The Rise of Crossover Athletes

Over the past twenty years or so, there has been a rise in specialized athletes crossing over into other sports. Some of these athletes were very successful. Others, not so much.

In 1992, former NFL pro Herschel Walker competed in the winter olympics in the bobsled and finished seventh in the two-man. That same year, former 49er NFL pro John Brodie won a Senior PGA golf tour. Danny Ainge was a former college basketball star who batted.220 and scored two home runs while playing baseball for three years with the Toronto Blue Jays. Then he returned to basketball, playing with the Boston Celtics when they won two championships, before playing for Portland and Phoenix when both teams reached the NBA Finals.

Pro baseball star Jose Canseco attempted both celebrity boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) – failing at both. Another failed MMA crossover was NFL player Johnnie Martin.

Although some may consider Michael Jordan’s crossover attempt from the NBA into minor league baseball a failure, others concluded that his fleeting foray into baseball helped rejuvenate his commitment to basketball. After one year, he returned to the court and won three more championships.

In more recent years, motor sports have become the athletic endeavor of interest to traditional athletes. Numerous former BMX racers, snowboarders and skiers have taken to the sport of motocross, so much that Monster Energy sponsored a national motocross race just for those crossover athletes.

But so far the only specialized motocross racer to come from the world of traditional sports is former Canadian league football player Damon J. Smith. This crossover athlete turned to motocross later in life than most, but after only four years he earned his AMA pro license and in 2010 lined up to ride at nationally televised AMA Supercross events. Racing against some of the world’s best riders, he has however to score competitive results. But he has stated in interviews that his desire to go pro was less about winning a championship and more about exemplifying the kind of excursion he wrote about in his sports motivational book.

For crossover athletes, just like all other athletes, the risk of injury is ever present. Those crossing over into more physical sports, like boxing or MMA, there may be an increased risk of concussion. clearly, entering motocross brings an increased risk for motorcycle accidents. According to a group of California motorcycle injury lawyers, 23,800 motocross riders under the age of 19 were injured each year from 2001 to 2004. Although the data isn’t obtainable for older riders who may have crossed over from other sports, the statistic gives some indication to the level of risk involved.

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