Deion Sanders on Muscle, the NFL, and the Limitations of Brute Force

The legendary football star explains why bigger isn’t always better.

Once upon a time a 6′3″, 210-pound guy was a big guy in the NFL. And baseball players were more about athleticism than bulk. Then everyone started growing. The 250-pound guy who used to be a lineman? He’s now a linebacker or a tight end. The NFL guys today are just huge—bigger and stronger and faster—and their collisions are harder, more impactful, more deliberate. Baseball players saw other guys around them growing and felt they needed to keep up, driving a whole steroid epidemic.

Parents see these big guys succeeding, and they think about breeding like an animal. They’re saying, “You know what? I’m 6′3″, let me get with this girl that’s 5′9″—that kid’s going to be huge.” That’s the truth. That’s what people are thinking now.

Muscle, man. It’s not that muscle is bad. There are good reasons that guys are getting bigger. Back in the day, Jack LaLanne was about the only fitness guru. Now everyone on Instagram is a fitness guru. Back in the day, no players had chefs. Now they do. And guys have the right supplements, and they make sure they’re putting the right stuff in their body. They’re just more health-conscious. They’re getting the results. They’re realizing that athleticism isn’t the only thing that provides for you—that your body is the instrument that provides for you. So, sure, you build it.

We’re adjusting to it now. The NFL commissioner is putting rules in place to protect guys in the game. People in baseball are realizing that they were getting bigger and stronger in the wrong way. With the advancement of the size and strength of the players, it had to happen.

But you know what? I mentor a lot of guys, and I don’t talk to them about muscle at all. They don’t care about that. I talk to them about being well conditioned. What made Jerry Rice Jerry Rice was not his strength; it was his endurance. So we don’t have building-muscle conversations. The guys I deal with, they don’t want to look the best on the field. They don’t want to look the best with their shirt off in the press conference. They want to perform. They want to play the best.

Former football and baseball star Deion Sanders is an analyst for NFL Network’s GameDay and NFL on CBS. As told to Jason Feifer.