Being a football fan doesn’t necessarily require understanding the man who’s under the pads. Or even wanting to understand. That’s a big part of the reason Uninterrupted is producing a new digital series called They Will Be Seen to humanize NFL players.
Maverick Carter, the CEO and co-founder of Uninterrupted along with longtime friend and business partner LeBron James, said the company’s new effort took him back to his own childhood.
“As kid, I was a big 49ers fan. Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig — I didn’t really know what they looked like until later,” said Carter, “I was such a big fan of how [Ronnie] played and how physical he was, but [I never knew] exactly what he looked like for sure.”
Even though the NFL is America’s most popular sport, the great majority of its players aren’t easily recognized. They’re often overshadowed by the logos on their helmets, which have evolved into billion-dollar brands. This relative obscurity can mean fewer endorsement opportunities or emotional connection with fans, especially compared to NBA players, for example.
“As players we’re kinda looked at warriors or gladiators,” Andre Hawkins, a former NFL wide receiver and current executive and host at Uninterrupted, said in a trailer for the project. “And gladiators aren’t people who you remember their names. The helmet effect for an NFL player is you’re nameless and faceless. It’s like that by design.”
Artist Victor Solomon designed a glass helmet for Uninterrupted to symbolically combat the issue. They Will Be Seen includes New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley and rookies Alex Mattison, Andy Isabella, Benny Snell, Damian Harris, Devin Singletary, Diontae Johnson, Hakeem Butler, Miles Boykin, N’Keal Harry and Parris Campbell. Each player dons the glass helmet and fills out a personalized draft card that explains their interests and passions beyond the football field.
With the NFL season a mere hours away from kickoff, The Undefeated caught up with Carter to discuss his pigskin crusade.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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“All these great athletes will be heard and will be seen.” @kingjames introduces the Glass Helmet Project: a symbol of empowerment for the person and human under the helmet.
How long did this process take to bring to life — from conception to this phone conversation?
We push everybody [at Uninterrupted] to really come, at least once a month, with your “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” idea. One of the ideas they came up with is, “Wouldn’t it be cool if football players played with glass helmets to defeat the idea that they disappear when they put their helmets on?” From the moment one of our creatives walked in with that idea — I think it’s been about six or eight months we’ve been working on this.
Other than Saquon Barkley, why was it important to have all rookies in They Will Be Seen?
- For Maverick Carter, running King James’ empire was always the game plan
- LeBron and his friends are telling their story for the first time
The reason we really wanted rookies was because of the idea that once you go into the NFL you go from being a student-athlete — we all know know what’s going on now in the college realm and not getting paid. So now you’re getting paid, but you’re also putting on a helmet and you get drafted by the New York Jets, or the Cardinals, or the Browns or whatever team and you’re just like, “Oh, that’s No. 33 that we drafted or the linebacker that we drafted.”
We want people to know you didn’t just draft a linebacker from Alabama or running back from Ohio State. You drafted a person who’s a brother, a father, a son, who’s interested in different things, who comes from a place as a real human being.
The NBA has benefited greatly from this. What would the NFL gain by showcasing its players as individuals instead of always leaning on the “ultimate team sport” shield?
I think the NFL has done an amazing job forever with protecting the shield. I watch football every Sunday, and I love the sport. I love seeing players compete at the highest level. But I also want to know about them as humans and who they are, what they care about and what even motivates them to play football. Who’s their family? Like when I watch the Olympics and sports that I don’t even know the rules or how anyone wins or loses, but it’s because NBC took the time to tell you these real stories about who these people are and who cares about them or who’s traveled around the world to see them.
I think what the NFL could gain is much more connectivity to humans because it’s humans who are consuming their game and their sport.
With the NFL facing issues from from Colin Kaepernick’s protest to impending collective bargaining, why is it important for NFL players to have voices on issues far beyond the stadiums they play in?
Those athletes who play in the NFL are very intelligent, very interesting and caring people who just happen to play a sport that is very violent — and they have to be prepared for that violence and prepared for those collisions. But when the game is done, they don’t want to be seen that same way. They want to be seen as people like the rest of us, who have different interests, who care about other things. We as consumers and fans of the sport want everyone to be super tough and mean, but they’re not. They’re humans. It’s very important that they be seen that way.
What would success look like for this effort?
Success for us would be to certainly have every athlete in the NFL wanting to participate and wanting to wear a glass helmet and tell their story. I think ultimate success would be if we could partner with the NFL and take on a way to actually maybe even produce a glass helmet that could be used on the field.
So it’s not necessarily about having a financial return?
Absolutely [not]. This is just about the players and us empowering the athletes. And really getting them in a place and seeing us as a company: this is what we stand for, this is what we mean and this is what we do.