Athletes Who Don't Look Anything Like They Used To

We revere our athletic heroes. Athletes are like superheroes come to life. Built like gods, these perfect specimens can do the impossible — and make it look easy. With all their home runs and slam dunks, it becomes all too easy to forget that they're just people ... and like the rest of us mere mortals, appearances can change over time.

The extreme physical demands of life as an elite professional athlete are well known to exact a heavy toll, mentally as well as physically. On the other hand, some athletes have gone the other direction, enacting a new physical regime that yields wonders. Fashions change, too, and athletes living in the limelight are particularly fond of following the shifting sands of fashion trends, and even setting them. And let's not forget that great leveler, time itself, which will work its transformative effects no matter how hard anyone tries. Let's check out these athletes who have changed their appearance since their early days.

Matt Birk

Playing in the NFL can take a toll on your body. It's not just the brain-rattling hits, either. If you want to be a lineman in the league, you need to bulk up and stay the way. Matt Birk knows that better than anyone. At his peak weight of 310 pounds, he developed varicose veins and a habit of eating two burrito bowls for dinner. And here we thought we had nothing in common with professional athletes. Suffice it to say, it wasn't sustainable, and he knew it.

After winning the Super Bowl in his fifteenth season, at the age of 37, Birk decided to walk away and right the ship. In the following years, he lost 75 pounds and 10 inches from his waist. The father of six even began a new career as a model, competing in the Vi Model competition back in 2014 to showcase his new physique.

Chris Birdman Andersen

Chris "Birdman" Andersen has had a lot of ups and downs over his 18-year career. He was the first player called up from the NBA D-League, after spending a handful of years bouncing around from Mexico to China, trying to catch on. A fresh-faced kid with a knack for pulling down rebounds, he soon found a place in the league. Unfortunately, he also soon found trouble, first garnering a suspicion for drug misuse, and then getting caught up as a suspect in a child pornography case. He was never charged, and it was eventually discovered he had been the target of an elaborate "catfish" style hoax gone wrong.

He would come back from all the controversy, winning a championship with the Miami Heat in 2013. Still, the hard-living clearly had an effect on him. Now more famous for his legendary ink than he is for his skills on the court, Birdman has one last transformation to conquer: retirement.

Steve Francis

There was a brief moment when Steve Francis looked like the future of the NBA. Nicknamed "Franchise" for his unlimited possibility to transform whatever team he touched, Francis was the co-Rookie of the Year, along with Elton Brand, and a three-time All-Star. Unfortunately, he never quite panned out like fans had hoped, bouncing from one team to the next, before finding his way to China, where NBA dreams go to die.

When he returned to the States, sad stories soon began circulating of excessive drinking and DUIs, drug misuse, and even a strange event in which he wandered into a police station trying to turn himself in for robbery, only to be turned away because the cops had no idea what he was talking about. Sadly, if the pictures coming out of his stint in China are any indication, the hard living has taken its toll, because the once-muscular young point guard looks little like the franchise player he once was.

Alan Faneca

Alan Faneca looks like a different person, which is largely due to the extreme measures he took to lose weight in his post-career years. The six-time All-Pro, who won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, decided to make a big change after retiring from the NFL. He started by watching what he ate, including a few months of trying a paleo diet, lowering his calorie intake to 1,800 a day, and doing cardio six days a week.

He told Fox Sports what he really missed, though. "Those chocolate, peanut butter protein shakes with big scoops of peanut butter. They were about 1,000 calories each, and I used to eat three a day. I definitely miss those." Now a marathon runner, he laughs at people's reaction to his drastic weight loss. Faneca still allows himself some well-deserved treats: After finishing his first marathon in 2014, he rewarded the achievement with a beer.

Antone Davis

After watching several of his fellow Tennessee Volunteer linemen die well before their time, and mainly for heart-related issues, Antone Davis knew he needed to make a change. During his 15-season NFL career, Davis ate prodigiously to maintain a stable weight, consuming some 6,500 calories daily. But once retired, and no longer burning through them, he had swelled to nearly 500 pounds, and carried aspirin everywhere he went out of fear his heart would just stop beating. That's what led him to compete on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," in the hopes of turning his life around.

He ended up losing 200 pounds, or more than 45% of his body mass, in the grueling competition, and transforming his life in the process. He's now working with the Tennessee football program as head of their Vol For Life program, helping young players learn about life outside of football, and avoid the mistakes he made along the way.

Simona Halep

Hailing from Romania, Simona Halep was a phenomenal tennis player, holding her own against the best in the world, and all while still a teenager. There was just one problem. Well, two. Halep's 32DD breasts were always getting in the way, and weighing her down. 

In 2009, at age 17, she decided to get breast reduction surgery. "It's the weight that troubles me. My ability to react quickly, my breasts make me uncomfortable when I play," Halep said to at the time of her operation. Dropping down to a more manageable 34C, Halep quickly found herself climbing up the tennis ranks. Within a few years, she ended up being ranked in the top 10, and won the Women's Tennis Association's Most Improved Player. She went on to face off in final matches against Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, and in 2017 dominated the field, becoming the world's No.1 female tennis player.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds was the best player of his generation. Some might argue he was the best player of all time. And then he went and messed it all up. While he played clean, breaking records and carrying his Pirates teams to the playoffs, other players started misusing steroids, and turning into superhuman freak shows. Home run records began dropping like flies. Lesser players like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa started taking the spotlight away from Barry, and he wasn't going to let that happen.

The lanky superstar, allegedly started his own performance-enhancing steroid misuse, and turned into a muscle-bound monster, with a head the size of a tire swing. He broke the records, he took back the spotlight ... and now he has to live with the consequences. His transformation continued after he retired, as he shrunk back down to his normal, lean self. Like Bigfoot in the woods, sightings of the slight star started popping up on the internet, only proving what many fans had always known. He may have been the best, but he would always have an asterisk next to his name.

Rulon Gardner

Rulon Gardner has had a tough go of it since defeating Russian Alexander Karelin for gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. It's still considered one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history, making the Utah wrestler an instant star. Sadly, he struggled with his health in the years after that, ballooning up to an incredible 400 pounds. He also lost his toe to frostbite after a snowmobile accident in 2002 left him stranded in the icy tundra of his native Wyoming, and survived both a motorcycle accident and a plane crash. It's been a tough road, folks.

At age 40, he went on NBC's "The Biggest Loser," in the hope of losing half his body weight and qualifying for the Olympic team. He failed to make weight, dropping to 280, before putting a hundred pounds back on. The wrestler now finds himself in dire straits, selling off his medals for cash, and trying to find a way back. In the immortal words of Rudy Tomjanovic, "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion." Even if that heart's a ticking time bomb.

McKayla Maroney

It was the expression that launched a thousand memes. For Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney, it wasn't planned. Sometimes you're just not that impressed with winning a stupid silver medal, when you came to the Games for gold. At its peak, her miffed meme was everywhere. Heck, she even got President Obama to give it a whirl.

In the years since, Maroney has sought out new challenges, from her love of singing to an apparent desire to break the internet, and a new look left some of her fans scratching their heads. Out was the wholesome All-American, in was the Instagram-perfect beauty. Some folks even accused her of having plastic surgery, which she's denied. 

But it was Maroney who would have the last laugh, posting on Twitter that, "I'm just doing me. If you want me to be a role model so bad, get inspired by how I give zero f**** and go do you. Not everyone's gonna like you, but if you stay true to yourself they might just respect you."

Lenny Dysktra

Lenny "Nails" Dykstra was one of the toughest SOBs to ever swing a bat, but it's taken a toll. Court filings claim the outfielder misused a daily cocktail of Dexedrine, Adderall, and Vicodin for decades, often with a liter of vodka. That may explain the many legal troubles he's faced since. 2011 alone saw him arrested for grand theft auto, possession of narcotics, bankruptcy fraud, and indecent exposure. Unsurprisingly, he soon found himself behind bars.

It was there he ran into his biggest trouble yet, namely the fists of a gaggle of guards. As Dykstra later told Howard Stern, the guards used to mock him by singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." One day, he snapped and screamed at them to shut up. Well, they didn't take too kindly to the request and allegedly beat him viciously, knocking his teeth out in the process.

According to the AP, Dykstra eventually filed suit against several sheriff's employees, claiming he was "slammed against the wall, his teeth were knocked out and he was kicked and beaten until he was 'barely breathing.'" A sheriff's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, admitted the fight happened but claimed Dykstra started it and had to be physically restrained. Since his 2013 release, Dykstra has continued to struggle, even saying he acted as a paid escort at times. Thankfully, as he documented in his web series, "Nails Revealed," he got the teeth replaced, or his escorting career might have been over before it began.

David Carter

Being a pro athlete doesn't necessarily mean you're the picture of perfect health. It certainly didn't for David Carter, who could bang away with other players on the football field but could barely lift himself out of his own tub. Carter told Sports Illustrated, the problem was his diet. "I was going to In-N-Out and getting six Double Doubles," he said.

That's when he came across the documentary "Forks Over Knives," and rethought his entire life. The film claims that almost any disease can be controlled or even reversed by adopting a vegan diet. As Carter recalled, "I was drinking a milkshake while I was watching the documentary and poured it out." The new-look lineman soon became something of a unicorn in the NFL, a vegan football player. He lost 40 pounds in six weeks thanks to his eating habits.

Since retiring, he's become an activist, focusing his energy on teaching minority communities about healthy plant-based eating. And, just to put the vegan cherry on top, he's been earning extra coin as a model, all thanks to the new physique his greenery-gorging lifestyle delivered.

Brian Wilson

Remember that time Homer Simpson shaved on "The Simpsons," and something just felt off about it? Well, the same thing once happened to former big leaguer and black beard enthusiast Brian Wilson. The quirky reliever, a Giants fan favorite thanks to his smoking fastball, bizarre behavior, and World Series pedigree, went and cut off his trademark whiskers, and for many, it just didn't feel right.

For years, Wilson was the face of the follically focused Giants clubhouse, with his black-dyed, bushy beard and matching mohawk. But as of 2017, when he was training for a comeback in the big leagues, he went clean-shaven and completely unrecognizable. And that's not the only difference. Because his fastball had become more of an average ball over the years, he was switching up his delivery and attempting to become a knuckleballer. So if you ever see a smooth-faced hurler with a ball bouncing off home plate, you might be watching the new and improved Brian Wilson.

Keith Tkachuk

In the history of the NHL, no hockey player has faced more scrutiny for his weight than left-wing legend Keith Tkachuk. At first, the only thing anyone cared about was his shot, after he scored 41 goals in his second full NHL season. And that was just the start. During the 1996-97 season he led the league in goals scored, becoming the first American-born player to accomplish the feat. He would go on to score 538 goals and is one of the less than 100 American players to score 1,000 points.

Sadly, the later part of his career was when weight took center stage. He returned from the 2004-05 lockout with the pounds packed on and struggled to keep them off the rest of his career. These days, he spends his time cheering on his hockey-playing son, which requires a slightly less vigorous fitness routine. He's faced enough grief over his physique, so if he wants to just kick back and enjoy life a little, he's more than earned it.

Todd Marinovich

For Todd Marinovich, washing out of the NFL was just the beginning of his rough ride. The hard-throwing QB only played two seasons in the league, for the bad-boy Raiders, but the rigid lifestyle of a professional athlete failed to keep his notorious drug misuse in check. According to the ESPN documentary "The Marinovich Project," the QB got around drug testing by using his friend's urine, but even that he failed at, borrowing the pee from a pal who'd apparently gotten drunk the night before.

During his brief tenure in the league, his drug misuse grew from marijuana and cocaine to amphetamines and eventually LSD, but the brain-altering nature of the latter drug made it hard for him to focus, and he soon washed out of the league. Years of run-ins with the law would follow, for everything from sexual assault to walking naked through a neighborhood with a bag of weed.

But back in 2017, at the ripe age of 48, Marinovich found himself attempting a comeback with the SoCal Coyotes of the World Developmental Football League, clean and sober thanks to his time in rehab. As he told the Desert Sun, "Recovery has changed every aspect of my life and made it better, so why wouldn't that carry over to the football field?"

Donyell Marshall

Donyell Marshall is one of six NBA players to have 10,000 points, 5,000 rebounds, 750 blocks, and 750 three-pointers in a career. The guy could ball. Since retiring, he's shown the same competitive spirit, stalking the sidelines as a coach, most recently at Central Connecticut State University, where he coached until 2021. And thankfully, he never takes himself too seriously. When a reporter from The Buffalo News once asked him about the stereotype that great players don't make great coaches, he responded, "That's funny because I always sit back and say it's a good thing I wasn't a great player."

But in 2018, underneath the sturm und drang of basketball, in a short period of time, Marshall began to appear to age rapidly, the sacks around his eyes ballooning out to a striking degree. While there were plenty of rumors circulating online, Marshall hasn't come out and said what he may be battling.

Brian Urlacher

Can you ever remember a time when a younger Brian Urlacher wasn't bald? When he played 13 seasons and 182 games for the Chicago Bears, was his dome ever not chromed? When he set a laundry list of franchise records, did he record any of them with a little hair under his helmet? How about during his eight Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro appearances? Anything? A buzzcut? Some peach fuzz?

Well, truth be told, he did have a tight do when he first came into the league back in 1999, but it quickly went from short to fully shorn, as his hair made like a running back and ran the heck away from him. So everyone was in for a shock in 2016, when the former Monster of the Midway seemingly found a follicular fountain of youth and showed up with a full head of glorious hair. The reason: Urlacher sat for an eight-hour surgery with a group of doctors who carefully took follicles from the back of his head and placed them on top. That's right, after one long day with the docs, Urlacher went from bald to bountiful, and he's been showing off his luscious locks ever since.

Zydrunas 'Big Z' Savickas

Žydrūnas Savickas, otherwise known as "Big Z," is a legend in the strongman world. He's the only powerlifter to have won every major modern competition and, until 2021, held the world record in the log lift. (If you don't watch lifting competitions, it entails lifting ... a heavy log.) But despite the accolades, Big Z wasn't always the picture of perfect health. Sure, he could deadlift a car, but he never could get rid of those pesky love handles.

That all changed back in 2017, when he adopted the diet plan of his buddy and fellow strongman Thor Bjornsson. Big Z would still eat approximately 13 pounds of food a day, but instead, he did it strategically: lean protein, clean carbs, and lots of colorful veggies. The results speak for themselves. Savickas is now all muscle, the fat melted away, meaning he'll be powerlifting cars, logs, and whatever else he feels like for years to come. 

Johnny Manziel

In 2012, freshman Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was named an All-American and the SEC's Offensive Player of the Year, and he won the Heisman Trophy for the best college ball player in the country. After his sophomore season, where he improved on his award-winning stats, he declared for the draft and was selected with the No. 22 pick overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2014. Manziel would ultimately rank among the Heisman Trophy winners who flopped in the NFL, released by the Browns after playing in only 14 games over the 2014 and 2015 seasons. In May 2016, paparazzi snapped pictures of Manziel at a party in Las Vegas looking starkly different than he did in his very recent playing days, having shed a lot of musculature and acquired many tattoos. "I was 210 pounds when I left Cleveland," Manziel told "Club Shay Shay" (via Men's Journal) in 2024. "I was 170 pounds sitting in Vegas."

There was a good reason for Manziel's physical decline: a multi-million-dollar substance abuse issue, which almost caused him to die by suicide. Eventually, Manziel entered a drug rehabilitation program (after twice refusing), received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and put himself on the road to better physical health.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady might be the greatest football player ever. He won seven Super Bowls and three AP MVP awards, stands as the NFL's historical leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, and played for 23 seasons – the most ever by a quarterback. Brady's appearance began to change after he adopted a rigorous, self-directed training regimen and a strict "TB12" diet he helped develop. Utilized while Brady was an active NFL player, the diet is more than 80% plant-based and is heavy on vegetables, seeds, fruits, and nuts. Brady credits those carefully crafted plans for allowing him to be an elite NFL quarterback for more than two decades.

Brady retired at the end of the 2022-23 NFL season, and about a year later, he mentioned on his podcast "Let's Go" that he'd lost around 10 pounds since he stopped playing football. "I haven't had the stress that I had while I was playing so that's allowed me to focus a little bit more on my physical health," Brady said (via Men's Health). In 2023, the NFL posted to its official Instagram account a hype reel starring the 46-year-old former quarterback. Many followers weighed in, alleging that Brady looked so radically different that cosmetic procedures had to have been involved. "Lay off the botox and hair transplants," implored one fan, while another said, "Dude needs to chill on the plastic surgery."

Tim Duncan

NBA power forward and center Tim Duncan was a superstar for his entire 19-season career. The Rookie of the Year honoree was later named the league's most valuable player twice, appeared on 15 all-star teams, and led the San Antonio Spurs to five championships. As great as Duncan was, he was never flashy, taking the court with a business-like attitude and an unremarkable sense of style — very short, closely-cropped hair and maybe an occasional patch of hair on his chin. His nicknames, befitting of such a low-key, consummate professional: "The Big Fundamental" and "The Stone Buddha."

After he retired from the NBA in 2016, Duncan began to express himself publicly as never before. A few months into his non-playing days, Duncan got a multi-part tattoo covering half of his back. In 2019, Duncan began sporting a patchy beard and some short dreadlocks. By 2023, the facial hair had filled out and grayed, and Duncan had grown out the dreads.

CC Sabathia

One of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball in the 2000s and 2010s, CC Sabathia put up impressive stats and received lots of accolades. Recording more than 250 wins and more than 3,000 strikeouts, he's a six-time All-Star, a World Series champion, and a Cy Young Award winner. And in 2010, when he compiled a career-best 21-7 record, the pitcher was one of the heaviest players in Major League history: Sabathia's official listed weight was 290 pounds.

In January 2014, Sabathia posted to Instagram some pictures of himself attending a wedding, and he seemed to have lost a large amount of weight over the baseball offseason. When asked about the change, Sabathia denied dropping any pounds. "I'm actually the same weight as I was last year, just a little more toned and a lot more strong," he told Fox Sports (via Bleacher Report). "This is the first offseason I was able to weight-train and get stronger and not worry about weight loss."

LeBron James

After leading his Akron, Ohio, high school to three state championships and one national title, exuberantly praised LeBron James was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. James began his Rookie-of-the-Year-winning season a couple months shy of his nineteenth birthday. He'd eventually be considered one of the best to ever play basketball during a storied career that includes four MVP awards, four NBA championships, 20 All-Star games appearances, and the No. 1 spot on the league's all-time scoring list.

Across his 21-plus years in the NBA, James' net worth has grown, and his appearance has changed — as will happen between the ages of 21 and 39. Thin and wiry as a rookie, James put on a significant amount of muscle, somewhere in the area of 40 pounds. Even his head looks larger, due only in part to a bushy chin beard, which features more and more gray hairs the longer James plays.

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