What could Spoleto Festival USA, America’s premier performing arts festival, have to say about football? For one, our CEO is very invested in the Philadelphia Eagles’ performance during Super Bowl LVII. Yet on this high-holiday of pigskin, we—arts administrators and football watchers—want to take a moment to recognize some key football players who are also arts practitioners.

It’s well documented that football players train in ballet to help with flexibility and agility. Players Steve McLendon, now with the Buccaneers, and Rashard Mendenhall, former running back on the Cardinals, both studied dance while they played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann famously brought attention to the crossover potential back in the ’70s. (Ok, what’s in the water in Pittsburgh?!) Fun fact: In 1980, Swann even performed alongside icons Twyla Tharp and Peter Martins in a Tharp-created work called Dance is a Man’s Sport, Too, for the TV show Omnibus. 

Lynn Swann, Twyla Tharp, Peter Martins; photo (c) Twyla Tharp

But what about opera?

We’re glad you asked. In fact, there’s plenty of aria-meets-gridiron action. To launch the the current football season this past fall, Baltimore Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker broke into song in an NFL commercial.

Why? Because while he’s one of the most recognizable players today and won a Super Bowl in 2013, he’s also a classically trained bass-baritone. A former music major at the University of Texas Butler School of Music, he signed with the Ravens in 2012 and has frequently been asked to draw on his vocal performance chops for charity gigs and special appearances. On the field however, the 33-year-old Tucker is a real standout. He’s got an over-90% career average field-goal accuracy rate—making him the “most accurate kicker in NFL history” (ESPN), perhaps attributed to a soloist’s ability to calm nervous butterflies and hit the right notes in high-pressure moments. (In a long feature profile, Sports Illustrated describes it as “a knack for staying cool in the spotlight.”)

A rising talent

Duke University’s offensive lineman, Chance Lytle, has recently garnered national fame after a TikTok video of his singing at pre-season camp went viral. Lytle previously played for University of Colorado, where he was on his way to earning a dual degree in music – voice performance and psychology. Check it out:

Will we see Lytle on a Spoleto stage one day? Who knows. Let’s hope he keeps practicing, on stage and on the football field. In the meantime, we’ll be watching the big game Sunday. Go Birds.


2023 Season related shows:

Dada Masilo: The Sacrifice 

Scottish Ballet: The Crucible