Professional athletes: they’re cooler than cool. Revered by children around the world and hailed as celebrities by sports super fans, America can’t get enough of professional athletes. And why not? These are individuals who have spent their entire lives training to become the very best at the sport they love.
But what you might not know is that many of your favorite athletes are pros at more than just their sport of choice - many are also bilingual. In our eyes, that makes these ultra-cool athletes even more admirable. The athletes we’ve rounded up below use their range of language skills to reach more fans, give back to communities in need, and show respect for their fellow competitors. Sigh. Some people really can do it all.
1. Kobe Bryant speaks Italian.
One of the most famous basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant was born in Philadelphia and played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. So, how did he end up fluent in Italian? Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, was also a professional basketball player and moved the family to Italy so he could play in the Italian league. From the age of 6 until he was 14, Kobe lived in Rieti, Italy, where he learned the language, embraced Italian culture, and got really good at basketball. Fun fact: while living in Italy, he also learned to speak Spanish!
2. Serena Williams is multilingual.
Quick question: what can’t Serena Williams do? She’s one of the best tennis players in the world, having won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with her sister, Venus Williams. Now we come to find out that along with English, she speaks Spanish, French, and even some Italian. In fact, she’s known to give her tournament addresses in the native language of the country where she is competing. In Rome, she gave her final speech at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Italian, and at the Roland-Garros match in France, she answered interviewers in French. Across the board, Serena is a triple threat, and we love her for it.
3. Tim Tebow speaks Filipino.
Despite having been one of the most popular NFL players of the decade, fans were surprised to learn that the former NFL quarterback turned minor league baseball player speaks Filipino. The world discovered this fun fact when Tim Tebow responded to a Filipino-American fan in Tagalog. It turns out that Tebow was actually born in the Philippines to American parents living in the country for missionary work. Tebow lived in Makati until he was three years old and often spends his summers in the Philippines doing charity work. Mabuting gawa (good work), Tim!
4. Caleb Joseph speaks Spanish.
High school students are not exactly known for having much foresight, but Caleb Joseph is the rare exception. The Baltimore Orioles catcher knew early on that he wanted to become a professional baseball player. He also knew that many MLB players are native Spanish speakers - so Caleb signed up for Spanish classes his freshman year. He wanted to be able to communicate with ease with his future teammates, and he didn’t settle for just Spanish 101. Caleb completed four years of high school Spanish, two years of Spanish in college, and even traveled to Honduras to do missionary work. Now that’s dedication.
5. Pierre Garçon speaks Creole.
Born in New York and raised in Florida, Pierre Garçon is currently a wide receiver for the Washington Redskins - and he’s also fluent in Creole. When people first meet Pierre, they often assume he’s French, but in fact he’s of Haitian descent. Pierre’s parents and his three sisters were born in Haiti, and he was born just two years after his parents moved to the United States. Pierre grew up speaking Creole and English, and because Creole is French-derived, he also communicates well in French!
6. Gabby Douglas speaks Hebrew.
Everyone’s favorite gold medalist Gabby Douglas shared in her memoir In Grace, Gold, and Glory: My Leap of Faith that she grew up practicing many Jewish traditions. Gabby won America’s heart in 2012 when she accomplished record-breaking wins as a gold medalist gymnast at the London Summer Olympics. Gabby even competed wearing a leotard with Hebrew lettering stitched into the sleeve as a symbol of her deep faith. While Gabby admits she can only speak and read some Hebrew, Judaism holds a special place in her heart and she points to her faith as a key factor in her success.
Inspired by this roster of bilingual athletes? If you want to walk the walk, start by talking the talk. Whether you want to cheer on the champs at the Italian Open or try out for the Turkish Basketball League, start your language training now and get your head in the game.