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Fast and Furious with Finesse

Keyshawn Johnson, once one of the NFL's premier wide receivers, has moved on with a flourish to his next life as a broadcaster and businessman.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008

(continued from page 1)

Johnson wants to do more interviews for ESPN. And if any of the scandals of the off-season come up during the 2008 NFL, Johnson has opinions at the ready. The controversy about the New England Patriots stealing signals by videotaping opponents' practices? A molehill, says Johnson, who played for Patriots coach Bill Belichick when both were with the Jets: "It's been blown out of proportion by the media. The game hasn't changed in 10 years, but the media has. Those morons—they're fucking wackos. And now I'm part of it."

Steroids are a different story: "If you're on steroids, you're a loser and you'll never be a champion," Johnson says flatly. "I don't respect anyone who cheats to get ahead."

Entering his sophomore season on ESPN, Johnson wants to expand his TV portfolio. He's already got a reality series in production for the A&E Network, in which he offers makeovers for people's homes as an interior design consultant.

"A production company found me because of an article on interior design I did and pitched me the show," says Johnson, who is lending his name to a line of home furnishings as well as a fashion line. "I have a knack for design. It's all about taste. I look at books and buy every magazine out there that has anything to do with interior design. There are tons of them. And I've gotten better and better at it."

He also wouldn't turn down a TV talk show, preferably one produced by the production company he is creating.

"I'm not a comedian but think I'm interesting enough," he says with a laugh. "I want to talk to athletes but I think I could talk to anybody, really. My dream guest? Oprah. Or Obama."

Still, Johnson knows his limitations: "I'm not trying to be a journalist," he says. "I don't want to be caught up in being a Bryant Gumbel—type person. I couldn't do that. Bryant Gumbel is stuffy to me. I've got to be casual and fun. I can't take myself too seriously."

Perpetual-motion machine? Johnson fits the description. His agent, Jerome Stanley, says, "Keyshawn is not going to do one thing at a time. He's a busy bee."

For his part, Stanley is trying to convince Johnson to be a contestant on "Dancing with the Stars." Former coach John Robinson likes to tell Johnson that he could be mayor of Los Angeles.

"Political office? Never—there's just too much bullshit," Johnson says. "I like making money too much. But if you make money while you're in office, it means you're doing something sneaky.

"The chances of me doing 'Dancing with the Stars' are the same as me pulling a monkey out of my ass. That's not me. I'm not trying to be seen and be famous for the public. I'm already seen. When you're an athlete from L.A. like I am, you're already entrenched in the entertainment industry. You don't try to go out of your way to be noticed on TV."

The sun is fading as Johnson slides into a seat on the patio of a coffee spot near his condo. He lights a Cuban Cohiba, savors its rich flavor for a moment and looks at it appreciatively: "This isn't as strong as I remember," he says. Which reminds him of the first time he smoked a cigar, while he was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He smiles and says, "I didn't really smoke. So I thought that if I inhaled, it would give me a faster buzz."

"I tried to warn him—I said, 'It's not like a cigarette,' but he gave me the 'Oh yeah, whatever,'" recalls Brian Kelly, his then-teammate on the Bucs. "I got ahold of some Cubans and we started smoking them in a club. He got kind of queasy, kind of woozy, so he got in his car to leave. And a little while later, he called me. He was parked by the side of the road and couldn't drive the rest of the way. When I picked him up, he was like a guy who had 20 shots of Tequila. After that, he had a new respect for cigars."

As he savors his Cohiba and laughs at the memory of his first cigar, Johnson adds, "I associate good cigars with wealth, with relaxation, with fine wine. They're a luxury I enjoy. I still smoke them occasionally, depending on where I'm at and what I'm doing. And I am building a humidor in my new house."

If he doesn't exactly have the entire next phase of his career planned out, Keyshawn Johnson has a full platter of options. He has no time, he says, to look backward at his football career. The future is ripe and he's eager to discover its possibilities.

"Football was a good anchor to segue into the next 30 years," Johnson says, then adds, "Hopefully, more than that. When it's all over, I want to be that old guy out on a yacht in the south of France, smoking a big old stogie, with a hairy chest, a pot belly and saggy nuts."

Marshall Fine is a writer and critic whose most recent book is Accidental Genius: How John Cassavetes Invented American Independent Film.


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