Michael Strahan Won’t Slow Down

Strahan wears MSX Polo and Chino's by Michael Strahan. Shoes by G/Fore. Watch by IWC Big Pilot.
Michael Schwartz

THE AFTERNOON PLAN WAS SIMPLE. Michael Strahan was going to be photographed taking his hacks at Liberty National Golf Club, the tony New Jersey course with views of the Statue of Liberty’s backside and a reported $300,000 initial membership fee. But the skies had other ideas. A steady drizzle meant there would be no actual time on the course—which you’d think would be a little disappointing to Strahan, a man who has so much going on professionally that he’s down to a single round of his beloved golf a week.

It was mid-afternoon, and Strahan had already put in a typical full day—co-hosting both Good Morning America and GMA3: Strahan, Sara, & Keke, as well as sitting for photos in the studio and out on a rainy Times Square sidewalk. But if Strahan was disappointed or exhausted, it didn’t show. At one slow moment, staring out from a luncheon at a foursome playing through the heavy stuff, he regaled the room with a story of how he recently took money off of Justin Timberlake—described by Strahan as a very good golfer who “can’t handle a little rain.”

Waiting to see if the rain would lift at Liberty National, Strahan was definitely on. Apprised by an assistant that he’d be taping an episode of The Tonight Show the next day along with Madonna, Strahan burst into “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”—and not just the verse everyone knows—while proclaiming his love for Evita. As camera equipment was being set up, he good-naturedly ribbed an assistant on the crew for “looking just like Mayor Pete Buttigieg” (accurate). Later, during a lull, the 47-year-old former All-Pro defensive end started riffing on his playing days, talking about how he always preferred playing football in the slop than in the heat and humidity of his college years at Texas Southern, sparking a quick diatribe against a college coach who “made us run until someone quit… and then he still made us run,” ending by demonstrating the proper technique for gassers, the brutal sprinting drill beloved by sadistic coaches everywhere.

Strahan’s improv routine wasn’t for anyone in particular; it was for anyone within earshot. And it garnered big laughs. But for Strahan, joking is less a way to entertain than a strategy to put everyone assembled at ease, so the tasks at hand can get done without a lot of drama. It’s one of those skills that can’t be taught in business school, as well as one that has helped Strahan manage a professional life that is equal parts hard work, seizing new opportunities, eschewing tedium and bickering, and building in plenty of downtime.

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His cheerful, avuncular television presence is everywhere these days. He’ll start your week off with Monday’s wake-up coffee on ABC’s GMA, the most-watched morning show, and take you all the way through to Sunday’s nightcap as master of ceremonies on the top-rated game show, The $100,000 Pyramid. On Thursday nights during the football season, he’s part of the Fox NFL pregame team in midtown Manhattan, and then hops a Friday-night flight for Fox’s Sunday pigskin show in Los Angeles. He also has his daily talk show with Sara Haines and Keke Palmer, GMA3: Strahan, Sara, & Keke.

At 47 years old, Michael Strahan experienced the apex of his football career when he was inducted into the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jacket, shirt, jeans and shoes by Collection Michael Strahan. Watch by Roger Dubuis.
At 47 years old, Michael Strahan experienced the apex of his football career when he was inducted into the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jacket, shirt, jeans and shoes by Collection Michael Strahan. Watch by Roger Dubuis. Michael Schwartz

That’s just the on-camera stuff. Off-screen, Strahan is the co-founder, with Constance Schwartz-Morini, of SMAC Entertainment, producer of The Joker’s Wild, Deion’s Double Play, and the documentary series Wiz Khalifa: Behind the Cam and Religion of Sports. He’s designed two clothing lines sold at JCPenney—Collection by Michael Strahan, a line of suits, ties, shoes, cuff links, and luggage; and the activewear label MSX, which is also sold at Blink, a low-cost, no-frills chain of gyms.

Then there’s his charitable work with St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, the USO, and Merging Vets & Players; the online video series Strayland, an insider’s look at his massive, toy-filled New Jersey garage; and Close Talker, a behind-The $100,000-Pyramid-scenes bit of silliness in which Strahan eats pungent food and converses with various celebrities from a few inches away. The high/low-water mark was a chat with Snoop Dogg after Strahan wolfed down a gang of onions, and the legendary rapper revealed his dream to join the circus and walk a tightrope. In a Speedo.

“I’ll be honest, when you lay it all out, I’m not sure how I’m doing it all, other than having great people around me,” Strahan said. “It’s all part of a path going forward—not a career. The career was football.” These days, he said, “if something pops up that sounds cool, let me try it.”

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IT WAS THE LAST DAY BEFORE A MUCH-NEEDED two-week break in New York’s Hamptons, and Strahan, sipping coffee in an Upper West Side bistro, was ready to spend time with his twin daughters, get in a round of golf with former teammate Justin Tuck and Nets great Jason Kidd, and just chill. “When I am on vacation, I am on vacation,” he told me, while admitting his relaxation would be interrupted by his duties presiding over Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Sports 2019, a SMAC production out in Los Angeles.

Strahan didn’t show up for our interview with handlers, use ridiculous buzzwords, constantly check his phone, or refer to himself as a disrupter, thought leader, or, god forbid, an influencer. He’s not a businessman, or a business, man. He’s a man enjoying his business, the kind of guy who puts Close Talker out in the world because stinky breath in tight quarters is funny.

Strahan wears MSX Polo and Chino's by Michael Strahan. Watch by Rolex Daytona.
Strahan wears MSX Polo and Chino’s by Michael Strahan. Watch by Rolex Daytona. Michael Schwartz

“Michael is disciplined and has a game plan,” says Jimmy Johnson, the title-winning coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes and the Dallas Cowboys and a longtime fixture on Fox NFL Sunday. “He’s taking advantage of the opportunities now knowing he can relax later.”

Strahan credits his parents, Gene and Louise, for his easygoing attitude and hard-ass work ethic, adding that it also helped that he grew up outside the United States. Born in Houston, Strahan left the country at 9, moving with his family to Mannheim, Germany. His father had a long career in the military, but even after he retired, the Strahans remained overseas, where his father opened a moving company. Michael wouldn’t return to Texas until his senior year of high school and his first true season of organized football, intended as a springboard to college. He knew a little about football from watching NFL games on Armed Forces Network, but what really helped was being in fantastic shape. At 13, after realizing his brothers were making fun of him for being fat, Strahan started seriously exercising, using a book by Heisman Trophy–winning running back Herschel Walker and a Jane Fonda VHS workout tape as guides.

Strahan wasn’t especially good during high school, but he was strong enough to earn a scholarship offer from nearby Texas Southern University. Strahan took full advantage, learning the game at a small school out of the spotlight, his eye fixed on a paying job in the NFL. He needed the money. By the time his senior season was over, he had a baby daughter and a fiancée back in Germany. “Football was everything,” he wrote in his 2015 rules-to-live-by memoir Wake Up Happy. “There was no plan B.” (He has two grown children from the first marriage, and teenage twins from the second; both ended in divorce.)

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Drafted by the New York Giants in the second round in 1993, Strahan became a regular starter as defensive end in his second season. He went on to make seven Pro Bowls, set the single-season sack record with 22.5, and win the AP Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2001. Along the way, he became known as the guy who talked to everyone in the organization, from the janitor to owner John Mara, a jokester who kept the team loose and fired them up, describing himself to The New York Times as “part relaxation therapist and part Red Bull.” He hung up his cleats following the 2007 season—leaving at least $4 million on the table—after recording a sack and three tackles in the Giants’ 17–14 upset over the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII—and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

Before retiring, Strahan had been doing sideline spots for various networks and honing his yakking skills on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. After leaving the NFL, Strahan went on Live With Regis and Kelly and jokingly volunteered to take over for Philbin when he decided to call it quits. When that happened, in 2011, Strahan was a regular guest host, eventually beating out 60 others for the permanent gig a year later. “They told me I got the job the time Channing Tatum came on the show promoting Magic Mike,” Strahan recalled. He told the producers he would rip off his suit pants and do a little dance… “I didn’t think they could make [break-away] pants that freaking quickly.”

Strahan wears T-shirt by John Varvatos and watch by Robert Dubuis.
Strahan wears T-shirt by John Varvatos and watch by Robert Dubuis. Michael Schwartz

Live With Kelly and Michael would be transformative for Strahan—no longer was he just a football guy; now he was a television star, adored by audiences and network executives alike. In 2016, after two years as a special correspondent on Good Morning America, he became a co-host—which posed a new kind of challenge, balancing fun and games with serious news broadcasting. “There are so many different levels mentally and emotionally in the stories on GMA, but it also can’t all be doomsday,” Strahan says. “You have to bring people back and give them hope for the day. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done, and it took me a while, but I think I’ve got it now. The funniest thing is all those guys who used to come up to me to talk football now want to talk recipes—they’re serious about that mango salad.”

Most people have one act. I’m on number four, five, six.

IN 2015, STRAHAN ENTERED YET ANOTHER new venture, launching his signature collection of clothing. True to his down-to-earth form, he didn’t go with a luxury retailer like Neiman Marcus, but with JCPenney, where nearly every item is under $99. Soon after, the MSX line launched at JCP and was added to 10 Blink gym locales in 2018. It sold so well that the line is now in all 80-plus facilities.

Indeed, Strahan brings serious focus to building a genuine clothing brand, Harvey Spevak, executive chairman and managing partner of Equinox Holdings, which owns Blink, has been friends with Strahan for 20 years but was still impressed by his business acumen when they teamed up. “He visited our gyms, met with the CEO, and selected the offerings because he believes in his product,” Spevak said. “It is very unusual for someone that high-profile to be so engaged.”

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Strahan brings a similar intensity to his TV production gigs. It’s a heavy load, but Strahan believes he’s able to maintain a relatively stress-free approach because he’s been through the meat grinder known as the National Football League. He made it through the rigors of 15 seasons without a concussion and with both knees intact. Yes, he banged up everything else pretty good—tore a pec muscle, dislocated every finger, blew out his back many times and injured both of his feet—but says his body feels great. He also knows how bad it could be. “The worst thing is having friends, even younger than I am, affected by concussions—guys who are different than when you first met them,” he said. “They’re just not there, and it’s disturbing.”

Strahan behind the scenes of "Strahan and Sara" with Keke Palmer and Sara Haines
Strahan behind the scenes of “GMA3: Strahan, Sara, & Keke” with Keke Palmer and Sara Haines MediaPunch / Shutterstock

Strahan, by contrast, seems not to have missed a beat. He’s up every weekday at 5 a.m. for GMA, jamming tunes in his dressing room to get pumped, a pregame ritual going back to his locker-room days. After GMA, he tapes GMA3: Strahan, Sara, & Keke, usually leaving the studio by late morning.

The afternoons are packed with meetings with all the fiefdoms of the Strahan empire and the publicity demands that come with it, but he aims to be more or less free and clear by evening. The dawn-o’clock alarm rings early, so he gets his rest, often hitting the pillow well before 9. “Most people have one act; I’m on number four, five, six,” he says. What else would he like to do? “I wouldn’t mind doing a buddy movie with Will Smith or the Rock. Maybe it would lead to another career.”

As the day wrapped up at Liberty National, Strahan headed over to a covered driving range for an impromptu lesson. He and a regular playing partner discussed spin rate, opening the club face, finishing the swing, and tweaking his body position. Strahan then hit his driver straight 200 yards to the pin and loudly pronounced he was giving everything up and dedicating his life to golf.

Or maybe not. Two weeks later, he announced that SMAC Productions will be working on one of its biggest projects yet, with a scripted drama based on the life of Brittany Wagner, a star of the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U, starring Friends alum Courteney Cox.

A life of leisure will have to wait. Michael Strahan has to go back to work.

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