By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Reality television hasn’t exactly been kind to the professional athlete.
America watched as the Kardashians took down one-time rising NBA star Kris Humphries, as Chad Johnson’s domestic violence scandal played out on HBO’s Hard Knocks – and according to the ratings, most people didn’t watch as Pete Rose and fiancée Kiana Kim chronicled their engagement for the TLC network.
Even so, the line between sports stardom and show business continue to blur. But one of the latest athletes to sign on to a small screen series, retired NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, said reality television doesn’t have to mean a public relations disaster — as long as it’s done right.
“There’s distinct challenges that pull you away from football,” said the player, who led both the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl appearances. “Guys spend their offseason doing other things that challenge them, other opportunities that they have, whether it’s commercials or endorsing products or speaking engagements or whatever.”
Warner has spent the last year working on The Moment, a USA reality show inspired by his own unlikely rise to football fame.
“I’ve got a unique story that nobody else has, and a unique journey that goes way beyond football now,” said Warner. “Now I can inspire people to reach their dreams. For me, it’s stepping into a role – [the show] is really about other people’s lives.”
The Moment tells Warner’s story — that of a football player who went undrafted out of college and was stocking shelves at a local grocery store before setting records in the Super Bowl just five years later – and aims to give everyday folks a chance at their dream job, be it as a Broadway costume designer, an orchestra conductor or even a NASCAR driver.
The show, Warner recently admitted, hasn’t seen the success he has hoped for yet. The chance to impact others, however, is what made the opportunity “hard to turn down.”
Last week, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz denied reports that he was in talks to take part in his own reality series. Warner, who played for the Giants in 2004, said he wouldn’t discourage Cruz from taking part in a television show — but he would give his fellow Super Bowl champ some advice.
“If you’re trying to do those things during the season, I think there’s a conversation to be had to make sure you’re taking care of your number one priority first, instead of diving into different things. Life is about taking chances, and taking advantages of the opportunities that come your direction,” Warner said.
“I would never tell somebody not to do something, if it’s in the offseason. As long as it doesn’t have the potential to cause your team – or you — to stray from your goals as a professional,” he said. “I don’t fault anybody that has the chance to do something different, whether it be a reality show or not.”
In fact, Warner, who’s been heavily involved in media since his retirement – as an analyst on the NFL Network and a contestant on Dancing With The Stars – can understand why pro athletes would be drawn to the camera.
“In our business, there’s a lot of scrutiny, so you have to deal with both the positive and negative and think fast on your feet,” he said. “All those things really help to prepare you for television. It’s definitely a learning process, I think it gave me at least an idea of what it would be like, and gave me some experience to be able to handle that.”
But while he may now have his own television show – he’s not looking for high drama. Ask the father of seven to compare himself to the Kardashians, and he’ll chuckle.
“I think the challenge of doing something like the Kardashians is different,” he said with a laugh. “A lot of who they are is based on the chaos that comes with the show. If you’re coming out talking about your real life and somebody’s following you around, that’s a different direction. Their livelihood is based on that. Those are things that you have to be wary of as a part of the football team.”
Glamorous as it may seem, starring in your own television show didn’t exactly come easily to Warner, who warns that the gig is not as easy as it looks.
“The hardest thing about hosting a show is being able to kind of hold the camera all by yourself, and fill up the screen and be able to carry it by yourself,” Warner said. “In sport, it’s so much about a team, and sharing. As difficult as it was to play quarterback in the football league, at least it was something I had done for a long, and I was confident in my skills. [This] was a bit more of a challenge.”
The Moment is all about giving the regular guy a second chance. But Warner, who retired from the game in 2010, said he isn’t eager for another turn at the sport which made him famous.
“There’s always moments when you wish you could put your pads on one more time, especially when you’ve been away, and you remember all the good times,” he said. “But I knew it was time to retire. I don ’t look back and long to play anymore.”
Once a mentor to New York’s beloved Eli Manning, Warner said he wouldn’t even want a second chance to regain his role as New York’s No. 1 quarterback.
“I think Eli is one of the better big game quarterbacks in our league, and you know to me, that’s one of the greatest compliments,” Warner said. “A lot of guys can put up stats and wins and all of those things, and it’s the guys that can play at the highest level, at crunch time in games, and I think Eli has been as good as anyone in those moments, and that’s justified in his two championships and the way he played down the stretch.”
The Moment airs on USA Network Fridays at 11 p.m.