Nearly 35 million Americans claim Irish heritage, and among them are titans of sport. Athletes in basketball, football, hockey, boxing, tennis, and more boast an Irish ancestry, no matter their race (no, we haven’t found evidence that this includes Shaquille O’Neal, despite his lilting last name). Here’s a sample of Irish-American athletes, past and present.
1. Tom Brady: Through his father, the New England Patriots quarterback has roots in County Cork. His second great-grandfather, Patrick Buckley, was from Inniscarra, on the River Lee. “My father is 100 percent Irish,” Brady said in a 2009 interview with British media. “We took a trip over there together and visited some of the places where my family came from. That was a great experience for me and obviously I am very proud of my Irish roots.”
2. Derek Jeter: The Yankees MVP was born in 1974 to an African-American father, Charles, and Irish-German mother, Dorothy. It was Dorothy’s mother who first took him to Yankees games and made him a lifelong fan.
3. John McEnroe: Both of the tennis star’s paternal grandparents came from the Emerald Isle — his grandmother from County Westmeath and his grandfather from County Cavan. But they met in New York, where they settled and had McEnroe’s father, John Sr., a lawyer. John Jr. grew up in Queens. His fiery temper on the court has often been attributed to his Irish heritage, especially by members of the British press.
4. Muhammad Ali: Born Cassius Clay Jr., the boxing legend can trace his roots to Ennis, County Clare, on the west coast south of Galway. There Ali’s maternal great-grandfather, Abe Grady, lived before moving to the United States and settling in Kentucky. He married a former slave and the two had Ali’s grandfather. In 2009, Ali visited Ennis and got a hero’s welcome, receiving a special honor called the “freedom” of Ennis, which grants him special privileges in the town.
5. Nolan Ryan: The Hall of Fame pitcher’s Irish heritage comes from his father, whose ancestors immigrated to the United States over a century ago. Ryan grew up in Texas, where his father worked for an oil company, and he eventually played for two of the state’s teams, the Astros and Rangers.
6. Jason Kidd: A 10-time NBA all-star, Jason Kidd has an African-American father and Irish-American mother. He was born in San Francisco in 1973 and is now the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.
7. Sean Casey: Former first baseman Casey played for the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Cincinnati Reds before retiring in 2007 and was voted “the friendliest player in baseball,” in a Sports Illustrated poll. Boston was a good fit for the Irish-Catholic player, who knows where he comes from: “My great-grandfather came over from County Cork around the time of the Irish potato famine, when he was fourteen years old. He came over to Staten Island, and ended up on Long Island.”
8. Danica Patrick: Half-Irish, the popular NASCAR racer was the first woman to win an IndyCar race. She wears her heritage on her sleeve. In March 2014, she crashed in a Sprint Cup practice and afterwards took to Twitter: “Luck of the Irish was with me last night after getting wrecked early and only have 4th gear a lot of the race.” She added, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”