It’s one thing for professional athletes to think that their skills on the field or court mean they can succeed on wax or film. Just ask Kobe Bryant. It’s another thing for musicians to think that being smooth on the mic means they can run a sweet post pattern in the NFL. Apparently that didn’t stop Marvin Gaye from trying to become a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.
Larry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times has the story of a chance meeting between the Detroit Lions’ Lem Barney and Gaye. Barney and Gaye became friends after the defensive rookie of the year knocked on the singer’s door to introduce himself. Mel Farr, also of the Lions, completed the trio that became fast friends.
The three became tight especially after Tammi Terrell’s death which Gaye didn’t take well (to say the least). He ended up inviting them to appear on his hit “What’s Going On”. Unfortunately Barry Gordy and Motown thought the record was too political and wouldn’t touch it. Gaye refused to record any more music until the single was released.
In the meantime, Gaye bulked up and got the idea that he could play wide receiver for the Lions. Wonder where he got that idea.
Though he had never participated in organized sports, the singer believed he was a gifted athlete.
“I was always a sports fan,” he told David Ritz, author of the 1985 Gaye biography “Divided Soul,” “but I was determined to play for real. I knew I could. . . .
“You see, I had this fantasy: I was in the Super Bowl, with millions of people watching me on TV all over the world, as I made a spectacular leaping catch and sprinted for the winning touchdown.”
Through Barney and Farr, a former UCLA star, Gaye knew most of the Lions and had met their coach, Joe Schmidt.
“So Marvin went in to talk to coach Schmidt about it,” Barney says. “Schmidt asked if he had any film of when he played in high school or college and Marvin hung his head and said, ‘I didn’t play in high school. I didn’t play in college.’ So Schmidt said, ‘What makes you think you can play professional ball?’
“He said, ‘Coach, I just believe the first time I touch the ball I would score a touchdown.’ And Joe said, ‘I like your enthusiasm, so let me think about it.’”
Schmidt says he told the singer, “If I could sing like you, I certainly wouldn’t want to play football,” believing that Gaye and Barney were joking when they first met with him. Only after Gaye returned to meet with the coach a second time, this time unescorted, did Schmidt realize he was serious.
Still, Schmidt was unwilling to put the singer in harm’s way and quickly rejected the idea as unworkable.
Master P and his son weren’t the first musicians to fail at organized sports. Remember Garth Brooks’ pathetic attempts to play for the Padres? Schmidt did the right thing for the sake of music but imagine the Detroit Lions on Hard Knocks talking about Gaye trying to make the team. Matt Millen probably would have signed him to a multi-year contract.
Six months after Gaye recorded “What’s Going On”, Motown released it and it went gold before classic as it is even today. He made a full album by the same name and some assclown was stupid enough to sell it so I could buy it at a second hand store on vinyl for $5. I got five on it and then some. I’m talking about kicking in like Shinobi.
Good on Crowe for bringing this story to the masses but most of you would be well served to watch the American Masters on Marvin Gaye for starters. Better yet, get a compilation or several albums if you don’t know where to start. Remember or learn about when R&B used to be good and had substance.
Here’s your Deuce double feature. Not only do we give you “What’s Going On”. You also get a little “Mercy Mercy Me”. You’re welcome.