“I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and I’m the second best player in my own family.” — Shannon Sharpe
If neck injuries had not cut Sterling Sharpe’s career much too short, he would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside his younger brother. In seven dominant seasons with the Green Bay Packers (1988-94), the elder Sharpe was named to five Pro Bowls and anointed an All-Pro thrice, once for each season he led the league in receptions.
The man’s a legend, and legendary for being prickly with reporters during his playing days.
Last week, Sharpe flew to Toronto to attend a Blue Jays game and play a round of golf (his new passion) in support of friend Joe Carter’s annual charity tournament.
Five innings deep, a publicist approached me and asked if I’d like to speak with Mr. Sharpe.
Yes, I would.
I had nothing prepared and wasn’t even aware he was in the building, but I would be foolish to turn down a chance to chat with one of the greatest receivers to put on cleats.
So, here is a hockey writer and a football player talking golf (and CTE and the White House and stonewalling the media) at a baseball game.
SN: How did you meet Joe Carter?
Sharpe: Playing golf.
How many rounds do you play a year?
I play over 200 rounds of golf every year, not counting tournament golf.
Oh, wow. What’s your handicap?
Is that the best it’s ever been?
It goes up and down.
Could you play golf when you were playing football?
You could, but I didn’t.
So after you retired, you devoted yourself to the game?
I said I would never play. I ended up playing after I was done and just fell in love with it.
And you got good if you’re plus-2.
If you play as much as I do, you don’t have a choice but to get good [laughs].
What’s the coolest course you’ve played?
That’s hard. I’ve played Pine Valley, Cypress, Augusta, Friar’s Head, Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Manhattan Woods, Sage Valley. They’re all different, but those hard ones that you can’t play every day, you get a little more enjoyment out of those.
Ever gone overseas to play?
You know how many golf courses I’d pass going overseas to play golf? Why would I do that? That makes no sense.
“I saw three minutes of the Super Bowl, and not together…. I’m not going to sit and watch a football game.”
What is your take on Donald Trump dis-inviting the Eagles to the White House?
I don’t follow football anymore.
No. I play golf. If a football game is on, it has to be a big one for me to watch. I think I saw three minutes of the Super Bowl, and not together.
C’mon. Three minutes?
I got no reason to watch. When I played, I watched. When I did TV, I watched. I don’t do either anymore, so I don’t have to watch.
Not even out of curiosity or the love of the game?
My love of the game extended from playing. I love playing; it’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. But, no, I’m not a fan. I’m not going to sit and watch a football game because… no.
Were you always that way? Were you ever just a pure fan of sports?
I’m like this: If they don’t let me play, I don’t go. The only reason I’m at this [Blue Jays] game tonight is because of the Joe Carter function. If they don’t let me play, I don’t go — and I usually don’t watch [chuckles]. It’s not a bad thing; it’s just the way I am.
“Because they were doing it for people who look like me, there’s a really good chance I would’ve knelt.”
Do you ever feel like your insight is wasted?
Doing TV, watching games helped you get ready for next week’s shows. I don’t do TV anymore. I just learned about a new rule change on the kickoff tonight. That’ll be interesting. I may have to watch the beginning of a game to see what that looks like. As far as the Eagles-Donald Trump thing goes, it’s like anything. I remember when the Pro Bowl was sacred and everybody did everything in their power to make it. Then, guys made it so often, they didn’t go. I think the visit to the White House, for whatever reason, teams don’t want to go, and the President doesn’t seem like he cares if they come. Like anything, you don’t want to see change, but change says it’s not a big deal anymore.
Would you have knelt in your playing days?
I can’t answer that. Based on why they did it, being a black athlete, I probably would’ve had to. They were protesting something that was happening to people who look like me. You’re talking about 30 years ago, when I played. But in my today mind, based on why they were doing – which no one seems to want to talk about. They’re only concerned with the fact they’re doing it.
Police brutality. Racism. Inequality.
No one talks about why. They talk about, “We don’t want it done.” Because they were doing it for a reason, because they were doing it for people who look like me, there’s a really good chance I would’ve knelt.
What do you miss most about football?
None of it.
None of it?
I did what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in the National Football League. I didn’t want to be an All-Pro. I didn’t want to lead the league in a receiving category. I didn’t even have aspirations of playing in a Super Bowl. Sure, you want to and you imagine yourself making that catch. The only thing I ever asked God for was, “I want to play in the NFL.” I didn’t ask to play for 10 years, 15 years, four years. I just wanted to play, and I got a chance. Doesn’t get any better than that.
You have kids?
If you had a boy, would you let him play?
Yeah. Here’s the thing: There’s a lot of people walking the face of the Earth who didn’t play football and their minds and bodies are really screwed up, for whatever reason. Accidents. There’s a lot of guys who played football and got themselves beat up. I understand it’s a violent game, but who am I to tell someone they can’t do something they want to do? You want to be President? You want to be a race car driver? You want to be a football player? Yeah, I would let my kid play.
Ever worry about CTE? Have you been tested?
I’m 53 years old. So whatever happens, guess what? I’ve had 53 wonderful years. I’m not living my life through someone else’s pain. I definitely believe there are a lot of guys who played football who have a lot of things wrong with them. I can play golf every day. I can recognize my friends. I haven’t been here [in Toronto] in a year, and I remember people I met last year. I’ve got no complaints.
What was the biggest challenge about switching to TV?
I didn’t talk to the media as a player. The biggest challenge was getting people to listen to me because I didn’t talk as a player. People go, “How ironic? You didn’t talk to the media and now you’re part of the media.” I said, “Not in that capacity.” I didn’t need players to do my job. I could watch film; I could call coaches. I don’t think in the whole time my brother [Shannon] was playing I asked him a football question to help me do my job. I looked at it differently. The one thing I wanted people to understand is, what I’m saying is not personal. A lot of [media] people take themselves to where, sure, your opinion may matter based on viewership or readership, but it’s not like a guy is trying to drop a ball. The Toronto shortstop isn’t going out thinking, “I’m gonna try to make three errors today.” There’s no need for me to attack him. I can attack his technique all day. Now, in this day and age, we have a lot of people with a voice, and it’s not about what the players are doing.
“My victories now are small.”
Why didn’t you talk to the media as a player?
I didn’t have anything to say. Fifty-some-odd guys in the room. It started out as a joke. Because every time I got approached [by a reporter] as a rookie, they started out with, “He said…” or “This person said…” or “The head coach said…” It wasn’t like they were asking me. It was a leading question. You know what? I’m going to do something to make them want to talk to me, and I’m not going to have anything to say.
Did you feel disrespected?
God, no. It started out as a joke, but then it got to the point where it was like, it’s working! The next year I led the league in catches, yards and touchdowns. Why change?
Did you get a bad rap because of it?
No. If I want my viewers to know something about you, I have to put in some work as to what my viewers want to ask you. I didn’t feel that way as a rookie. I had a lot of things going on as a rookie. The NFL is new. The speed of the game. All that stuff.
Once you’ve accomplished everything you did on the field, then had success as an analyst, what gets you excited? Another new golf course to play? What gets you worked up now?
I don’t think I get worked up about anything. I like playing golf. It’s a good challenge for me – not to shoot the lowest score. I’ve played this golf course [Eagles Nest] four times, so I have a good idea, but my golf game is different and my equipment is different, so I’m excited to see how we perform. Excitement is a relative term. I enjoy coming to these [charity tournaments] because I get a chance to see my old friends, I get a chance to make new ones. Waking up every morning is exciting. In all honesty, my victories now are small. I’m not hoping to have a good game and make my team win; I’m not hoping to say something on TV that resonates and makes you understand football better. My victories are seeing my friends, making some new ones – not many. I don’t want many, just a few.
Who are you tight with here?
Joe, Joe’s brother Fred, Victor Green, Barry Larkin, Kelly Sheehan, Ronnie Lott, Dan Marino… guys that have been around and I’ve seen them away from what they do. Listen to their stories. That’s pretty good.
That list you just ran, a lot are household names. Is there a bond between athletes who’ve reached a certain level?
It’s not about levels. Dan Marino is in the Hall of Fame, and if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know it. He doesn’t act like you think he should act. I don’t know if Joe Carter’s in the Hall of Fame – he should be [He’s not. —ed.] – but he doesn’t act like a guy who hit a home run and won a World Series. Victor Green played during the time I played, but if you didn’t know that, you wouldn’t know. When you get to be our age and you come to functions like this, it’s just good to see each other again because a lot of us that played in this tournament, we’ve lost a lot of friends over the years. It’s just good to be around them.
How often would you get recognized these days?
I don’t pay attention to it. I always said, “I don’t care to be well-liked, and I didn’t come here to make friends.” I don’t know if someone recognizes me. If it wasn’t for Joe Carter, I would not be at this stadium. Because it’s Joe, I gave up my time to represent him.