Sports and the military — these are two organizations that have been linked together for years in the American ethos.

Throughout American history, many professional athletes went on to serve in the armed services while others had their athletic careers after serving their country.

One of the greatest athletes to serve in the military was NBA star David Robinson. For his collegiate career, Robinson played for the Naval Academy up until he became the first overall selection by the San Antonio Spurs in 1987.

The Spurs selected Robinson, even though he had already committed to serve in the Navy. He spent two years serving with the Navy before reporting back to the NBA where he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1989.

“The Admiral” won an MVP award and two titles in his Hall of Fame career before retiring in 2003.

Rocky Marciano (Source: Mohamed Said Momo)

Rocky Marciano is unique among the athletes to serve in the military because he owes his athletic career to the service. Marciano was drafted into the Army in 1943, and it was there he learned to box.

In the army, he became a dominant fighter, winning the Amateur Armed Forces Boxing Tournament in 1946.

After leaving the Army in 1948, Marciano would go on to become the heavyweight champion and win 49 consecutive fights.

Before he could become a legend on the baseball diamond, Jackie Robinson made a name for himself in Army.

Robinson enlisted in 1942 and was court-martialed in 1944 for refusing to move to the back of a bus. When he made it to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson became the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball.

He won the MVP award in 1949 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962. Robinson is a Hall of Fame baseball player and is one of the most well-known athletes in American history.

Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, posed and ready to swing in 1954. (Source: Bob Sandberg / Wikimedia Commons)

One of the more well-known female athletes to serve in the United States Marines was golfer Patty Berg. She was one of the greatest amateur golfers of her time, winning 29 titles before she turned professional in 1940.

Berg took time out of her professional career to serve in the Marines as a lieutenant beginning in 1942, with her tour ending in 1945. Berg was a professional, leading into the beginning of the LPGA in 1950, and she golfed on the tour until 1962.

The most recognizable of the recent athletes to enlist in the Army was former NFL player Pat Tillman. He was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals from 1998-2001 when he retired after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Upon his retirement, Tillman enlisted to be a U.S. Army Ranger and served multiple tours in Afghanistan. In 2004, Tillman was killed by friendly fire in the mountains of Afghanistan.

After his death, Tillman was honored by the Army with a Silver Star and with a Purple Heart. He was honored by the Cardinals with the retiring of his jersey number, 40, and his induction into the Cardinals Ring of Honor.

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