Marcellus Wiley Talks Winners Bracket, Wonderlic Strategy and Life After NFL

ESPN is promoting their new weekend block of sports-related entertainment on ABC which kicks off this Saturday afternoon. From 4-6 p.m. Hannah Storm will be anchoring ESPN's two-hour block of repackaged content. The first hour will highlight one of the 30 for 30 movies. The second hour will be a show called Winners Bracket, hosted by Michelle Beadle and Marcellus Wiley. I had the chance to talk with Wiley for today's On the DL, which you can listen to on my site. Here are a few of the topics we discussed.

Wiley is from Compton, and left Los Angeles to go to school at Columbia. We talked a lot about what it was like growing up, getting out and going to an Ivy League school.

⇥"Being from Compton, everybody knows about the gangs and the drugs and the poverty and all the ills of that community. I was just guy that was blessed to have athletic ability when I was young, but also, my parents really told me that I had to do well in the classroom. From a young age, I was that kid in the spelling bees. I was that kid in the academic pentathlon. I was the kid who just really took the classroom seriously.⇥

⇥"I just wanted that degree. I wanted to put on my wall that people thought I was smart and I went to an Ivy League school. Football would take care of itself, but I definitely wanted to take care of my books. ⇥


⇥"Being from LA where I was from, I really wanted to get away. I'm talking about some of the bad things that really happen on some of the movies or on TV that you see, I actually had to live some of those circumstances, so it was a breath of fresh air just to get away from it."⇥

I asked about deciding on Columbia of all the schools that were recruiting him, especially considering how far it was from home. Was it a bit of culture shock?
⇥"I went through social shock. I went through culture shock. I remember getting to New York and realizing this is a pedestrian city, so everyone is in your face. I'm used to LA where everyone is in a car and we have our own space – our social space. So it was weird, man. People are more rude or frank, whatever you want to call them, on the east coast, in comparison to LA. People in LA will say hello to you, hi to you. Maybe they're fake with it, trying to figure out who you are and if you might be a star, but still they're at least going to be cordial. In New York, people walk by you, they act like they don't see you. It was just completely different for a guy who was 17 years old."
We talked a lot about the Wonderlic – Wiley is obviously a smart dude so it stands to reason that he'd have an opinion on the test. Is it a good assessment of intelligence and "football smarts"?
⇥"I think it's a good assessment. First things first, they don't even tell you how to take the test. So that's difficult in itself, as with anything, the fear of the unknown. So guys get this 50-question, 12-minute exam and they sit there and give you 25 reading questions and then 25 math questions. So everyone just plows into it and starts the reading questions. But you're on the clock. So the smart thing to do is flip to question 26 and start with the math because those are easier to answer because it doesn't take a lot of time to read through them. I even did it the wrong way for about the first 10 questions. The first 10 were all reading and I’m reading them, I'm taking time and I'm answering them. Then about the 11th question, I said 'hold on, I'm going to the math' so I flipped it over, went to the math, finished all the math and then went back to the reading. Time expired, I end up getting a 35.⇥

⇥"Most guys you see get a 12 or a 20…it's not because they're not smart, it's because they're not deciphering the information under pressure. Doesn't that sound a lot like football? When you are out there and a guy goes in motion and you have to read what this offensive play is…and he lines up from a far formation to a near formation…it's the same play as if he would have (originally) lined up in that same near formation, but if you can't decipher that information under that time, in that pressure, you're not going to be able to make that play. Same thing that happens in the Wonderlic, actually happens on the football field.⇥


⇥"It's weird and it's a stretch, but organizations understand it. This guy can calculate on his feet that fast. These questions aren't difficult. They're just different. They're just going to say the same thing in a different way. It throws a lot of guys for a loop. I don't know if the smartest players are necessarily the best players, but I do know from my experience on the football field, when you are prepared, you make so many more plays than when you are athletic. If I am just an average athlete, but I am prepped up – I know every play and when this guy goes in motion this play is coming – I'll make so many more plays because I know where to be when the play is coming."⇥

We discussed his career in the NFL and how some players only care about their legacy on the field. Obviously, Wiley has other plans after football – including his work at ESPN – so is the time he's spending at ESPN his second career, or another way to raise his profile as a means to an end for other business endeavors down the line?
⇥"To say something maybe profound, I actually looked at football as a means to and end. I'm actually happier and better suited for where I'm at now in the media than I was on the football field. I was never a football player as I got to learn football players. Guys that just really bleed, sweat, live, die…everything they have was invested in football. I was just never that guy. ⇥

⇥"It wasn't like I didn't work hard. It wasn't like I wasn't committed. But I never invested my total thought into 'I am playing football and then what else – I don't know.' And a lot of guys are like that. They call it in, in the locker room, ball 'til you fall. There are a lot of guys who ball 'til they fall and when it's over, it's really over. When they're done, the highlight of their lives are those playing days. I never wanted the highlight of my life to be when I played football. I wanted it to be a stepping stone. I wanted it to be a progression, and have some great moments, but I'm 35 years old now. You're trying to tell me I've lived the best of my life already? That's crazy."⇥

We talked about the epidemic of concussions in the NFL, and why some players refuse to give up the game in order to save their lives down the line. Wiley does give some insight into the football mindset, inasmuch that you can't just turn the switch on and off.
⇥"You get yourself into a zone, mentally, with the adrenaline. And that's why it's so hard to retire and un-retire – unless you're a quarterback or a kicker. You don't leave this game as a guy in the trenches and then come back to it. Because it's a war out there. And I'm not talking about flying bullets. I'm not comparing it to a real war because that's life or death. I'm talking about a war of the minds, where you've really got to tell yourself, 'I've got to be a little off center for three hours a day. I cant' be normal. I can't be who I am as a person for three hours a day. Because if I am, I'm going to get killed out there. I'm going to get hurt out there.' So, you take yourself to a different place and you go out there and get it, then you return back to who you (really) are, and that's how it is."
In talking about life after football, and diversifying interests, I brought up Chad Ochocinco on Dancing with the Stars:
⇥Dude he looks horrible.
There was more to that quote, but it's funnier pulled out just like that. We talked about some of his other business ventures before focusing on Winners Bracket. The concept seems rather structured – 16 highlights from the week fighting off in a bracket-style format until there's one winner, with Wiley and Beadle debating the process with the audience and special guests – but after watching the clip, you can tell the show is predicated on the interplay between Beadle and Wiley.
⇥"Anything goes on this show. I see a highlight that I support and she sees a highlight that she supports, we make them compete against one another. I'm going to pump up my highlight to the nth degree with my personality and my insight and she's going to do the same. The beautiful thing is, I'm going to make fun of hers. ⇥

⇥"When you get (highlights) into a competitive bracket system, great not even great enough. You have to do something exceptional, you have to do something unbelievable to advance. That's where we're going to be pitted against each other trying to convince the viewers, the fans, the nation of what our arguments are."⇥

We got into a conversation about being pigeon-holed as a "football guy" and if that's something that could hamper him on this show. He mentioned that he's actually more of a fan of track and field, which led to a whole conversation about how he beat Warrick Dunn in a race when they were 11 and then I shared a story about how I beat a bunch of kids from Willingboro and had qualified for nationals when I was a kid before realizing I grew up to be a slow, Jewish sportswriter. Oh, we also talked about Usain Bolt. All that, of course, was brought up to discuss his ability to speak about more than just football on Winners Bracket.
⇥"You have to show that diversity. You have to show (the audience) that 'hey, I'm a sports fan, and maybe I played a certain sport, but you don't know where energies are invested.' It's great as an analyst to have the opportunity. That's the tough part, because everyone believes here's a football player, who used to play for 10 years, we're going to keep him on every single football show. So, I feel comfortable and excited to get a show more of thoughts that I have for other sports. It's not about being an expert…but at the same time, I can tell you what I think about (other sports) and more importantly, from an athlete's perspective, and from a former football player's perspective, how we view that sport as far as its athleticism and it's contribution to the sports world."

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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