Strange Sports Star TV Cameos
Sports provide the ultimate unscripted viewing experience, mixing suspense with drama, glory, heartbreak and unpredictability. After ascending to stardom through TV notoriety, many star athletes find work on other programs.
At its worst, an athlete cameo stinks of a cheap cash grab and publicity ploy from both parties. When done right, it can delight sports fans while earning new supporters for both the athlete and show.
Athletes' guest appearances are best saved for comedies, where nobody needs to take their inclusion seriously. It also helps sports observers appreciate a player's humanity and personality.
Let's be honest: Most cameos are really weird. A sculpted specimen known for throwing, shooting, hitting or running with a ball suddenly joins a fictional, usually absurd reality without a uniform. Transformed into a realm of made-up characters, the athlete almost always remains the athlete instead of adapting a new persona.
Here's a look at some of the most notable guest spots from recent memory. With so much source material, this list stays within the last five years. But first, some iconic moments must receive recognition in the Hall of Fame chapter of sports TV cameos.
Cameo Hall of Hame
Multiple MLB Stars (The Simpsons)
The Simpsons recently aired its 600th episode, but "Homer at the Bat" still stands the test of time as this author's favorite.
Hungry for a softball victory, Mr. Burns recruits a team of MLB stars to join his squad. A string of crazy misfortunes keeps every player from participating except Darryl Strawberry. He hits nine home runs, but Burns still replaces him in the final inning for a right-handed batter.
"It's called playing the percentage," he said in the 1992 episode, before such tactics became universally commonplace. "It's what smart managers do to win ballgames."
Anyone who sees Don Mattingly, currently managing the Miami Marlins, and thinks anything other than, "I thought I told you to trim those sideburns," is a liar.
Keith Hernandez (Seinfeld)
"Nice game, pretty boy." An even better acting display from Keith Hernandez, the former New York Mets first baseman and current color commentator for SNY.
During the two-part Seinfeld episode, Hernandez's presence is more than just a one-off for name recognition. He interacts with every major character in multiple storylines. His budding relationship with Elaine Benes goes awry because of his smoking, and he angers Jerry Seinfeld when asking for help moving furniture too early in the friendship.
Most will remember his Seinfield days because of the "magic loogie." For years, Kramer and Newman have detested Hernandez for spitting on them, which Seinfeld believes is impossible based on their multiple tellings of the encounter.
His deduction proves correct when Hernandez reveals reliever Roger McDowell as the culprit. But at least he makes two new allies willing to help him move.
Just About Every Athlete (Entourage)
Entourage was a show about rich celebrities hanging out in Hollywood. So the HBO hit naturally welcomed a wide allotment of athletes on a regular basis.
Just About Every NFL Player (The League)
The League eventually lost its grip on reality, turning a show following a normal group of fantasy football fiends into a show following a normal group of fantasy football fiends who somehow regularly interact with NFL stars.
The FX show got carried away once its popularity enticed everyone to appear. If one visit stands out, it's Marshawn Lynch mocking the Seattle Seahawks' decision to throw the football on the 1-yard line during Super Bowl XLIX.
Scottie Pippen (The Cleveland Show)
The Cleveland Show actually got Scottie Pippen to do this (warning: NSFW). All the more power to the unmemorable Family Guy spinoff.
Fox's MLB Studio Booth (Pitch)
This one is very recent, but Fox's new drama Pitch promotes the network's talent heavily in a fictional show given MLB licensing.
During the fourth episode, veteran catcher Mike Lawson joins the TV station's booth to audition for a post-baseball broadcasting career. He flummoxes Chris Myers, C.J. Nitkowski and Dontrelle Willis by offering intelligent analysis using advanced stats.
For some some reason, Lawson is in the wrong for doing his job better than they can in real or fictional life.
Odell Beckham Jr. on 'Code Black'
This list consists almost exclusively on comedies for a reason. What place would an athlete have in a drama?
It'd be weird if Aaron Rodgers showed up in Westeros to fight beside Jon Snow. Although Elliot Alderson spent chunks of the second season watching pickup basketball, he's not going to enlist Kawhi Leonard's help to take down E Corp. (Actually, Kawhi Leonard on Mr. Robot would be amazing. Make the call, Sam Esmail.)
An untrained athlete doesn't have the acting chops to pull off a serious role, and showing up as himself or herself makes less sense in a serious world. So yes, it was super-weird for Odell Beckham Jr. to randomly pop up on Code Black in a bowtie and the colorful jacket he got "from Michael Jackson's closet."
What's the fiery New York Giants wide receiver doing on a CBS medical drama? No, he did not film a love scene with a kicking net. He played himself, visiting an old coach (played by Beau Bridges) too stubborn to undergo a necessary surgery.
Still, if he can channel the emotion he has shown on the field, Beckham could become a well-versed thespian after his football career.
Wade Boggs on 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
Eleven seasons into It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, "The Gang Beats Boggs" might be their best episode.
In a clear parable of MLB's tainted home run record chase in 1998, the gang goes after another major milestone. Urban legend says Hall of Famer Wade Boggs—“may he rest in peace," as Charlie Kelly says while mistakenly believing Boggs is dead throughout the episode—once drank as many as 70 beers on a flight.
Dennis and Frank Reynolds get distracted by a side bet, leaving "Commissioner Bud Selig" Mac to oversee a disputed showdown between Dee Reynolds and Kelly, who implies that Boggs would also enjoy some rum and cokes with his chicken.
The half-hour works perfectly just by invoking Boggs' mysterious past, but the former third baseman surprisingly shows up. Kelly, who believes he's talking to the ghost of Wade Boggs, hallucinates a conversation with the 12-time All-Star.
According to Charlie Day, they actually sold him short at 70. As Day told Jimmy Fallon (video above), Boggs pulled him aside during shooting and claimed the actual number was 107.
It's especially fitting that a recent submission for best baseball-themed TV episode went to the closing credits playing "Talkin' Baseball," the same song spoofed at the end of "Homer at the Bat." Boggs, who appeared in that classic as well, had a few beers in him when Barney Gumble punched him out at Moe's Tavern.
Bill Buckner on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
Years after welcoming Hernandez into his universe, Larry David decided to redeem the man whose costly error led the 1986 Mets to glory.
New York Yankees fan Larry David graciously embraced Boston Red Sox's Bill Buckner, a career .289 hitter remembered for a ball rolling through his legs during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Twenty-five years later, he played the hero on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
After making an identical fielding blunder during a softball game, David relates to Buckner's fallibility. While getting Mookie Wilson's autograph—he hit the grounder that fell between Buckner's leg—the comedian befriends the first baseman.
At first, Buckner once again looked like the butt of the joke. When David playfully tosses him the autographed baseball, it goes through his hands and over the balcony window. Loud, unprintable words are exchanged over who should get charged with the error.
Whether or not Buckner was at fault, he saved the day when catching a baby thrown out of a burning building. It won't give Boston the 1986 championship, but it was a touching moment of redemption for a man who merely made one untimely mistake.
Blake Griffin on 'Broad City'
When it comes to comedy, Blake Griffin has a huge leg up on other athletes. The Los Angeles Clippers star has performed standup comedy at the Laugh Factory and interned at Funny or Die during the NBA lockout.
No other NBA player would have shined as brightly in his Broad City appearance. For that matter, none would have accepted a role mostly consisting of nudity (albeit of the cable TV variety) and convoluted sex scenes.
"He's really funny," co-creator Ilana Glazer said on The Late Late Show with James Corden. "He just happens to be a 6'10", great, amazing basketball player."
While eating pizza in bed during a quieter moment with Glazer, Griffin calls the WNBA "the best version of basketball there is" after admitting to stealing moves from them "all the time." It's partially meant as a joke coming from an NBA All-Star who literally jumped over a car. Yet it's also delivered earnestly enough that nobody will interpret the lines as sarcastic mockery.
Griffin should get plenty more opportunities to display his comedic chops. After proving he's up for anything, countless shows will probably chase him down with dreams of a guest spot.
Eli Manning on 'Saturday Night Live'
Eli Manning is often mocked for his odd throws and odder facial expressions. When not giving the media bland, cookie-cutter responses, the New York Giants quarterback is subtly funny with a dry wit.
Unlike his big brother, Peyton, he doesn't wield the larger-than-life personality lending itself to stardom off the gridiron. At least that's what one would have thought before he crushed his Saturday Night Live hosting duties in 2012.
Playing off Peyton's famous United Way sketch, Eli countered with an equally classic Little Brothers skit where he helps younger siblings gain vengeance on their older bullies. It's one thing to nail pre-taped segments, but he also handled himself live as a man on trial whose innocence is proved through increasingly humiliating text messages.
"I'd rather just confess to the murder," he says once his lawyer (Jason Sudeikis) professes that his internet history will prove he was home that night.
Manning Face aside—a term which was given new meaning thanks to his winks—Eli has always exuded an even-keel temperament on and off the field. That came in handy while delivering outlandish material which would have caused another guest host of his inexperience to break. He didn't crack a smile or break a sweat while repeatedly pronouncing "kewl" to the court.
Multiple Athletes on 'Parks and Recreation'
Before gifting the world with Parks and Recreation, Michael Schur mercilessly mocked sports analysts on the masterful blog Fire Joe Morgan under the Ken Tremendous pseudonym.
The showrunner displayed his love of sabermetrics with the "Babip, Petcoa, Vorp and Eckstein" law firm, named after advanced baseball stats and David Eckstein, an undersized shortstop revered far more for his grit than production.
Schur fed his sports fandom with a wide assortment of cameos on his brilliant NBC sitcom. Let's run down the best ones:
- Chris Bosh: In a truly random cameo, Miami Heat big man Chris Bosh appeared as an Eagleton high school player dominating Pawnee. "And I'm better at french horn too, Eric," he declared after dunking on a teenager to the chagrin of Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt.
- John Cena: April Ludgate must be more of an AJ Styles gal. She created a magical moment for wrestling fans weary of John Cena by dunking the WWE star in a water tank. In Cena's defense, it's highly unlikely Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect stole Johnny Karate's guitar.
- Andrew Luck/Reggie Wayne: Seasons after getting married in Reggie Wayne's jersey, Andy Dwyer caught a touchdown pass from Andrew Luck inside Lucas Oil Stadium. But seriously, Jerry/Larry/Terry/Gary, settle down.
- Roy Hibbert: A frequent guest, former Indiana Pacer Roy Hibbert cultivated a relationship with Entertainment 720's Tom Haverford and Jean-Ralphio Saperstein. Perhaps the show ended because everyone in Pawnee was too sad to see him leave the Indiana Pacers.
- Detlef Schrempf: Another former Pacer tried to provide Entertainment 720 co-founders with savvy business advice, but they were only paying him to play basketball in a needlessly lavish office.
Metta World Peace on 'Key & Peele'
Is Metta World News real yet? How is Metta World News not real yet?
During five wonderful seasons, Key and Peele relied mostly on its namesake creators, Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Yet they struck gold when handing the keys—pun probably intended—to Metta World Peace.
The unorthodox NBA veteran harnessed his wild energy with fake news segments where he'd contemplate a bizarre hypothetical scenario. According to Vulture's Denise Martin, Key was pleasantly surprised at World Peace's appreciation of sketch comedy.
"We got him on the phone about doing this piece, and he said, ‘I’ll do anything. I just really enjoy sketch comedy,’” Key said. “I just remember looking at Jordan and saying, ‘He said 'sketch!' He didn’t say ‘skit!’”
While Key and Peele stopped their show to pursue other endeavors, Comedy Central should consider giving the man formerly known as Ron Artest his own platform.
Hunter Pence (Fuller House)
San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence took a stroll down spinoff lane, appearing on Netflix's Fuller House as Stephanie Tanner's boyfriend. In what seems like the punchline from one of many trolling signs at his expense, he gleefully admits to eating pizza with a fork.
The first scene feels forced, probably as a result of the creators' realization that viewers seeking '90s nostalgia may not know Pence. Luckily, they spit out his .284 career batting average but withhold his OPS+ or WAR. Get these kids a Bill James Handbook.
Pence is mired in a slump, something every hitter experiences over a 162-game season. Instead of trusting the law of averages, Tanner and her family suspect she's the cause of his poor hitting. He strikes out twice at the game they attend at AT&T Park, but that will happen against Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
This episode had an opportunity to make a statement against sexist, foolish fans who blame an athlete's struggles on his girlfriend. Last year, ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky actually speculated relationship problems with actress Olivia Munn were at fault for Aaron Rodgers' uncharacteristically poor production (a good girlfriend would call better plays from the stands!).
But this is a cheesy sitcom, so Tanner instead breaks up with Pence to prove her Giants fandom. A heartbroken Pence, presumably no longer facing Kershaw, hits a walk-off home run, because that's totally how sports work.
Portland Trail Blazers on 'Portlandia'
Other than a Portland setting, the Trail Blazers and Portlandia don't share much in common. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen's oddball sketch show doesn't quiet scream "machismo."
They played off the dichotomy in a bit where they both stumbled into the NBA's team locker room. They couldn't figure out why the team was so sad about a successful night for the dancers.
"This whole game thing," Armisen said in a befuddled tone, "I don't understand when this became a competition."
Brownstein and Armisen tried their best to lift the club's spirits with a feminist message. Hearing that "Women won" wasn't the optimal motivation speech for a locker room of men who just lost. Damian Lillard had no interest in changing his name to Damian Woman.
Despite their lack of basketball knowledge, the duo fueled the Blazers to a future victory by proposing an all-dunk strategy. Yet the encounter, filmed in 2014, was not enough to keep LaMarcus Aldridge in town.
J.J. Watt on 'New Girl'
If New Girl was going to recruit an imposing NFL pass-rusher, Julius Peppers would have made a logical choice. Nick Miller—a Chicago Bears fan played by Chicago native Jake Johnson—frequently uses Julius Pepperwood as an alias and character name (this is greatly appreciated from someone who had several passes deflected by the so-called Julius Peppertree in college).
Instead, they pulled Houston Texans star J.J. Watt away from Papa John so he can sing impromptu diddies about stadium hot dogs with Jess Day and Coach.
All three characters found themselves at the wake of a man they barely knew. After firing the deceased sports agent with a text, Watt—who previously played more of a straight-laced role on The League—attended with designs of finding his phone.
A burly defensive lineman isn't the prototypical candidate for awkward sitcom high jinks alongside the dainty Zooey Deschanel, but he handled himself well enough, considering the scene called for a cringeworthy melody.