7 Memorable Athletes Who Hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’

Saturday Night Live has been a cultural institution for over 40 years now. For many in the entertainment industry, an SNL hosting gig is the sign that they’ve officially made it past the world of sports and into the lexicon of pop culture abroad. Several athletes have hosted the show since its inception with varying results. Still, these seven had the most significant impact going forward when they hosted the show. 

Michael Jordan wearing a black hat smiling
Michael Jordan | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

OJ Simpson’s is memorable for all the wrong reasons

While OJ Simpson may now be more synonymous with his murder trial and the circus that ensued in the quarter-century since, during the late 1970s, he was a beloved NFL star-turned-actor who had charm, charisma, and good comedic beats. If the world had known what would lie ahead for the athlete-turned-actor, the episode may not have resonated with a large crowd. Still, knowing what we do now shows how different things have become for the football Hall of Famer. He has since become one of the most consistently lampooned characters on the show. 

Michael Jordan sold adult videos and LeBron James Brought the Laughs

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At the time of Michael Jordan’s SNL appearance in 1991, he was already an international superstar despite his lack of championships. He was a mainstay in commercials across the country and a household names in places that previously cared nothing about basketball. Jordan played into this image by shilling his own adult video stores and sitting down with a group of caricatured Chicago sports fans, according to the Chicago Tribune.

LeBron James has always embraced his celebrity status in ways few before him have. Although he didn’t take directly to Hollywood in the way that Shaquille O’Neal did, his image was always just as much of an entertainer as it was a basketball prodigy. Coming off his loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals, James lampooned his image with skits that saw him dance, poke fun, and even break down in laughter. 

Charles Barkley has hosted three times

Barkley might be the most persistent athletic presence on the iconic sketch show. He first took on his hosting duties in 1993 at the height of his career. Since then, he has hosted the show two more times — once in 2012 and again in 2018. All three times, Barkley showed what made him such a natural entertainer within the world of sports. Still, his first gig may reign supreme thanks to a memorable skit involving him violently destroying Barney the Dinosaur in a one-on-one game.

Derek Jeter made a post-9/11 New York laugh and Peyton Manning upstaged Tom Brady

Derek Jeter has never shied away from the occasional television cameo or film appearance. Still, he also never went as far as other athletes-turned-entertainers. In 2001, however, Jeter was still coping with a recent loss in the World Series, and New York was still struggling with the events of 9/11 three months earlier. Jeter took to Rockefeller Center during the holiday season and made fans laugh during one of the country’s darkest times. 

Tom Brady hosted SNL in 2005, but he was never known for his in-your-face charisma or comedic timing. Two years later, however, rival Peyton Manning took the stage and brought the charm that he still uses in retirement. Manning not only played himself in a series of commercials, but he also spread his wings and played several other characters, too. Brady may have him beat on the field, but when it comes to SNL, Manning took the title. His United Way skit may be the best that’s ever happened with an athlete on the show. His skills paid off because he was eventually invited to perform in the Comedy Central Roast of Rob Lowe.

Lance Armstrong was America’s sweetheart

Like Simpson, although less extreme, Lance Armstrong’s hosting gig in 2005 is a time capsule of a time where he wasn’t synonymous with lies, slander, and cheating. He was a down-home personality who made the obscure sport of cycling exciting to an American audience. He poked fun at his cancer scare and played into his image as a celebrity nice guy. He also cracked jokes about drug-testing, which now seem ironic in hindsight. At the time, it showed just how big Armstrong was.