Monday, November 23, 2009

Q&A: Marcellus “Dat Dude” Wiley

I  interviewed NFL retiree and ESPN analyst Marcellus "Dat Dude" Wiley for an article published nearly a year ago.  It was one of my favorites, but the the actual Q&A was too long to make it to print with the profile.....


Former NFL Pro Bowler and current ESPN analyst Marcellus “Dat Dude” Wiley explains why transitioning into TV journalism starts with being a good interviewee as a player, becomes opportunity when excelling in the moment, and blossoms when preparation for each broadcast is taken as seriously the practice leading up to game day.

Nokware Knight:

In another interview, you said you ended up on ESPN by happenstance.  You got invited to a couple of shows as a guest and they liked how you appeared on camera, and things went from there.  So what is the difference between you and the average player?  How did you get chosen and why?

Marcellus Wiley:

You’re right.  I did get on the show through everything short of divine intervention because I wasn’t expecting to make this a career move or a career choice, but I was doing the interviews.  I remember a specific interview when it was Halloween and I was in LA.  And as a player, you’re pretty naïve to how things work in the media structure and in the corporate world and how they’re evaluating pretty much everything you do.  Little did I know that that interview would spark a lot of interest in me as a talent, as an NFL analyst because of how I performed in interviews.

One thing for a player to understand and respect is pretty much every interview counts, every interview matters, especially if you have a desire to go into media.  There’s two things that are difficult to do.   One is you can’t change you’re playing career.  You can’t change your stats, you can’t change how many pro bowls or how many rings you accumulated through your playing career.  So that’s very important.  You have to perform.  But more importantly as it translates into the media, you can’t change who you are as a person.  So the guy who has a good relationship with his local beat writer, the guy who gives his true personality in an interview, versus a guy who just  groans and is tired and doesn’t like to talk to media.  Whoever really engages with the media while he’s playing is going to be at a much better advantage than the other guy despite the other guy having all these accolades.

These guys remember.  Every day I walk through ESPN someone comes up to me and says you were so cool, you were so nice, you were very candid.  To sum all that at up, just tell these guys, probably before they are rookies, I mean in college, they start this process of what’s next after your NFL career.  That actually starts probably when you’re in college.


So, I guess you’re saying that it’s important to just be nice to the guys that might give you a job later on in the future.

Definitely.  I was blessed to know that that was important because I went to Columbia, a school where there was no true future as far as being an NFL prospect.  That’s not one of the place you go thinking I’m about to go to the NFL.  I was already exposed to alternative plans of making a career choice.  When I was playing football I always thought everyday was a blessing.  I thought that it was very important for me to always be nice to the media, but more importantly respect that they have a job to do.  I didn’t care if they said I was great as much as I didn’t care if they said I was horrible, because I heard both.   But the point of it all is, I’m playing out my dreams of being in the NFL.  I’m not gonna ride the waves of critique because that will make you become a shell of yourself, so now you will talk to the media and pretty much be mad at them or lying to them and then they don’t want to report anyone who’s not cool.  Just imagine if you’re a reporter talking to a guy who you like working with versus working with a guy  that you know doesn’t like you.  When it comes to that choice word when he can point his interview towards the positive or towards the negative, you know what the results gonna be because of the relationship you have with them.

 Speaking of Columbia, I’m looking at your resume and it almost looks like a movie script.  You come from a high school out in Compton, you go out to Columbia, which like you said is not a school you would choose if you want to go into pro sports, then from having a successful NFL career, then go into broadcasting and even start your own business.  Is this the kind thing you planned out or was it more about doing what you can do in the moment?


I would say its probably more of a moment.   Like you said, it does sound very theatrical.  It sounds like, OK who wants to produce this?  Call Jerry up and get this done .  And some of my boys laugh at that because they know me intimately and they’re like “dude, if people saw what you been through…” The polar opposites that I’ve lived through from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.  I’ve been in worlds where people have walked by me and thought that I had to be just a dumb jock or a gang banger or a hoodlum.  And then I’ve been in worlds where people think I’m the smartest person alive because “wow you went to an Ivy league school” or, you know, “you’re playing football.” 

I’m one of the few people I know that’s hung around people with zero dollars in their bank account and I’ve been   around billionaires.  Not too many people can say they’ve been exposed to that in an intimate fashion.  When I think about what I’ve become it’s really by choice decisions in that moment.  And I’ve made many mistakes even in those decisions.  Coming out of high school, coming from Compton and all the different options I had from high school I wanted to choose the most unique opportunity.  The big fish in the little pond sounding good to me, but more importantly how many times could I go back to my people at home and say I come from a different statement to say I come from an Ivy league school than to say yeah I go to another big time traditional football school because if things didn’t work out I wanted to have a little to speak about with my choice.  So I made the choice to go to Columbia and I think the NFL chose me next.  I didn’t make that choice.  They came knocking on my door, so that was the easy one to except.  And I’ve been blessed when I retired to fall into something as great as ESPN.  It’s exciting because I’m around the game still and I get to be around all my boys in a different capacity, so it’s fun.

It wasn’t a game plan.  I wasn’t sitting there at eight years old saying this is how it’s gonna turn out.  What I did say is I know that my family’s burdens were all on my back.  I knew I was going to be “the golden child” in my family.  From a young age, from seven or eight years old, because I had athletic talent and I had academic ability that was going to be rewarded.  I knew my family had talents, but the reward wasn’t coming from my family.  So I knew I was going to be the one to get rewarded for this and I just took that as a huge responsibility, took it by the horns and ran with it, and from that point on I always knew that there was a certain level of accountability that I had to live up to because I had so many people in my family that counted on me.

That sounds like a lot to live up to.  It’s as if you were dubbed Superman from birth.  Now that you’re an analyst and you’ve gone through the academic rigor of Columbia, you’ve gone through pro football practices and summer camps, is being an analyst the easiest gig you ever had or just as hard as what you’ve gone through prior?


Aw man, that’s a great question.  They’re all challenging in so many ways.  At Columbia, what was overwhelming was the work demand.  It wasn’t like at Columbia we read different books than they did at USC or UCLA.  It was the number of books we had to read.  So say another school had to read three books a week, we had to read six.   To discern all that information and to get what you really needed in the amount of time that they set for you was very overwhelming.  That was like, I know I’m smart supposedly, but y’all are making me feel real dumb up in here right now, because I don’t understand how anyone is getting this information.   So you have to start to learn to use your skill sets and tools around you to get things done in a rapid manner but still with excellence.

Then NFL is different.  You get in the NFL and your skill set physically can take you a  lot further than anything else.  Once you are at certain skill set what you have to compliment it with for any sort of success or longevity is create great work habits.   You gotta know that fundamentals and work habits will carry you through once your physical talent starts to wane.  So that was tough in the sense of you’re going out there and hitting people and all the time there’s a physical demand and then there’s a mental demand that was tough to balance.  When you’re feeling good, you’re feeling good.  But when you’re not feeling good how do you still perform good?   That was the toughest thing in the NFL.  You’ve gotta be blessed with health.  So what I didn’t like about the NFL is that it was fickle, very fickle.  I could rock it one game and have the best game of my life, then the next game I could stink up the place.  Then the next game I could ball out of control, and the next game I could get hurt and get set back for a week.  I hated that part of the NFL.  I hated being in a sport and being in a career where it seemed like I couldn’t have total control.  No matter how many weights I pushed, how many times I ran wind sprints, how many times I went to meetings and listened to coach, there’s still that element of surprise that creeps up on you.

With ESPN, I thought I was walking into a play job.  I was like aw man!  I could go up there and talk about football and that’s it!  You can’t tell that this isn’t the easiest job in the world.  Here’s the thing I never knew about this dynamic.  The mental energy it takes to do this job is second to none.  To be in a studio talking to millions of people, the preparation it takes to make sure that you’re actually saying what’s true, based on your experiences and your research.  That was more than I ever expected it to be.  I thought I would just go up there and talk my part.  Eh-eh.  You have to work at this just like anything else.  I never knew about speed in talking, pacing in talking.  I never knew about plot sentences, how you start an interview, how you conduct an interview, hot to be the interviewer, the interviewee.  If you really want to do it and not just be a slash in the pan kind of guy, you gotta get at it.   And that makes it not a fake job now.  Yeah the result is I’m not getting hit like I did in football.  Yeah the result is I’m not dealing with this Columbia rigor of six books a week.  No, I’m watching football and sports and not reading about Plato.  It’s the best job I’ve I think I’ve had.   I love the NFL, but the difference with this job is it doesn’t seem fickle.  It doesn’t seem like one day  I’ll be on the set and my chair will fall off and my mic will cut off and all of a sudden I’m not going to make the Pro Bowl that year in announcing.  Right now I’m really enjoying being in this seat because the sky’s the limit and if I work and show who I really am and be unique in my own self, I don’t see where it could stop, I don’t see where it ends.


Have you found it easy to get involved in mentor-mentee relationship with some of the other analysts, broadcasters, and announcers?  Or is that is something you had to seek out on your own?


A lot of people are very excited and nice to you.  I think what helps is that I did play the sport.  So I came with instant credibility.  When you’re in the NFL, you don’t walk in with any credibility.  Some guys do, a couple rookies here and there, but still it’s a show and prove situation.  While [at ESPN] if you ask me a question about football, you’re not trying to second guess me.  You’re trying to agree with me because you’re like he’s been there, done that.  So let’s jump on board with what he said and go from there.

As a freshman at Columbia or a rookie in the NFL, those are show and proves.  [ESPN] is show and prove, but they respect that you’ve done what’s being talked about.  You can take that as a vote of confidence and get great relationships with a lot of people because they’re looking forward to talking to you because you were actually there.


Is there competition among the ex-athletes and people who come out of journalism school or from a broadcasting background?


Yeah, it definitely is.  It’s a numbers game, just like it is in the NFL.  The difference being, my competition would not be someone who went to Northwestern school of journalism.  It would be somebody who wants to retire.  Everyone’s unique, so there’s always going to be a place for you, it’s just that where you are going to be seated is based on who comes out and who has is articulate and who really brings some energy when it comes to talking about sports.  In today’s age, everyone knows the statistics, everyone knows the X’s and O’s, but we want to know the why’s .  And if you can explain why better than this guy, you have a step up, but the trump card is the hall of famer.   They’ll let a hall of famer come in and trump a guy who really can announce and really can be a great host, because he’s been there and done that at a level that no one else can reach.  It is a training camp in that aspect because I’ve gotta make the team because every year someone is going to retire from the NFL that’s a former defensive end with 100 career sacks.  Then you’ve got to pull out your cards that he doesn’t have and let the chips fall where they may.