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When sports stars turn their talents into an art form

June 25, 2024

Together with the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Venus Williams is hosting a podcast focusing on art and landscape. The tennis legend is not alone in expressing herself away from the sporting arena.

Venus Williams at the Austin City Limits Music Festival 2023
Tennis legend Venus Williams is also an arts advocateImage: Daniel DeSlover/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

From putting down their racket to picking up a paintbrush, from hanging up their boots to bringing down the curtain, sports stars don't always take a conventional path once their careers are done.

Take tennis legends Venus Williams or Michael Stich. Or former soccer hardman Vinnie Jones. Or the mercurial Manchester United legend Eric Cantona. All of whom have sought a very different thrill to what they enjoyed during their sporting career.

In the case of Jones and Cantona, they have rarely been seen near the sport that was once so dear to them, dedicating almost their entire post-soccer careers to a very different stage.

Venus Williams: From stretching the court to widening the lens

Though she has still yet to officially retire from the sport, at the age of 43 Venus Williams is already working on a career away from tennis. The seven-time major winner is now the host of a six-episode podcast focusing on art and landscape to accompany the exhibition "Widening the Lens: Photography, Ecology, and the Contemporary Landscape" at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. The series is set to be released on June 26.

Williams is keen to underscore the legacies of artists of color all while expanding her understanding of photography.

The exhibition is "a deeply meaningful project that integrates art, environment and intentional storytelling," Williams said in a statement. "The participating artists and thinkers you'll hear on the Widening the Lens podcast reflect diverse, global perspectives and a vast range of backgrounds and experiences; I am proud to help amplify their voices as they prompt us to consider new and alternative ways of relating to our landscapes through photography."

Eric Cantona: From the penalty box to the big screen

At the age of 30, after wowing the crowds one last time in 1997 at Manchester's Old Trafford football stadium — also known as The Theatre of Dreams — Eric Cantona moved on to a very different stage, but one where he would also excel.

He went on to pursue a career in cinema and had roles in the 1998 film "Elizabeth," starring Cate Blanchett; and the 2009 Ken Loach film "Looking for Eric."

Cantona also paints, writes poetry and picked up photography as he continued to express himself away from soccer.

Music was to be the last piece in his compelling jigsaw. With his recent tour, the man known to Manchester United fans as The King and who famously kung-fu kicked an abusive fan, Cantona has reinvented himself once more, recently telling the UK newspaper The Standard: "I was a rock star before I became a footballer. I was born with it."

Vinnie Jones: From tough tackling to making a scene

There must be something about performing in front of a large crowd that inspires footballers to take to acting.

Take Vinnie Jones, for example, whose cameo in the 1998 Guy Ritchie movie "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" was supposed to be a one-off, according to the man himself.

Still from the film 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels': Vinnie Jones in a blue room, pointing towards the camera.
Vinnie Jones starred in the film 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'Image: GramercyPictures/Everett Collection/picture alliance

But he went on to make a career out of it, and more than a quarter of a century later, it's hard to imagine Jones doing anything else, after appearing in a list of movies alongside Brad Pitt, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others.

Michael Stich: From the net to the canvas

Though the German tennis legend has appeared on podcasts and television from time to time, one of his biggest passions since retiring from the sport in 1997 has been art.

The 1991 Wimbledon winner took up painting as a hobby, studied art history for two semesters and set up a studio. Stich said it took him 10 years before he went public with his paintings.

Michael Stich at the "Beyond Fame" exhibition in Düsseldorf
Michael Stich at the 'Beyond Fame' exhibition in Düsseldorf Image: Andreas Endermann

"I started painting 20 years ago, and been collecting for 25 years, and I had my first exhibition in 2022," he told sports website Talking Tennis. And in 2023, Stich was part of the  "Beyond Fame" exhibition in Düsseldorf.

Stich was renowned for keeping his cool on the court, but has since brought passion to the canvas, saying that the art is a reflection of his personality and emotions.

He is "excited" about what the future will hold for him, while also saying that the art is "a reflection of his personality and emotions."

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier


John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk