While his addition would seem to be a marked departure for the show — Burleson is a former NFL pro turned sports broadcaster – he doesn’t see it that way.
“I get to pull back the layers and show people that I’m so much more than an athlete,” Burleson said.
He’ll join Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil at a period of change for the show, as the network once again retools its morning news slot with a new title, theme and studio, the former MTV Total Request Live space on Times Square.
Burleson has been host on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football for the past five years, and has been New York correspondent for Extra, something he says has helped prepare him for the mix of feature stories and hard news interviews on CBS Mornings.
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“When you’re working in the NFL, not every story is about touchdowns and trophies,” Burleson said. “Sometimes I have to talk about hard hitting news. We deal with real life just like everybody else. So when there is a natural disaster, we are there to talk about what’s going on, the catastrophe and how certain teams and players are involved in their city. When there is a death in the NFL family, we have to show up and talk about it. So the one thing I can say, and I’m thankful for over the last five years, I have flexed every muscle, being not just an analyst but a host, talking about everything from the very light to the very heavy.”
Deadline spoke to Burleson last week in advance of the debut.
DEADLINE: What do you think is the biggest asset you are bringing to the show?
NATE BURLESON: I believe it’s my interest in things other than sports. It’s easy to look at me as a former athlete, a player that is dipped his toe into the entertainment field, but there’s a long list of things that people might not know about me. I owned a restaurant when I was playing with the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve launched three clothing lines. I’m currently a partner in a suit line, and you’ll probably see me wear a few of those during the year. I helped launch a firm that helps athletes invest their money properly. I dabble in music. I’ve been writing poetry since I was in the seventh grade. When I was a kid I thought I was going to be a famous painter. So there’s layers to Nate Burleson that might surprise a lot of people that just know me as a football player. So when you see me in the field, when you see me telling stories or bringing a piece to the table, I think a lot of people might be somewhat surprised how comfortable I am in these different spaces. … We have so many people that are involved in making this such a special show that I’m just here to add to it. Respect the bar that was set, and then occasionally raise it when I can.
DEADLINE: Was this a difficult decision to make? You are giving up Good Morning Football.
BURLESON: To be part of … a show where the people you work with are not just friends, or co-workers, they are family, it’s tough to make that decision. But what makes it easy is, I am still involved with the NFL Network and NFL media, and I still will be seen on Good Morning Football occasionally. But more importantly, I’ve been part of the CBS family for a few years now, doing NFL Today on Sundays. So it’s almost like I’m leaving the nest, but I’m going to a relative’s house that I’m very familiar with.
DEADLINE: I saw you quoted as saying that Michael Strahan [co-host of Good Morning America] is kind of the “blueprint’ for this, coming from the world of football and transitioning to a morning news show. Have you talked to him about this move?
BURLESON: I actually was just texting him about 10 minutes ago, and he said, ‘Congratulations, you’re doing big things like I’ve always thought you would. Let’s hop on the phone this week and and talk about what you’re going to look forward to in this new space.’ He’s one of those individuals that I took a liking to once I retired because he rewrote the blueprint. I don’t want to say that he is the blueprint, because there has been plenty of players that have transitioned out of the game into TV. There have been African American men and women before him that have done the same thing, but he is a guy that has shown me the lay of the land, especially being a transplant from the West Coast to now New York. I remember years ago I ran into him in an elevator in L.A., and … he said, ‘Good to see you, You are really doing your thing.’ I’m talking about the early days of my career in TV. And I said ‘Well, give me one bit of advice.’ I always like to ask. And he said be careful about how many jobs you turn down, because they might not always be there. So I did everything that the NFL Network offered, from working in studio and out of studio, calling games, being the color commentator, doing stuff on the digital platform, producing, writing, hosting. I worked on reading the Teleprompter so it came across organically, not as if I was reading aloud. And I wanted to say yes to everything, because I knew at the end of the day, it wasn’t about showing people how versatile I was. It was about improving on all these things that I wanted to work on. So many years later, fast forward six, seven years, here I am, in New York, on a show with such rich tradition. And he told me a while ago, ‘Look, you’re different than me.” He’s like, ‘You have your own path to play.’ And those are words that I love to hear from him, because as much as I can appreciate the comparison which I do see the parallels, I am different than Strahan, and that is OK. One of my strengths is my individuality, which is something people will get to see on display every morning, five days a week.
DEADLINE: How will you establish a rapport with the other hosts, or do you even do you even see that as much of a challenge.
BURLESON: When I met Tony and I met Gail they were amazing. They smiled and welcomed me with open arms — literally open arms. I’m talking about big hugs, as if we knew each other for years. Now I just think that’s them being genuine people. But I have to earn their trust. I have to earn their respect. I’m gonna wake up every day with that mindset, because as much as I want to show people that I’m more than a football player, there are things that I learned in the NFL, and that is, you don’t just wake up to score the touchdown … I don’t want to wake up every day for people to tell me how cool I am and how well I’m doing on CBS Mornings. I want people to wake up and appreciate the team. And if I indeed want that, then I’m going to have to show the team, every single day, how passionate I am about this job.
DEADLINE: I think you’ve talked about your path in the NFL. You even suggested that maybe a created this hunger inside of you as an adult for this career turn.
BURLESON: When I left the game, there was a large part of me that was upset that I never won a Super Bowl. I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old, and I have sacrificed bones that have broken and ligaments that have torn. And I would just hope that I could walk away with the trophy. But then I realized that even if I would have won a Super Bowl, if I would have won that trophy, it doesn’t define me. That’s when I realized the next chapter of my life can be just as special. Receiving a couple of Emmys this year was mind blowing. I didn’t go into this job to win an Emmy, but to be recognized for the work that I’ve put in in this space, it really did quiet all of those whispers about never winning that big game during my career. … I am blessed that I’m on a team where we have an opportunity to show what we got. It’s not about the trophies, but it’s about working like a champion.