‘We’re more than just athletes’: Bobby Wagner showed his deeper side in empowering media sessions
At his first weekly press conference of 2021 in early September, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner anticipated the first question with an announcement.
“I thought about doing something different this year,” Wagner said.
And so began one of the most unusual and challenging player-media interactions I’ve experienced in my four-decade career.
For background, Wagner and quarterback Russell Wilson are the only Seahawks available to reporters each week, Wagner typically on Wednesdays and Wilson on Thursdays. Wagner decided that he would use this forum to discuss a subject other than football that was close to his heart – a book, a company, a person, a concept. And then he would address football issues.
“I know sometimes you ask me very thoughtful questions, but I decided to help push you in the right direction,” he said that day.
Frankly, it seemed to have the potential to be preachy or pedantic. But it was neither, because Wagner wouldn’t allow it. Instead, it was an illuminating exploration of eclectic subject matter that managed to open my mind and steer it in new directions. And in the process, Wagner presented far deeper and more authentic insights into who he is as a person than any dissertation on, say, linebacker blitz or on-screen passing defense mechanics. could never give. (Although we ended up having them too.)
I think now of that four-month interactive project as Wagner’s future with the Seahawks, after a golden decade, comes into question. The contract that Wagner negotiated himself in 2019 carries a salary cap of $20.3 million in 2022. The Seahawks could save $16.6 million in cap space by releasing it, or they could ask Wagner to renegotiate a deal more favorable to the team. He could be back, or he could move on, like his great friend KJ Wright after last season.
In his last media session, before the season-ending game with Arizona — which Wagner missed with a knee injury — Wagner promised to have some provocative new topics to explore next season. If there is a next season. But even though there’s no Wagner in Seattle, he succeeded in what he set out to do with his briefings, just as much as he succeeded as an All-Pro linebacker who was an integral of a Super Bowl winning team.
“I just want everyone to know that we are more than just athletes,” he said. “We have more capacity in our brains than just going out there and attacking or catching passes or something like that.”
That very first week, the topic launched by Wagner was a company called pgLang, founded by Kendrick Lamar and Dave Free to foster content creation and youth development. It provides a window into what have emerged as recurring themes of Wagner: his advocacy of black entrepreneurs, his desire to prepare for a life in business after football, and his belief in the importance of developing one’s mind beyond soccer.
“I’m constantly watching different companies, constantly reading, and constantly trying to grow as a person,” he said. “It’s important that we start to open a conversation about how you can do more than just your sport.
“I feel like that’s why a lot of guys get really confused or have problems when they quit their sport that they play, because they focus so much time and energy on their sport they don’t realize this game can be taken away from you at any time you need to have something else this game doesn’t last forever you need to have a different path.
In discussing his decision to negotiate his contract – which evolved, he said, from defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. urging all Seahawks players to learn more, which, for Wagner, led to leaning on the league’s collective bargaining agreement – Wagner said: “It opened a lot of doors for me. It opened doors I didn’t know existed. When you’ve got your head down constantly in football, there’s a whole world out there that can get you excited.
In the weeks that followed, Wagner tackled subjects that not only fascinated him, but that he knew well. Here is a sample:
- Public, an investment app focused on educating people on how to develop their financial literacy.
Wagner: “It’s important to me, because it’s something I wasn’t taught growing up in school. I was always taught to work hard to make money rather than finding ways to make the money work for yourself. …I want to change that narrative, that you have to have a certain amount of money or look at a certain type of path to learn how to invest.
Wagner: “Personally, I find a lot of peace in meditation and yoga. When I heard about it, I didn’t think it was something for me. I thought it was something very different from what it really was. I find, especially in this game as mental as it is, having something to find peace in is why I love doing it. I think it’s important for me to talk about it, because kids watch us play and they watch us play, and they think this game is all physical.
- A book called “The Seat of the Soul”, by Gary Zuvak.
Wagner: “I read it and it really changed my life in a positive way. … This book was really inspiring because it kind of goes beyond the limits of the five senses and opens your mind to your spiritual life and your spiritual world. It made me more aware of my way of thinking, more aware of my intention in all my relationships, not just football but family. I think it was really about moving forward into your authentic self and your authentic power.
- (During Thanksgiving week) The power and brilliance of women.
Wagner: “We can help in many ways, whether it’s investing in a female founder, understanding the obstacles she goes through, whether it’s in medicine or in the media. I mean A, I’m grateful; and B, I challenge men to have an open mind and perspective and do your part in whatever it looks like to move that needle.
“I feel like the role women play now and in the future is extremely powerful and important, so I’m open to conversation. I understand that I’m still learning a lot of things that I don’t understand, but I want to understand. I challenge men to challenge each other in this world. That’s what I’m grateful for.
Wagner: “It doesn’t matter what color you are, it doesn’t matter what profession you work in, it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how little money you have. Everyone has something going on in their life that is sometimes overwhelming.
“If you always keep it compressed, at some point it will come out and come out in ways that you might not want it to come out. I just want to point out that there is nothing wrong with not not be, and that there is nothing wrong with looking for someone to help you through this process.
It was amusing (and eye-opening) for Wagner that after discussing such important topics – and many more – the one that went viral was an offhand comment about hating mayonnaise at a conference on supporting black-owned businesses. Wagner tried to turn things around next week by offering nine students the chance to join him after the season on a tour of Silicon Valley.
“We’ll see if we can blow that up,” he said. “We’re going to turn something funny into something positive and help kids.”
In his final weekly session, Wagner reflects on the success of his business.
“I wanted to kind of peel off some layers for myself, but also kind of peel off some layers with you guys and allow you into my world a little bit,” he said. “I think throughout this process we’ve had a lot of amazing conversations about the books, about things that could change the world, about things that maybe we weren’t aware of.”
“Hopefully we can do something more impressive next year. I’m going to follow up on everything I’ve said at those press conferences. … I’d like to cheer on the athletes as they go. in their journey, whatever sport they play, whatever craft you are trying to perfect, understand and keep an open mind that there are other things to master We are not a pony We can be more than just athletes.
And Wagner ended with a message to the media that I suspect he had been leading all along: “I challenge you to find unique ways to peel back the layers of every player, because every player in this building, every player in this league, has something special about them. I think those are the stories you want to write about.