Transitioning is always hard.
But imagine training for something your entire life, always being the best, and once you hit your late teens, your dreams come true. Whatever sport it is, you’re at the pinnacle of it, performing at levels your doubters never conceived and racking up millions of dollars in the process.
But in the world of sports, retirement comes way sooner, and the time to transition and make a name for yourself off the field comes quick. Some players have a plan and begin sketching a plan to know what that second phase of life looks like, and one of those players is Shawne Merriman — one of the best linebackers the NFL has ever seen. Not only was he able to turn his athletic ability into a brand but the brand was so strong it helped catapult his life after ball.
Welcome to Beyond Ballin’.
CASSIUS: You’ve been retired for a few years now. If you could describe retirement in one word, what would it be and why?
Shawne Merriman: First word that comes to my mind, is “excitement!” I loved my time on the field, but I am now so focused on my future and there is so much greatness and challenges ahead of me! I’m at a point where I can accomplish a lot more than what I was able to offer on the football field.
C: Tell us about your clothing line, Lights Out. What made you want to create a clothing line?
SM: To me, my brand Lights Out is much more than your average athletic fashion line. I feel that I’ve always been a t-shirt and hat kind of guy for my everyday life. I’ve always done events, and on-camera work in either my old gear, or a nice suit and tie. I wanted to make a product that resonates with what Lights Out is. It’s a powerful brand with a lot of edge for the everyday man and women.
C: How does your foray into the MMA play into the Lights Out Brand?
SM: MMA has always been a big interest of mine, and Lights Out as a brand is an extension of myself and everything I love. With Lights Out, I have been able to cross paths with fashion, NASCAR, MMA, NFL, and more. This is just the beginning and I know there’s a lot of great things to expand upon as I continue to grow this lifestyle brand.
C: Since the name of the brand came from your nickname in your playing days, how important was it for you to brand yourself?
SM: Branding is everything! It’s so important that whomever it is stands 100% behind their brand, and I am beyond proud to have created my Lights Out brand. I feel it really shows through in the products we have released, and everything that’s coming out in the near future.
C: Known as one of the greatest defensive players in the NFL’s history, is there some sort of an identity crisis when leaving the sport?
SM: Yeah, absolutely! It’s been something that I’ve tried to separate myself from as well. With “Lights Out,” it isn’t just football, it’s a lifestyle choice and a statement for knocking things out in all aspects of your everyday life. I’ve spent a lot of time showing people that I am not just another athlete putting my name with a brand, but actually making business moves to create and cultivate an entire lifestyle brand beginning with fashion.
C: What was the hardest part about transitioning out of the league?
SM: The hardest part of transitioning out of the league for me was the intense schedules and regimens that I had grown accustom to. Getting up and changing my schedule that was my life for so many years was pretty tough. I am an office man now, and at first I had this new found freedom I had to get used to. I squeeze in workouts to stay in shape now. I train daily as hard as my body will allow since retiring. My schedule is a lot more packed now, and there are all these moving parts, not just pre-season training, practices, and games.
C: When did you know it was time to retire?
SM: For me, I knew it was time to retire when my body wasn’t holding up to my mental demands as a professional athlete. The injuries I had sustained were felts all over. Mentally I was able to continue, but physically, my body wasn’t performing the way I needed it to.
C: Some athletes have trouble moving on after they retire or don’t plan properly while they’re still playing. What’s your key advice to any other athletes looking to move on?
SM: My best advice to all the professional athletes who are playing now is to get involved now in what you want to do post-career. Don’t wait until you’re on the way out or injured. Always plan ahead! The life of a professional athlete is very demanding, and can be over in the blink of an eye. Every athlete knows that you are potentially one game or match away from a career-ending injury. Plan ahead and get involved in what you want to do post-career now.
C: What sparked your interest in NASCAR?
SM: I’ve always been a huge fan of NASCAR. Being at a race gets you a lot more excited than what you experience when watching on a TV. Being an adrenaline junky got me interested, and when I experienced it live for the first time, I was hooked.
C: How important was it for you to invest in a brand not typically marketed to African Americans and be involved with one of the sports few black drivers, Jesse Iwuji?
SM: The first driver I ever signed, Jesse Iwuji, has continued to be a great inspiration to me, the African-American community, and minorities overall. It was and still is very important to me to make sure that whoever I bring on for my NASCAR team can be a role model for all. Jesse served our country in the Navy, played football with the Navy Midshipmen football team, and is taking his passion to NASCAR to inspire others, it’s a really great thing to be a part of.
C: How do you plan on improving diversity in NASCAR?
SM: The first big thing coming up is really exciting to me. For a race at the Dover Track in Delaware, we are brought out 50 minority and underprivileged kids to the track to experience their first NASCAR race. I remember the excitement I felt with my first race and I am so glad that my team and I will be able to host these kids for an exciting time.
C: You’ve been out of the league for a few years and already have ESPN appearances, your own brand, and work with NASCAR. What’s next?
SM: Honestly, I am just getting my feet wet for my post-career life. I still have a lot of plans for the future and I am just trying to do it all. Getting the masses familiar with my brand and continuing my current projects with “Lights Out,” and NASCAR are my main focus right now. Being able to continuously grow my company will allow for me to expand and sign more NASCAR drivers, and MMA fighters. I want to create a lifestyle brand with “Lights Out,” and I’m just getting started.
C: Lastly, you made a cameo in Keri Hilson’s “Knock You Down” video. How did that come about?
SM: My boy Chris Robinson directed the music video and reached out to me saying he wanted me to be a part of it. When telling me about the project, he let me know it’d be for Keri Hilson, Ne-Yo, and Kanye West, and it was a done deal for me.