Former San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne “Lights-Out” Merriman is already timeless. He has shown that he can transition from a dynamic NFL career to the to helm of a successful sports apparel company, into the world of mixed martial arts, philanthropy and STILL find success. Who KNOWS what he’ll do next? SUAVV caught up with the young mogul on a Friday afternoon to discuss life post-NFL, the “Lights Out” brand and even Donald Trump.
Shawne, you played your first three seasons with the San Diego Chargers, where you were a 3-time pro bowl and all pro selection– Now tell us, How did it all begin?
Well, I was drafted in 2005 out of the University of Maryland; I left there after three years– I’d never been to the west coast actually– and my first time was to San Diego. I took a visit to San Diego before the season started, met with the GM, met with the Team, and they expressed serious interest in having me come there to the Team and they said, “if we’re able to get you at the 12th pick, were going to get you but we don’t think you’re going to be there– we think you’ll be gone to another team” and sure enough I was still hanging around on the draft wall by the 12th pick and I got that call man, that really changed my LIFE.
You are said to be one of the Chargers’ greatest defensive players in franchise history; What is the first thing that goes through your head when you hear that?
Umm… Honored, because if you look at all of the players that played before me… And to be named as one of the top 50 players of all time, it just gives me chills now to even think about it, because you know how many players they’ve had in the franchise’ history?? It’s incredible, man. It’s something you can’t even put into words, I’ve been blessed and I wanted to take every ounce of ability that I had to prove that I was the best at what I did.
Who is your favorite Defensive player to watch currently?
Uh, Von Miller. I love watching him and just recently I started really paying attention to Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders, I love his style of play. He plays how I played the game. He’s very athletic, he can be a brute at sometimes and run through guys, (chuckle) and he’s aggressive… so those type of players I still like to watch from the outside looking in.
Tell me about your nickname, “lights out?”
Yea so, my Sophomore year in high school I knocked out 4 guys in one game (chuckle) and right after the game I had a crowd of 20-25 people run up to me and they were saying “hey, you knocked those guys lights out,” and I said hey, just call me lights… that name stuck with me throughout high school and my three years in college and even into the pros to the point where most people called me lights. The only time I heard Shawne was from people I grew up with and family. But everyone else called me lights so that was the name that kinda stuck with me.
And, you’ve even expanded it into a brand, right?
Yes, so I’ve always been a big advocate of branding, right? I have this great name and lived up to the name that I earned. But in 2005 when I got drafted by the Chargers, I took my first “piece of money” (chuckle) and I bought the name and company from another company called “loom works” that was in Irvine California and they’re a pretty big company of sales, so I acquired this company from them and immediately started to sell t-shirts and hats, but I would only sell them at sporting events. It was nice stuff, but people only wore it to the games. After being in the industry for a time and developing a passion for it, I started to kinda branch out into other categories; making wristbands and different style t-shirts and hats and it became more fashionable. People weren’t just wearing the brand to the games anymore, so I thought… why not make stuff that people can work out in and walk down the street and still be comfortable and fashionable. So over time, it was my second passion after football and it developed into something special.
For a long time I’ve had a non-profit called “Lights On” which helps and benefits homeless families, so a portion of lights-out proceeds are donated to the lights on foundation, but also to other foundations that I’ve worked with in the past, like Feed America and Stand Up for Kids and this is because of my upbringing– we came from nothing and that’s something that’s been a part of me… so I wanted to make sure it stuck with me through my times and my rise, not only on the field but in the business world.
You often speak about things that you’ve gone through in life, which has made you who you are today; what are some of the challenges that you’ve had to face?
Well many things, but one of the major things that happened when I was a kid was, we lost our home to a fire. My mom… we couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bill and she lit candles so we could see around the house and one of the candles ended up burning through a tv in my room and the house burned and we lost everything. That left us homeless, left us living in shelters, living in cars and motels– Once you start going through things like that in life, it builds a different kind of character in you, you know, the adversity you go through and when you’ve kind of, had to get over, builds up an extra layer; a shield that not only makes you ready for life but also ready for the difficulties that you may face in the business world because it’s not easy, you know, it’s not easy out here and like I say all the time, what happens to you when you’re young, it molds you to be able to endure some of the things you may have to deal with in life.
The San Diego charges announced that they’ll be moving to Los Angeles after a 56 year run in San Diego. What affects do you think that’ll have on the fans and the community in San Diego?
I feel bad for the city and I feel bad for the fans because San Diego is one of the best places to live in the country. The fans have supported the team through the ups and downs. I was a big advocate along with some of my former teammates and players before time to try to keep the team there. We all did everything we could possible, but it kinda got it if our hands. It’s just sinking in now and I think that over time people will find a way to still support the players who they rooted for. You know, whoever your favorite player is on the team hopefully you’ll still follow him and maybe get up to some games and see him play, or THEM play. You know, it’s a horrible thing to happen to the city and we all wish they could’ve stayed there but, ultimately things like that happen but that’s a part of the business.
Well as you mentioned on twitter, we won’t be burning any Merriman jerseys so don’t worry about that….
They better sure-as-hell not burn my jersey, ’cause I’ll come for you, I’ll be knocking at that door! And, you know what, I made that statement jokingly but also to let the fans know that it was out of the player’s hands, so don’t hold it over their head like they wanted to be moved, you know? Still, support the guys.
What valuable lessons have you learned from being in the NFL?
That uh, you have to find something that you’re equally passionate about and that made you the player who you are. That’s extremely difficult because you’re walking out to seventy thousand every week, you’ve got people wearing your jersey and people screaming your name and people who want to be around you; and for me the transition for me was easy because I had this ready and going since 2005 when I started my company because that was the next passion, That was the only thing that got me equally as pumped and hyped as walking out to 70k people. lights out is something that’s going to be around for a long time. We want to get in the apparel space and we want people to enjoy wearing our clothes.
We know you sustained some injuries [and it happens] which eventually led to your retirement. Post career, do u feel the NFL has been supportive of your health?
You know, I really never called on the NFL for much, I think there could be more outreach to guys especially those that are transitioning to post-career life, whether it’s keeping their body up, because some guys when they get done– I wake up at 6 am, 6:30 I’m out the bed, I’m in the gym by 7 pm, I’m in the office for a couple hours of the day then I go to shoot whatever show I’m doing. I do a bunch of TV work. I have a regimen that keeps me active and keeps me going, and some guys don’t. I’ve had guys reach out to me and they’ll ask me about life and what we need to do to keep everybody moving post-NFL. For me, my regimen had to change and if anything (laughs) there’s no such thing as “retirement” because I’m busier now than when I was playing. So, I enjoy it because I feel like I’ve built something special, I’ve formed a great team of people that are really going to get “Lights-Out” out there and make us visible as much as possible.
You have a son, what is it that you try to demonstrate for your son each and every day?
You can make time for anything you want. My son is on the east coast, and he’s a great hockey player and he carries the same type of intensity that I have, which is great, sometimes I tell him “look man, you’re six years old, just enjoy the game, play hard and have fun that’s all I care about,” He approaches the game with so much intensity and I love it underneath but I really do just want him to try his best and I try to instill that in him, but one thing I try to demonstrate to him is that you can make time for whatever you want to make time for, because one of my best joys now in being a dad is being able to hop on a plane I don’t care where it is or where I’m coming from to be at one of his hockey tournaments on the weekend and kind of beating on that glass (laughs) while he’s playing– but no matter how busy I am or what I have going on to make time for things that are important to you and obviously, he’s the most important thing in my life.
In recent years you’ve dipped into the mixed martial arts; tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah, you know it was great to work with the WWE, when I came on they’d just launched the WWE network, which is one of these things that, you get a chance to be noted as a top NFL players, right? and the pro-bowl and all pros and then I get a chance to go and be a commentator on the WWE NETWORK which was one of my lifelong dreams– to be a WWE superstar my whole entire life growing up, because if I wasn’t going to the NFL, I was going to the WWF and there were no if’s, and’s, or but’s about any of that, I WAS GOING! Then, to be able to broadcast at the time of their launch and then get the chance to work out and train at their facility in Orlando it’s unreal. So to be around that, and everything is a possibility it’s still up in the air that I go back and start doing more broadcasting for the WWE. So, you’re doing that post-career which is actually a whole nother career that’s taking off for me. Then we fast-forward after that to the MMA which started for me around 2006-2007 as I began to train in the offseason, I was just looking for an alternate workout to help with my hand-eye coordination, stamina, leverage and uh, I wanted to stay around the sport and after a few years, I developed a passion for it like man, I’m not just doing it to train anymore, I LOVE THIS, like, I could see myself doing this. So, I’ve gotten the chance to train and spar with some of the best MMA fighters in the world. And, I’m a sponge, don’t put me around any business, any MMA anything, whatever it is I’m going to soak it up, and I’m going to use it. If you’ve got some information for me out there to get better at my craft or what I’m doing I’m going to get it and that’s what it’s about obtaining information. So being around MMA guys who are legends, who go down as some of the best of all time made me get better. Over time, I started to get better at MMA with my boxing and Mui Tai. that led me to Bellator so I get a chance to have lights out that’s growing and getting bigger and in the process I get the chance to meet Scott Coker who is the president/ CEO of Bellator and obviously he knew I was an avid fan of MMA and have been for a very long time and we been trying to figure out for almost a year, “how do we get Shawne Merriman involved in Bellator” because Bellator is an up and coming league itself, with them being on Spike TV and the whole Viacom well, we have Bellator, MMA, Shawne Merriman and Lights-Out, so my apparels ended up becoming one of the official partners and I became an ambassador for them, talking about the fights, talking about the fighters, getting the chance to mix-it-up with Tito Ortiz, I have a few more sit downs for some big fights coming up soon so this is what I love To do, you know, I wake up in the morning and I want to do something bigger than I ever did on the field. So everyday I’m trying to devise a plan To take whatever I’m doing to the next level and build a great team, I’ve been on teams my whole entire life and even in the business world it’s about building a great team and that’s what I’ve been doing since the very day that I retired.
So it seems like you have that inner fight, that innate fight that you’ve taken from childhood into the game with you, is there any chance we’ll see you put some boxing gloves on to get in the ring and fight?
Yes, I’m going to see where it takes me. I train with MMA GUYS three times a week. I dedicate my life to anything I want to be great at. Knowing the apparel industry it’s not easy to I had to get around people whose been in there and the heavy hitter and find out what stopped them from being successful or what made them successful and I had to devote every bit of free time and really sacrifice a lot of my time to learn my craft which is the apparel industry– so if that ever happened, if the opportunity presented itself correctly to fight MMA, I mean, it’s not off the table.
Super Bowl is coming up do you have any projections about the match between the Patriots and the Falcons?
Yeah… and this is the toughest one I’ve had, because I’ve played the patriots so many times where they sent us home in the playoffs and they just find ways to win because they’re experienced, they’ve been down this road so many times, they’re not panicked in big situations and they find a way to get it done. Then when you look at the Atlanta Falcons and all across the field their offense, their defense, their wide receivers, running backs… they don’t have a lot of weaknesses and what the Patriots are great at doing is exploiting a team’s weaknesses and using it against them. Then, when you’re playing a team like the Atlanta Falcons who are extremely balanced at what they do, They’re going to have to look at film over the next week or so to see what they can do to exploit Atlanta. There are not many weaknesses there so It’s going to be a great game and I can’t wait to see it myself. I’m tilting my hat towards the Patriots, though, because I’ve faced these guys so many times where there are 2 minutes and 13 seconds left in the game and were up, but they drive the ball down the field and they “punch it in” on us and score– So having this happen to you a few times, you kind of get this feeling that they can do it at anytime.
This has been a great interview, but before we let you go, in thinking about the direction of our country and recent events, people like Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Kanye West and Steve Harvey have all met with President Donald Trump to talk about various issues, will we be seeing you in the oval office anytime soon?
You know what, I’ve known Donald trump for about 9 years personally and I have a little bit of a different feeling towards him because I’ve been around him in different settings. He’s helped me out with several business deals and with advice before; he’s picked up the phone when I’ve called him– I don’t care if he was on the golf course or in his office or shooting The Apprentice. I haven’t seen what he’s done as a President, though, so I can’t really say if he’s going to be a great President or not a great President– but what I will say and people need to understand is that we need to see him be successful, right? We want him to do well because if he does well, we as a country do well. So whatever your personal feelings are towards him and not liking him whatever reason, we need to see him do well because that’s going to help all of us out.
Tell us how we can access lights out apparel?
Go to lightsoutbrand.com. Right now we’re building a hell of an online platform and we’ll be in over 100 stores this spring.
Brian A. Bingham is a writer for Suavv Magazine.