8 Artist Athletes That Are a Slam Dunk for Your Class 


Athletes and the arts—did you know they can go together? When we think of sports icons, we probably do not immediately jump at including them in an art lesson. But athletes can be great role models for art students and an unexpected way to hook them. Athletes embody qualities that are important in the art room, such as hard work, dedication, and teamwork. But did you know many athletes are also artists? In this article, we will explore athlete-artists and how they are a slam dunk for any art lesson! For more connections on athlete artists, check out the organization Athletes for Art.

Keep reading to discover athlete-artists to incorporate into your next lesson!

Below are some athletes who dove into the world of creating. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a great starting point to share the connection between sports and art.

Note: Be sure to review all resources and preview all artists before determining if they are appropriate to share with your students.


1. LeBron James

LeBron James is a professional basketball player who is also a designer. He collaborated with artists on various projects and even designed his own shoe line with NIKE®. Use this to easily transition into shoe design. Students follow up with a marketing and business plan for their new shoe line!


2. Terry Crews

Terry Crews is a former NFL player and current actor. He started out using his artistic skills as a news station and courtroom illustrator in Michigan. He even earned a college art scholarship before entering the NFL. As he traveled to different NFL teams, he asked players if they wanted a portrait painted. His art style is photorealistic, with details in paint, colored pencil, and other media. Students can research Crews’ background to see all the disciplines he mastered. Using reference images, students draw or paint photorealistic portraits. This is a great opportunity to teach grid drawing!

terry crews with drawing

3. Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is a former Olympic sprinter who is also an artist. He works on a variety of art projects, including photography, and he also designed his own line of running shoes with Puma. After an Olympic victory in London, he took a photographer’s camera and started snapping images from his perspective. Encourage students to document their accomplishments too! Students document everyday victories to create a photo album of their “wins.”

usain bolt photographer

4. Serena Williams

Serena Williams is a professional tennis player. She is also a painter and has a jewelry line. She takes painting classes and works in the impressionistic style. She even took time out of her playing career to take painting classes while in France. Time students as they do quick drawings and paintings to capture their impression of a scene. Take them outside or have them observe another class where there is a lot of movement, such as drama or physical education.

serena williams painting

5. Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo is a professional soccer player who is also an artist and designer. He has collaborated on many projects and designed his own line of clothing and accessories called CR7. Ronaldo also has his own museum in Funchal, Madeira. Art students can follow the design trend and create a line of clothing or create blueprints for museums they want to see in their community.


6. Shaquille O’Neal

Shaquille O’Neal, or Shaq, is a former NBA player who is also an artist and curator. He participates in various art projects, including creating and curating art fairs. The FLAG Art Foundation in New York displayed his curated art exhibits, which used different themes. For example, the theme Size Does Matter showcased artwork of varying sizes and how artists tackle creating on a large or small scale. Students research the work it takes to curate a show and brainstorm a cohesive theme for an exhibition. Students create a virtual art exhibit exemplifying their chosen theme.

size does matter exhibition

7. Desmond Mason

Desmond Mason majored in studio art while playing basketball at Oklahoma State University. He went on to have a career in basketball and played for the NBA for 10 years. He is now a professional artist who paints in an abstract expressionist style. Mason has solo exhibitions and sells hundreds of paintings to people around the world. The Desmond Mason Art Exhibition sells his work to benefit a wide variety of charities. Students research how Abstract Expressionism originated and how it influenced Mason’s art. Students also consider ways to use their art to help those in their community.

desmond mason

8. Kennedy Yanko

Kennedy Yanko is a painter and sculptor who works with a variety of materials, including sheet metal. Yanko has a background in yoga and bodybuilding. She was also a personal trainer. Her body of work reflects her love of strength training with difficult-to-manipulate materials. Students manipulate everyday materials with their hands and bodies and transform them into works of art!

kennedy yanko sculpture

Athlete-artists are a great source of inspiration for students in the art room. Their unique perspectives can provide students with new approaches to artmaking. When we show athlete-artists to our students, it reveals to them that they can have more than one passion in life! It also helps students make connections between disciplines and focus on community outreach. Use the athletes above or local athletes to inspire students to work hard and pursue their aspirations.

If you want more homerun ways to incorporate sports into your art room, check out these two articles:

  1. 5 Projects to Engage Students Interested in Sports
  2. Bring Sports Into the Art Room With the Help of Uni-Watch’s Paul Lukas

What character traits do athletes and artists have that our students can emulate?

Add an athlete-artist we missed to this list! 

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.


Rebekah Hower

Rebekah Hower, a middle school art educator, is a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about creating an engaging and relevant environment for students to discover and experiment.

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