From the morning news, to game shows and NFL Sunday breakdowns, Michael Strahan has made a stadium-sized footprint in the media world. But despite the heightened visibility, the inspiring story of how he’s gotten to this point has flown mostly under the radar. The newest season of the ESPN+ series UNINTERRUPTED’s More Than An Athlete pulls back the veil as it spotlights the Pro Football Hall Of Famer and media personality. The four-part series, a partnership between Strahan’s SMAC Entertainment and LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s Springhill Company, takes a deep dive into the Super Bowl champion's NFL career, his modest upbringing in Germany and his intense work ethic.
Strahan caught up with EBONY to discuss the series' introspective look into his life and career, dealing with rejection, and how his relationship with his father shaped him into being the man that he is today.
EBONY: When viewers dive into UNINTERRUPTED, what are they going to learn about you?
Michael Strahan: I think that even for me, I kind of forgot about a lot of the journey. I think a lot of people will learn that it wasn't as smooth and easy as they thought. There’s a lot of uncertainty, a lot of struggle and adversity that you just have to push through. I think a lot of people probably look at my career in football and look at my career now and think “Oh, he just kind of did it.” And it's never that easy to just do it. It takes a lot of work, a lot of preparation, a lot of a lot of sacrifice. And hopefully people get a chance to see that. And hopefully, it'll inspire them to do something different outside of just the one job that they have. And, I think the title is brilliant—“More Than An Athlete” shows people that you can be diverse and do more than one thing with your life.
Why was now the right time to do a show like this?
I've known Maverick and LeBron for quite a while. And when they reached out and asked if I wanted to do Season Two with my production company SMAC, we said, “Why not?” First of all, I’m honored that they would even think my career is even worthy of that. And, I think I wanted to do it because I think it's just a good lesson for people to see. I think it can be inspiring in some ways, and that's what I want to do right now at this point in my career. It's about trying to inspire people to make them better. In a lot of ways, they’ve inspired me to make me better. And it was interesting to see my career trajectory through the eyes of people who helped me get to where I am today; it was really special to me. It also made me more aware of how many people you really need in your life to complete your journey or to help you along. I think that's important for people to know that you don't do things by yourself.
In the first episode, you say, “Respect the game, because it's not as soft of a game as you thought it was.” That stuck with me. Do you think that people perceive you, or being an NFL player in general, as glamour and not grit? What was your thought process behind that statement?
I think people see football as grit. But I think people see my journey as the grit ended with football. And that's not the case. The grind never ends. It's always there no matter what you do. And so I may not be on the football field grinding it out there, running through people, making tackles and sacking quarterbacks—but I'm still grinding, just in a different way. I just wanted people to understand that it may look like this business world is soft right now, but this could be more disappointing and more heartbreaking than anything you ever do on a football field—maybe not physically, but mentally, without a doubt.
You talked a little bit about rejection, especially getting to this point of your life post-football. What is your advice to people on not taking “no” for an answer?
I don't think it's not taking “no” for an answer. I think my advice to people is knowing if that “no” should be the end or not. There are definitely some "nos" that really should tip you to pivot; but then, there are some that are more of a setback, and more of a "no" that you should challenge. When I first retired I did a show on Fox called Brothers. I loved it. But when it ended, and I had the opportunity to try to do other acting gigs, I had to go to auditions and I got a lot of notes. And it wasn't that I quit, because I didn't think I could have gotten better at it. But I didn't do it anymore, because I just didn't have that same passion for it as I had for everything else that I was doing in my life. So I realized that the “no” wasn't so much because you can't do it. I was almost walking in the door expecting it because I knew that my passion wasn't there. And maybe that's what they could see. So I had to pivot from that. And then, I was getting "nos" in the broadcast business, but I knew I loved [broadcast]. I knew I could pivot those nos into a yes. And once I got my foot in the door, it led to all these other jobs. Sometimes you need other people to point that out for you.
One of the most touching parts of the show is where you talk about the legacy of your father. Your dad saw something in you when he sent you to the States to pursue football. So what does carrying that legacy mean to you knowing how much he put forward and sacrificed?
It means the absolute world. I feel like my life has been what it's been because of my real love and respect for him; and that’s I wanted to show him—that his trust in loving me and his investment in me was worth it. I never wanted to disappoint him. So when I played football, of course, I wanted to make a living—but that wasn't my main motivator. My main motivation was to make my dad proud. I wanted to make my parents proud and show them that I'm going to make something of myself. I'm going to take care of them like they took care of me. And that's always been the most important thing to me: carrying on the family name and doing it in the most respectful way. My dad was not a guy who was going to half-ass anything, and he created a son who wasn’t either. He just saw a work ethic in me that he was willing to foster and encourage. And if it weren't for him, I definitely wouldn't be anywhere.
You are one of the hardest working people in the business. How do you find work life balance? What do you do to detach and relax?
I think I work a lot. But for some reason, I have enough time to where I feel like I can get done everything I want to get done. So for me to detach, I separate myself, like being at home. First of all, I just love being home. Being with my kids is always an incredible joy. I go to watch them play volleyball. When I get a chance, I play a lot of golf. I mean, golf is probably my own little personal thing. But outside of that, it's more just trying to be a father because I realized that at some point, my kids are going to be out of the house—and I'm going to miss them. So I'm just trying to get as much of that in as I can because I do work a lot. But I've made sure that my schedule is set up for my kids to have time. If they have something going on, I'm there for it. I don't care about the parties and the glamour of anything. What I care about, at this point in my life, is more family time and doing the right thing by my kids and giving them everything my dad gave me.
All four episodes of "UNINTERRUPTED’s More Than An Athlete" are now available to stream on ESPN+.