One of the running tensions in sports, and in sports media, is about intense focus and specialization in one sport versus a more diversified approach to sports and life. Both have worked out for some; in sports, some who have played one sport only since an early age have found top-level success, but some who have come to a sport late and/or done other things along the way have too. And sports media has seen success stories from those obsessed with one sport, from those who take a more generalist approach, and from those who aren’t even exclusively focused on sports.
Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe had some interesting comments along these lines on Thursday’s episode of Travis and Jason Kelce’s Wave Sports + Entertainment podcast New Heights. There, he said (starting around 1:26:35 in the clip below) that his advice to his rookie self would be to focus on more than football, and particularly on relationships:
Sharpe starts that by saying “Sure would have wished my mom would have waited 10 years,” a reference to how much greater prominence tight ends took as receivers after his NFL career ended in 2003. He then goes on to say “What would I tell myself? I don’t know. Honestly, guys, from the time that I made it, everything was about football. I ate, I slept, I breathed, I talked football. I think I was terrible at a lot of things except football. I was terrible at being a brother, terrible at being a son, terrible at being a father, terrible at being a boyfriend. I was terrible at all of those, but I was a d*mn good football player.”
He continues “Probably I wish I could–if I could tell my rookie self–the way you judge success, because everything I look at now is judged by success, and that’s the only thing. Even my relationships are judged by success, and here I am about to be double-nickeled  in about four months, it’s still judged by success. So I would say, ‘Shannon, everything that you’ve accomplished doesn’t mean anything because you don’t have anyone to share it with.’ That’s what I would tell myself. If I could do it over again, I would find that one person and that’s what I would do.”
While Sharpe is particularly focused on the relationship aspect there (and Jason Kelce responds by pointing out “It’s not too late!”), he has seemingly done a nice job of diversifying his interests beyond football elsewhere. That’s been notable on FS1’s Undisputed. When Sharpe joined that show ahead of its 2016 launch, there were some questions about how well he’d be able to discuss sports beyond the NFL, but he’s certainly proven to be a capable debate opponent for Skip Bayless on the NBA as well (and on other sports, on the rare occasions Undisputed gets to them). And he’s turned into a notable national TV presence there, and one many current and former athletes like much more than Bayless.
It’s also interesting that one of the four players Sharpe lists on his Tight End Mount Rushmore (21:10 in the clip above) is Antonio Gates (along with Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, and Kellen Winslow Sr.), as Gates is one of the great recent examples of a multi-sport background paying off. Gates played high school football, but then only played basketball in college at Kent State before trying out for NFL teams and signing with the then-San Diego Chargers (the first team he tried out for) as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He went on to a 16-year career with that team, posting 955 receptions for 11,841 yards and 116 touchdowns (the latter being a NFL record for a tight end, and all of those being above Sharpe’s 815, 10,060, and 62, from an era where TEs were less targeted).
Sharpe says there that “I don’t think this guy gets enough love, but I’m gonna give him his flowers. He came in a little after me, Antonio Gates. Gates kinda reminds me of myself because he did a lot of changing speeds. It was slower and slower, but it was changing speeds.” And it’s interesting to hear his praise for Gates, and for the versatility Gates brought to the NFL (especially considering that elsewhere in this interview, Sharpe said he didn’t think LeBron James would be great in the NFL, doubting his ability to get off of press coverage). Sports versatility isn’t quite the same as being well-rounded off the field, of course, but that does add to the overall discussion here of Sharpe talking about his intense past focus on football, and how a less football-centric approach might have helped him more.
[New Heights on YouTube]