Sports

Michael Strahan Finds It ‘Amazing’ How Athletes Are Able To Tell Their Own Stories

Michael Strahan is always busy.

His day when Uproxx caught up with him on a Tuesday in late September already included appearing on Good Morning America. He’s headed home for a quick break before heading back out to do an interview with ex-teammate Eli Manning. Aside from GMA, he is a part of Fox’s NFL coverage and the host of The $100,000 Pyramid, in addition to various business projects.

Strahan’s latest project is the new season of More Than Athlete on ESPN+, which began in early September and wraps on Sept. 30. We spoke to him about the project, how he manages to keep everything in order while he’s seemingly busy all hours of the day, and more.

Considering how much you doing right now and the different projects you’re managing, how do you manage that and keep your head on straight?

It’s a team effort, to be honest. I have a great team that helps me figure out if I can handle more and when I can’t. And really, sometimes it’s taking me out of things — maybe they’ll remind me that I don’t have time now or say, “Hey, you could take this now and really regret it later.” So listening to them and having them around really helps.

With the new ESPN+ series, your season of More Than An Athlete, how did it come about? Did you pitch them or did they come to you?

The guys at SpringHill approached us about it. Obviously, love SpringHill and love the work they do. We have a great relationship with LeBron and Maverick [Carter], so the second we reached out, we definitely wanted to be a part of it. And being that LeBron was the focus of season and we all know the career and everything that he’s done, I was honored that they reached out and asked me to be the focus of season two.

For you, what are some of the highlights of making your season? Where there things you got to revisit or perhaps look at in a different way?

I think the highlights were just being able to revisit some of the things that I had not exactly forgotten about, but haven’t really thought about in a long time. To see some of the people that have been so instrumental in my life — like my college coaches and family members and people like that — to see them again and hear their words was really cool.

And to see my friends from sports. Like Jay Glazer and Dr. Ian Smith, who I’ve known from the beginning. To sit with them and recount and talk through some of the things we’ve all gone through together and my journey and how big of a part of it they were. All of them revisiting was special, because I do forget sometimes that I was an athlete. I’ll be honest with you: It feels like it was so long ago and seems like I’m such on different path and career that I look and I go, “Oh, I actually did do that.” It was great to go, “Wow, not only did I actually do that, I was actually pretty good at it.” [laughs] So it was cool to catch-up and realize that.

Do you find that, when you’re out and about — and maybe this happens less now with COVID and everything — do people recognize you more as the guy from GMA or the host of a game show vs. being a Super Bowl champion?

Ab-so-freaking-lutely. It’s no comparison. People recognize me more now from everything except for football. And football season rolls out and because I’m on Fox, I get some of that. But for the most part, the majority of it is completely from GMA, from $100,000 Pyramid or something like that. And it’s funny, because I guess people really pay attention to eyes. Because I wear my mask and I think I’m going to get by with just my mask and people are like, “Hey, Michael!” And I’m like, “How the hell do you know it’s me? I’ve got a mask and a hood on.” But people are very perceptive. And I take it as a compliment because it shows that my career has completely evolved and made the transition to where sports is not even in the forefront of someone’s mind when they see me. It’s everything I’ve done after that, and that’s the biggest compliment I could ask for.

Looking back a little bit, what were some of the things that made this transition possible and made it a successful one? Because it’s one that a lot of guys have tried to make, but it doesn’t work for everyone.

I think for me, it’s just growing up the way I grew up where I didn’t play football growing up, really. So it wasn’t like I grew up myself and said, “I’m a football player.” I fell into football. I made the most of it while I was there. I played as hard as I could for as long as I could and I took it as such as privilege to play the game and I was constantly learning. I never felt like I knew everything because it was such a new experience throughout my 15 year career.

At some point, I had to learn … I don’t want to say fearless, but I had to learn to how not be afraid to look foolish by trying something that would make people go, “Why is that football player trying to host anything outside of a football show?” or “Why is that football player talking about anything that has to do with pop culture?” or “Why is that football player that has to talk about anything that to do with the news?” And I had to get out of my own head and think of myself as not just a football player, but as a person who, like all of us, has more than one thing I can do. Most of us just don’t try to take advantage of the next opportunity because we are so scared of failing at it. And I’ve had to learn to get over that fear of failure and that’s really helped me.

With all of the interviews you’ve done — Barack Obama, people involved with various political issues — what is your preparation process like? Is it writing down questions before or is it just trying to vibe and connect with the person you’re talking to?

I think it’s a combination of both. You have to be prepared. There’s a lot of reading involved. You can know all the questions themselves and that’s great. But it’s all about the delivery. It’s about paying attention and listening and being present. So you may have a million questions on your paper, but maybe they go in a different direction. But for me, it’s about knowing what the interview is, going in with an intention, and trying to get something new out of them that they haven’t told everyone and their brother. And it’s about your personality and what you bring to it. And I’m just going to all of these things just trying to be myself, which a lot of times if the hardest thing to do for people, especially in front of a camera. But for me, it seems to work out.

How does that compare to hosting Pyramid?

It’s fun. The amazing thing about Pyramid is that we’ll shoot the whole season in a week. But we don’t shoot them in the order they air because it depends on how they want to put the show together and which one they feel is going to do well and which will matchup together. So when people watch the show, they don’t know if I’ve been filming show 20 or the first show we’ve filmed. So the challenge for me there with Pyramid — which I love — is that challenge of seeing if I can maintain that energy. So when the public watches the show, they don’t go, “Oh, that must have been later in the week.” I want to give the same energy to the fans at home, I want to give the same energy to the contestants that are there to win money too because it’s exciting for them. I love that challenge. It’s not grueling, it goes by so fast that you ask for more. And I love that the fans have really clamped on, it’s been our most successful season yet.

The energy and approach is different, too, because from watching Dick Clark do it and learning, the show is the star. For me, I’m just the moderator in the middle of a fun game. And I love that the show is the star and I don’t have to do anything and I just have to let the contestants do their thing and the fun will come naturally.

Is there another athlete you think would make a good game show host?

I didn’t know what to expect because I hadn’t seem him do anything like this, but Dwyane Wade with The Cube was better than I expected. Especially his first time because it’s really scary when you have to carry something and a lot of the focus is on you. But I think Dwyane did a great job.

I think there’s so many athletes with so much talent to do what I do or more what than I what I do. But I love it when guys are more focused on their present career. That’s primarily what you do — don’t mess up with your primary for anything secondary. And these guys seem to understand that nowadays.

To circle back to the ESPN+ series, we seem to be in an age with sports media where retired athletes and guys like LeBron that are still active are more aggressively telling their own stories and presenting it to the public. What do you make of the different ways athletes can tell their own stories now vs. even when you were playing?

Oh man. The only way to get your story out when I was playing was to get on TV or go yell from the rooftop where no one could hear you. It was a totally different world.

I will say that I think it’s amazing to have these platforms where you can tell your story and you can control the narrative on opinions on what’s going on with your life and what’s going on with your sport or your team. But I also think it’s dangerous, too, because we’ve seen a lot of situations where that’s happened and it hasn’t necessarily been received in the most positive way. It’s a big responsibility to have, especially when you control your own social and all of that. That comes with responsibility and it comes with pressure. So I do hope guys continue to do it the right way. But I do love the way guys are using new avenues to tell their stories and advocate for the social causes they believe in.

Do you think that, if you were playing in the Twitter era, you’d be one of those guys that’s aware of every tweet from a beat reporter or consuming a take from Stephen A. and just internalizing all of that?

For me now, it’s just there. When I was younger, I cared about what was written and what was said. But when I was older, like later in my career after year 10, the less I cared until it get to the point at the end that I didn’t care at all because I said, “I am not going to let the opinion of someone affect me emotionally and take me out of my game,” especially because it’s coming from someone who, the last time they did something I did was when they were trick or treating, because they’ve never done it at this level. That was my way of saying, “Your opinion doesn’t matter because you don’t understand this thing even though you write or talk about it.” It’s a completely different thing when you’re immersed on the inside of it. It was liberating to not care.

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