Pro Athletes Return to the Classroom


(Photo by Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Max Lepore, Sports Writer


Going pro in a sport is what most young athletes dream of.  However, we have seen examples of athletes who played collegiate sports, went professional, had great success and then went back to college to finish their degrees. 

Most recently, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shocked NBA fans when he decided to finish his college degree nearly 13 years after leaving Davidson University. Curry completed spring coursework to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in sociology to graduate with the class of 2022. According to 95.7 the Game, Curry even wrote his thesis about “advancing gender equity through sports.” Curry has been an adamant supporter of women’s basketball for some time, so it was no surprise for him to pick such a topic for his thesis.

“Got to analyze some of the things I’ve done since I’ve left school and apply a sociological lens to it,” Curry said to 95.7 the Game. “And understand how a lot of people are promoting gender equity through their voice, their platform, their financial investments and their time.” 

Davidson University was so honored by Curry’s effort in returning to college and earning a degree, all while leading his team to another championship and his first Finals MVP, that they decided to retire his jersey and number at a ceremony to be Aug. 31, 2022. It will be the first jersey number to be retired by the Wildcats, and it’ll be done the same day that Curry is presented with his diploma.

The two time-MVP is not the only mainstream NBA athlete to return to college after going professional and having great success. Hall of Famers and all-time greats Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal did the same, studying geography and education, respectively.

Basketball pros aren’t the only ones going back to finish their degrees. In 2011, future Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu went back to USC to finish what he had started a decade earlier, despite having already made millions of dollars and winning the AP Defensive Player of the Year just a year before. Polamalu felt it was important to finish the degree he had worked on while playing at USC. The Pittsburgh Steelers safety earned his degree in history, and remarked on his website, “I’m officially a USC graduate!”

Polamalu knew that his journey and his graduation set an example for others.

“I decided to finish what I started and walked that stage today not only because it was very important to me personally, but because I want to emphasize the importance of education, and that nothing should supersede it,” Polamalu said to ESPN.

Even the University of Utah has had a prominent professional athlete go back and finish college. Former NFL and Utah defensive lineman Paul Soliai went back and graduated in 2020, completing his degree in sociology after making more than $44 million in his career, according to Deseret News.

“I want to hold my son’s hand when I walk up [in commencement], so he can see what I preach, ” Soliai said to Deseret News. “I came back and I finished school. I want him to feel how important it is to get that degree and just see that when his dad sets a goal and goes for it, he goes and gets it. He doesn’t wait.”

All in all, most athletes do not go back and finish school, especially if they have a prominent professional athletic career and no need to do so. However, athletes often retire before the age of 40, and earning a degree gives them a chance to contribute something great to this world even after their retirement.


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