What Makes Dhani Run?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Former NFL player, TV host, founder of BowTie Cause and VMG Creative, author. What else? Everything else.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“Anger, mostly.” Dhani Jones doesn’t laugh when he responds matter-of-factly to the question, “How’d you manage to do it?”
“It” being playing linebacker in the NFL for 11 years, training in mixed martial arts or any of the half-dozen difficult and dangerous things he’s done, the most daring of which is periodically reinventing himself.
“You know what I mean,” says Jones. And we do. But it’s funny hearing this private school-educated child of privilege talk about anger, even if it might be better understood as “hunger.” It’s as solid an explanation as any for exceeding in excelling like he has.
Since no one starts life as a Renaissance boy, we bring you the moment that made Dhani Jones, the man.
The lure of using “Renaissance man” to describe a guy like Dhani Jones is almost irresistible. But since OZY’s aim is to show you not only what’s coming next but also how it got there, and since no one starts life as a Renaissance boy, we bring you the moment that made Dhani Jones, the man.
“My father was a retired Navy commander, and on every birthday of mine, he’d wake me up at midnight,” recounts Jones. “We’d drive around in the car and reflect on my life.” This wasn’t a typical fatherly reflection on how Dhani could suck a little less and clean his room a little more. No, they examined everything, including “the past year up until that point, with one clear-cut measure: Was it positive or negative?”
The year Jones turned 13 was particularly challenging with regard to misapplied anger and “running with a bad crowd.” Dhani’s father told him that he didn’t expect to see his son live to 18 if he didn’t change his friends. After some thought, Dhani did just that. His new friends? Sports.
Which is where the Renaissance-building begins: pre-med student at Michigan in the 1990s, playing classical piano, writing poetry, painting (canvases, not houses) and, yes, a Super Bowl in 2005. Ponder that as you tune in to Monday Night Football tonight. But unlike so many football players whose lives begin and end with the letters NFL, when Dhani hung up his jersey in 2011, he picked up another one and then another. First he was a rugby union player in England as part of his Dhani Tackles the Globe TV show, then he was author of The Sportsman: Unexpected Lessons From an Around-the-World Sports Odyssey. After that? He started VMG Creative agency with his brother, which reps everyone from Ralph Lauren to Capital One. And he has a clear, unquenchable thirst for more.
“I went to Montessori when I was a kid,” Jones says from his redoubt in Maryland. “And that was all about nonstructure as structure. And being open to the moment. I mean there are lots of talented people out there, as talented as me. But I am paying attention, and this quality of paying attention makes me sensitive to the great details of life, and life is nothing if not great detail. And being open to that.”
But I am paying attention, and this quality of paying attention makes me sensitive to the great details of life…
Here’s one detail that Jones never loses sight of: It may have been natural for his father to care about him, but what if everybody had the chance he had at 13? That’s what fuels his charity, the BowTie Cause, which funds a variety of programs but most significantly one that fosters youth talent. Of all of the things Jones does, he says, “This is the part I absolutely, positively feel driven to do.”
When you add to everything else the fact that Jones is edging toward the title of “most interesting man in the world” by hosting two shows on Spike TV (Playbook 360 and Nissan GT Academy), plus a third on Fox Sports 1 with Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, it’s something of a relief to be able to report that the man does have a dark side — in the form of a misdemeanor arrest early in his career.
What for? Refusing to stop dancing in the predawn hours outside a Miami Beach nightclub.