic specimens—they train like athletes, look like athletes, and can do things even most athletes can’t do. So where on the list is Alexander Gudunov, a star of the Moscow who had major roles in both “Witness” and “Die Hard,” where he played the toughest and most deadly of Alan Rickman’s henchmen? Nowhere—but weighing in at #6 is actor Jason Lee, who “used to be a professional skateboarder.” Also qualifying as athletes are acrobats….like Burt Lancaster, one of the greatest of all Hollywood stars. His athleticism was essential to many of his early roles, some of which employed his circus partner, Nick Cravat. But Lancaster doesn’t make the “Top 25.” Carl Weathers, a.k.a Apollo Creed is, thanks to some action movies and a mediocre professional football career…at #3!
- “All-Time” is an outright lie, for obviously Juska hasn’t seen any movie made before 1970. She’s obsessed with wrestling, and includes pro wrestlers Andre the Giant (one acting role!), Dwayne Johnson, Keibler and that celebrated thespian Hulk Hogan on his list but never discovered that all-time Hollywood great Kirk Douglas was star wrestler in college and also wrestled professionally, in a circus, before embarking on another of film’s most stellar careers. The total acting output of all four of Juska’s wrestling actors wouldn’t be fit to scrape off of Kirk’s shoe, but he doesn’t make the list, while they do.
- Juska’s ignorant of both fields her list involves, sports and acting. To my amazement, Juska did include Chuck Connors, “The Rifleman,” at #12. Connors was a first baseman for the Dodgers, and would belong on any legitimate list of top 25, though he would be embarrassed to be included on this one. But another major league player who was a better baseball player than Connors, though arguably not quite as stellar an actor, wasn’t included: John Beradino. Beradino was a utility infielder for the 1948 World Series winning Cleveland Indians (I have his Strat-O-Matic card!) and went on to star as Dr. Steve Miller on the incredibly successful soap “General Hospital” for 36 years! Gee, Renae, do you think Beradino was more “top” than, say, third-string catcher Bob Uecker, #7, who dabbled in acting and whose most memorable of his few movie appearances was playing a baseball radio play-by-play annnouncer in Major League…while he was employed by the Milwakee Brewers as a baseball radio play-by-play announcer? That was some acting there Bob…Renae was completely convinced.
- Juska likes football almost as much as she likes wrestling; the woman just doesn’t know how to check on football careers. Mark Harmon, star of “NCIS” and many other TV series, makes the list at #5 because he briefly played football at UCLA. Now, ace character actor Ed O’Neill of “Modern Family” and, of course, “Ed Bundy” fame, was a real college football star, a defensive lineman for Youngstown State in the 1960’s good enough to be signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969. O’Neill has had a comparable acting career to Harmon, was a much better athlete, but still didn’t make the list.
There is another actor who had college football career that was more distinguished than Harmon’s but also cut short, at USC, which he attended on an athletic scholarship. His name at the time: Marion Morrison, but you know him as John Wayne, the most popular movie star of all time, an American icon, and the star of more bona fide classic films than any actor alive or dead. Mark Harmon, a fair and intelligent man, would not want his career to be compared to the Duke’s in any way. Wayne’s athleticism is also in evidence in his movies (Harmon’s is not) —on a real list, he’d have a good case for being #1. Juska apparently never heard of him.
- Juska also likes bodybuilders, as long as he’s heard of them. He places Lou Ferrigno, whose primary acting exploits consisted of wearing a fright wig, being painted green and grimacing, as #18. Nowhere to be found is the original bodybuilding cross-over, Steve Reeves, who caused a sensation in a series of Hercules movies, and also used his stardom to help launch the fitness craze. Reeves actually could deliver lines, made more and more successful films than The Hulk ever did, and won the same number of bodybuilding titles as Lou, without steroids. If Ferrigno belongs on the list, so does Steve Reeves. There is, however, a former amateur bodybuilder who competed in the sport before moving on to bigger things in films. Recognize him?
Why, it’s 007 himself, the great Sean Connery!
Juska has another bodybuilder ranked at #1, in fact: The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s one of her few intelligent and defensible choices, and Arnold would rank high on a legitimate Top 25, as both an acting superstar and a stand-out in his sport. The fact that I would choose another athlete/actor over Arnold for the top spot isn’t important; what is important is that this iconic Hollywood star who arose from the world of sports isn’t on the list at all, and that’s unforgivable, the smoking gun proving that there was no due-diligence applied to a list claiming to be authoritative, and that its author was lazy and irresponsible.
That athlete was the great Johnny Weismuller.
He was probably a greater athlete than anyone on Juska’s list. A competitive amateur swimmer, Weissmuller broke the world record on the 100-meters freestyle in 1922. As a member of the U.S. swimming team at the 1924 Summer Olympics, he won the gold in that event, as well as the 400-meters freestyle and the 4 x 200 meters relay. He also won a bronze medal as a member of the US water polo team. He won two more swimming gold medals at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, making a total of five Olympic gold medals and one bronze. He won fifty-two United States National Championships, and set sixty-seven world records. In 1950, he was selected by the Associated Press as the greatest swimmer of the first half of the 20th Century.
Thus a national celebrity, he was signed to become the talkies’ first Tarzan, and he was both the first and the most famous. His Tarzan yell is still imitated and used today. After that movie series played out, Weismuller created the character of “Jungle Jim” on both the large and the small screen. Like Arnold, he was an action star. Like Arnold, he will forever be identified with one role. If Arnold is #1, Johnny is a close second.
But you would have to know something about the history of film and the Olympics to know that. Or take the time to do something called “research.”
Also omitted from the list is the lesser-Weismuller, Buster Crabbe, who should also rank high—certainly higher than such dumb choices as #17, Brian Bosworth, #22, Terry Bradshaw, and #25, reality show personality Bruce Jenner, but probably in the top 5. He was an All-American swimmer who also competed in two Olympic Games, winning the bronze medal for the 1,500 meters freestyle in 1928, and the gold medal for the 400 meters freestyle in 1932. Moving to Hollywood. he took over the Tarzan job from Johnny, then was in more than 100 films. He is famous in our pop culture history for creating the roles of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in film serials.
The lesson for websites like Rant Sports and would-be writers like Juska is this: you can post any silly opinion you want, but it is unethical to make claims for it that are untrue and misleading. “Top 25 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time” was not by any stretch of the imagination what it claimed to be, because the author didn’t bother to investigate what the pool of candidates were. (If she had looked in the pool, she surely would have found Williams, Weismuller and Crabbe!) This list was really nothing more than “Renae Juska’s Top 25 Actors He Has Heard Of Who Were Athletes in Sports She Follows.”
But who would want to read that?
[Note: in the original version of this post Juska was erroneously identified as male.]