IN CONVERSATION WITH…
SHANNON SHARPE, Professional Athlete, and Television Host
“What price do you pay for someone who gives you everything but life? You give them all that you are and you figure out how to pay it forward. ”
Graduate of Savannah State University
8x Pro Bowler
3x Super Bowl Champion (XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXV)
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee
Co-Host of Skip and Shannon: Undisputed on Fox Sports
Mrs. Mary Porter’s.
I am probably shyer than people ever would imagine. Funny, thoughtful, serious, caring, passionate, sympathetic, I know most of those characteristics and traits I developed from my grandmother. She is probably the one person who has been the biggest influence in my life. I think a lot of who I am, what I am, how I came to be was because of her and I don’t necessarily know that I had all of these traits until I got much older and I saw all of the things that she was and it made me more of the man I wanted to become. The things that used to get me upset – not being compassionate, not being understanding, not being sympathetic – seeing her and how she was and how she raised her 9 kids and then my mom’s 3 and then how she then loved us; the three grandkids more than she loved her own kids. That taught me a lot about how I wanted to be and who I wanted to be and so it is a constant struggle because I am constantly fighting against myself to be those things. Because that is not necessarily who I am, but I know that is the man she would want me to be so that is what I strive for daily, to try and reach that because being who I am, or who I could be is not be the person she would be pleased with.
From the time I can remember and even now, every day, every second, every hour, “what can I do to make MARY PORTER most happy and most proud,” has been the foremost thought in my mind. That is the biggest thing—people have no idea what goes on in my head—in my heart and when I am alone in my deepest thoughts that is the one thing I always go back to. My grandmother never treated me like her grandson. She always called me her, “baby.” I remember having a conversation with her one day when I was 11 or 12 years old. I told her, “Granny, I am going to be famous one day and make a lot of money. What would you like me to buy you?”
Now, understand, I grew up in a 1,000 sq. ft. cinder-block home with cement floor and no indoor plumbing, so I am thinking to myself that my grandmother is going to want a nice big 4,000 – 5,000 sq. ft home with all the nice things, and a car because she never learned how to drive. I had even told her that I would teach her how to drive, or maybe even get her a nice wedding ring because the one my grandfather bought her was costume jewelry that maybe cost $40 bucks. I am thinking of all the things that this money I will have can buy her to show her how much I appreciate everything that she has done, not only for her own kids, but for my mom’s three. This was so long ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. She said, “son, I just want you to buy me a decent home. I want to go to bed one night, and I want God to let it rain as hard as it possibly can and I want to wake up in the morning and not be wet.”
For 66 years my grandmother had never gone to bed, had it rain, and not been wet the next morning. That was her idea of a decent home. As she is saying this to me I am thinking to myself of all the things that she could have, the places I would be able to one day take her, and she just wanted a home that when it rains you don’t get wet. Her words took me back. I remembered all those times, growing up, of putting pots and pans down to catch the rainwater. I remembered putting the burlap bags and raincoats on the bed so it wouldn’t be soaked when a hard storm came. This is when it dawned on me that my grandmother was really different. Special. My brother and I were focused on growing up, getting out and making her proud.
Although I come from a small town—Glennville, Georgia about 3,500 people—I was never there. That is where my body was, but my mind was never there; I had always dreamed of being somewhere else. I always saw myself as being someone that people would want to be around. I would be the one to have nice things. So for me, for my grandmother to say that all she wanted was a decent home—one that didn’t leak when the rains came—it triggered something in me. Her words made me realize that although you could have nice possessions and more money than God should allow anyone to have, it is really the simplest of things that make people most happy. From that moment on I was never a problem for my Grandmother again. From that moment on, there was never a Shannon did this or that, or you need to talk to Shannon. I wanted, I needed to be there for her, to show up in the best way that I could so even when I was in high school after games I came directly home instead of hanging out because I did not want my grandmother to be sitting at home alone. That was my thing, she was like, “… boy you ain’t got to come home after your games…”
I remember when I left a friend picked me up. He was blowing the horn for me to come out and bring my stuff. My grandmother was laying in the bed and she could see me getting my things and getting ready to leave, but she never got out the bed, she never said bye or anything. My grandmother knew she had spent eighteen years teaching me right from wrong and a 10-minute story wasn’t going to do anything now. She knew that she was sending Shannon Sharpe off the way she had raised me; that I was ready to embark on this journey. All of the values that her and my grandfather had instilled in me, she knew that they had taken hold and that was 1986.
In 1987, my freshman year of college, I was living in the dorm. I didn’t have a phone in my room. We had what used to be called a community phone. It was a quiet night and I was like you know what, I’ma go and call my grandmother.
Back then it was a collect call, so the operator comes on the line and says, “how may I help you?”,
I say, “I would like to place a collect call to Mary Porter from Shannon Sharpe.” She goes about connecting the call. It rings about 2 times. My grandmother picks the phone up, and the operator says,
“I have a collect call to Mary Porter from Shannon Sharpe do you accept the charges?”
My grandmother says, “No. I won’t accept because I can’t afford this $50 phone bill I got now,” and she hangs up the phone up.
Now I heard what my granny said. The operator came back and said, “Mrs. Porter will not accept the call is there anything else that you would like me to do?” I just hung the phone up and remember walking back to my room with tears rolling up in my eyes.
My grandmother came up to Chicago, Illinois and got me at 3 months of age and brought me back to Glennville. My dad came and got me at 7 months and then brought me back to her when I was 2 years old, so I had been with my grandmother since 1970. This was now 1987. I had slept in the very same bed with my grandmother for fifteen years. I had slept in that very room with my grandmother for nearly twenty years and now because of $50 dollars, after all she had done for me, the thought that my granny could not talk to me after all she had endured after bringing my brother, my sister and me from Chicago because the bills were too high—that was crucial.
I remember getting to my room and having to compose myself before re-entering because my roommate was there. I told him that she said, “hello.” Laying in my bed staring at the ceiling I remember thinking to myself, “whatever I thought I was doing to help get to where I needed to be or wanted to go, that wasn’t enough.” I don’t know, I can’t put into words the focus and the hyper awareness I had of all the things, but there was no doubt in my mind that I had to leave Savannah State exactly as she wanted.
I knew my grandmother sent me there for two reasons: to get a degree and to go play in the NFL. I didn’t know which was going to happen first, but I knew they were going to happen because it would be a waste of my time and infinitely more a waste of my granny’s time if I went there for four years and got nothing accomplished. So, getting a degree was never a doubt in my mind, and there was never a doubt in my mind that although I was going to Savannah State that I was going to play in the NFL because I had to do something for my granny to show the appreciation.
Maybe it wasn’t about the house and maybe it wasn’t about having her where she didn’t have to worry about anything, or even about $50. Maybe none of those things would have been as important to her as they were to me, but those are the things that drove me. I was obsessed.
I ruined a lot of friendships and relationships along the way because the most important thing was to play in the NFL and it didn’t matter how I got it. I had to leave a lot of people behind because I was super focused. My kids would have recitals and graduations and I missed a lot of those things. But, it was so important to me to make good on what she wanted for me that I denied some of the relationships and moments of my life. Without her I am not certain that I would have been the person that I am, that I would have had kids or that I would have had a drive. So, to my mind’s eye, I owed her that.
In 2011, my grandmother died and a part of me with her. There is a not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her and talk to her. I know that I will never be the same man, person, human that I was before she died. I know that. I just try to live every single day in a way that she would be happy, that she would be proud of me.
A DECENT HOUSE
My brother, Sterling, is 3 years older than I am so he proceeded me in the NFL by a couple of years. I remember him telling my sister and I to go to look at houses. He said, “get Granny something nice.” Once we found the house my grandmother wanted to bring everything from the old house to the new house; everything she has had for the past 34 years with her. I’m talking about the cast-iron pots, the crickety box spring, everything. When I graduated and got to the league, my thing was all new things for her. Now in order to make that happen it was left to my sister and my uncles to get her out the house, take her fishing—she was a fisherman, loved to fish—or something so I can have the new washer and dryer brought in, and some new furniture.
“Let the boys enjoy their money, I am good,” is what she would say, and she’d stay continually independent with what she had no matter how old it was.
My brother and I were making millions and millions of dollars and my granny was still conditioned to by everything on credit; her groceries, her medicine. We could give her a $1,000 for Mother’s Day. She would have a $30-$40 bill at the grocery store and she would still send my sister up there with a $10 payment on it. She wouldn’t pay it off. She would pay on it because that is what she had done her whole life—forty, fifty, sixty years.
It did my heart so good when we would come home and just sit on the bed and just talk. That was my peace.
When my Grandmother took on the responsibility of us, my mother’s kids, she had no idea that we would turn out the way we turned out—that we would be successful—and that is not why she did it. She did it because she cared. She did it because she loved us. She did it because she knew that we would be better off with her and my grandfather than to be split up with our mom and dad. For that, if I had Bill Gates money, a thousand tongues to say “thank you,” a thousand tongues to say, “Granny, I love you,” it wouldn’t be enough. What price do you pay for someone who gives you everything, but life? You give them all that you are and you figure out how to pay it forward.
A TRUE MIRROR
When I first started making money I used to think, “I made it, why can’t he? Why can’t she?” Then one day as I sitting at my home in Atlanta watching something on television, it really dawned on me: “yes, Shannon you’ve made it, but what about the person who is trying to make it that didn’t have a Mary Porter in their life? Okay sure you know the hardships that you have had, you know the struggles that you’ve faced, but what about the person who has had the same hardships or even harder struggles that didn’t have the person who has cared and nurtured them, guided them, and helped them along the way as you’ve had? So now, for them the journey, the struggle is double.” That changed my way of thinking. That made me more caring, understanding, and more compassionate towards people’s plight. My Granny used to say, “no matter how bad you think you have it someone has it worse than you,” and she was right.
I find myself now, as I see what is going on in the world, more concentrated [on what is happening] here in America, more concerned now than I was then. Maybe that is because I didn’t know as much or hadn’t been exposed. It is naïve to think that the work is done, that the struggles our ancestors went through trying to make sure our lives were better are over, and that we are there. We must commit to being on the path to making it better for many and fulfilling their dreams. I am.
#TAKEAKNEE and OBAMACARE
I have been very fortunate that I have been given this platform. The show that I am on is UNDISPUTED (Fox Sports) with SKIP BAYLESS. He has given me this opportunity to speak freely, to speak honestly, and to speak openly about some of the things I see going on in America and what is the best way to get a vast majority of people to see that it is not right and is not acceptable.
The misconception is that people think that when you have money you are insulated from those instances of injustice. However, the thing I remind people of is that I am even more qualified because I know both sides. I have been the person with no voice and perceived power that comes with money, celebrity, and a platform. I was the person who could not be seen so I am speaking from the place of having been there. For me, when I see people going through something, I am hurting with them. It comes out when I see what COLIN KAEPERNICK is talking about and going through. I see what he is trying to draw attention to. People are hurting. No man is more qualified than a person who has been in that situation.
I know how hard it is not to have health insurance until the age of 22 because I didn’t until I became a professional athlete. Clearly a lot has changed since then, so from my current position the American Healthcare Act crushed me because it took me from doctors that I had been seeing for 10, 15 years and put me outside of my network. Now, I have to pay more for those doctors and pay more if I had to go to the hospital, but that is a small burden for me to bare because I am fortunate enough to be able to pay for those things without having to compromise any other area of need in my life. Affordable Care gave people that did not have it, health insurance. It gave them that so I will gladly sacrifice and pay more so everyone can have something, and not live in fear of getting sick or suffering without treatment.
I look at it like this: I am the people I am talking to on social media; the same as the people who respond to and follow me. I am them, but with a Hall of Fame induction, NFL, and being on the television. I am just a normal guy from Glennville, Georgia who made good on a promise to his grandmother and tries to live the best way I can every single day. I will never think that I am better than someone else because I have more than they do or because I now live somewhere they don’t. I never will. That is not how she raised me.
The AMERICAN DREAM
If your dream is to leave an impoverished situation. If your dream is to make your parents, family, and community proud. If it is to do something you think will make a place better when you leave than from when you came, then yes, I am the “American Dream.” I come from nothing—materially and monetarily speaking—and worked my ass off for everything I got. I take nothing for granted and I respect everyone. I expect that in return. I give freely of my time and it’s not easy. The demand never stops, but I keep going.
The MANTRA (Voice in My Head)
Every morning I awake the first thing I say is, “thank you Lord for letting me see another day, and that I still have use of all my extremities. Thank you.” I thank Him for waking up a whole lot of other people. As I am showering, I think about how can I be a better man today than I was yesterday.
If you see yourself now the same way that you did five years ago, then I don’t think you should think very much of yourself. I say that to say, I am continually growing literally and figuratively, and we all should. Every day that you wake up you should be thankful, especially when you consider the alternative. I don’t concern myself with what I don’t have. I concern myself with what I do have. I have something that a lot of people don’t have and they will never have: I have enough. I maximize my time. That is the one thing I understood at a very young age. Time is the one thing you can never recapture. You can never make it up. If you lose money, you can make it up. Time is the only thing you can’t get back.
I like routine.
3:15AM Awake and shower. I lay out my clothes the night before so my bags are already packed. I have done this since playing in the NFL because I was always so excited about going to work. I am still. On the drive to the studio, I am thinking about possible topics to be discussed.
4:00AM My call time. First up is a production meeting to formally white-board what the day’s show will be about and who are the guests. I always know what I want to say so I take this time to think about what Skip will say and could say. I stay ready.
5:30AM My breakfast is widely known at this point: mixed fruit some pineapple, grapes, and strawberries, oatmeal, egg whites.
9:30AM We are on air. Afterwards, I go home, take the dogs out and begin another phase of my day:
I watch the day’s show now in its entirety. I break it down to determine what I could have done differently or better in relation to the content and Skip and myself. I am looking at my body language with the guests to make certain that it reads as engaged and interested because it is important to me that they feel accepted. We communicate a lot throughout.
Eat and then look for new topics in anticipation of speaking with my producers later in the evening.
Go Train. I never miss a workout. From the car more times than not, I will talk to my sister for likely the third time of any given day.
Return home. Eat again. Talk to my production. Start my evening wind down. Lay my clothes out.
9:00PM Lights out.
The MEDITATION (when you think Legacy + Heritage)
When it is all said and done, if people don’t remember that I played football that is fine because football is what I did, it is not who I am. If they don’t remember that I am from Glennville, that I went to Savannah State, and then lived in LA, that’s fine. Those are places that I lived. For me, if they remember that I was a good friend, a good brother, and a good son I am good.
I’d want for my kids to say I was an okay father. Although I’m not the world’s greatest dad, hopefully they see that everything I did allowed them to experience everything as kids and young adults that they could have ever wanted—things that I never did. I hope that they appreciate that. I can’t give them back those moments of being there for PTA meetings or the special occasions that they saw some of their friends’ fathers attending, but I told them (I think they understand) why. The best way I could honor them was to sit them down and tell them why. And I did.
If you told me I could only listen to one person sing for the rest of my life, it would be ME’SHELL N’DEGOCELLO.
If you told me it could be two people, then add SADE.
If you told me three people, then add MAXWELL.
For me because I am so high-strung, I need something to slow me down. Even when I played, I couldn’t listen to upbeat music. Me’Shell, Sade, and Maxwell, they sing like I am: with passion. They wear their emotions openly. From their songs you can tell something has hurt them. Honesty sometimes makes us vulnerable. The two things that makes us most vulnerable is loneliness and greed.
5 Things I Can’t Live Without
Tonka, Tazz, and Tarzan (my dogs)
My Kids, My Brother and Sister
Anything from my Grandmother. She used to give me these silver dollar pieces. I still have them. They have gone with me from team to team, city to city.
Suits + Sneakers + Watches I’ll say, but in all honesty I can live without them if I had to.