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Nate Burleson: On Faith and Football

Last Updated: November 16, 2023
Nate Burleson is about more than football. In a conversation with Boardroom, he talks his foray into news, love for gospel, and how the quarterback position is changing.

These days, you can’t turn your television to CBS without seeing Nate Burleson. A mainstay on the NFL on CBS team every Sunday for the last six years, Burleson can also be seen every weekday as an anchor on CBS Mornings.

The 42-year-old may have gotten his start playing football, but even he acknowledges that today’s generation of fans might think of him more as a media personality.

“There was a time when I wanted people to recognize me for my athletic ability and what I meant to them as a ball player,” he told Boardroom. “But now when people come up to me, that’s the last thing I’m thinking about. I don’t want them to tell me what I meant for their fantasy league or how they watched me play. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it. But I love it when they come up to me and say, ‘I watch you every morning and I start my day off with you, thank you for the way that you deliver the news. Thank you for being considerate and heartfelt and having empathy.’ It takes much more work to be good at your job on TV and three different spaces like sports, entertainment, and news than it does to go score a touchdown.”

The Minnesota Vikings selected the Canada native in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft as the 71st overall pick. He played 11 years in the league as a wide receiver, calling it a career in 2014 after stints with the Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions.

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Who Rules Modern Football

As someone who studies the NFL from multiple angles, Burleson, unsurprisingly, has thoughts on how the game continues to change. When asked who deserves a little more attention, Burleson mentioned Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts and Baltimore Ravens slinger Lamar Jackson.

But it’s not for the reasons you’d think. Sure, the two MVP contenders inked recordbreaking contracts in the offseason and they’re known as two of the better quarterbacks in the league. But what they are doing in the actual role is even more.

“I’m talking about them really redefining what that position was. We’re not talking too deep into the past,” he said. “There was a moment in time when they didn’t think a Black man could play quarterback because he wasn’t intelligent enough. And now you have Black quarterbacks all over the place at the college level. So there will be more in the league soon to come.

“Back in the day, it was get the hike, drop back, stand tall, throw the ball. Now they can do that, plus they can also be the most athletic player on the field. What these guys have shown us is that young kids can now look at their coach and say, ‘You need my athleticism at your quarterback position because that’s going to make your team a much better squad.'”

Burleson also acknowledges some things will never go out of style in the QB role, which includes someone under center who can sit in the pocket. Someone like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning who can deliver the ball and pick apart defenses.

“And we still have quarterbacks in the league that do that right now. But I’m talking specifically about when the rush comes and the play breaks down, they can ad-lib and extend plays with their feet. That’s going to change the game because it’s hard enough to stop a receiver when he’s running one route. But if I’m a quarterback and I extend the play an extra six seconds, and as a receiver I get to run a secondary route in one play, it’s highly unlikely that that quarterback is going to stop me. So yeah, the evolution is the more athletic guy will play the quarterback position.”

Burleson perfectly predicted the result of Super Bowl LVII, which is a feat many of his peers continue to give him credit for months later. Naturally, we had to ask him who would join him in Las Vegas next February when CBS broadcasts the game. According to the ex-Nevada player, it’s between the Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and the San Francisco 49ers. Some sleeper teams? The Cincinnati Bengals, “who started off slow, but really starting to figure it out,” and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A Celebration of Gospel

Speaking of the Super Bowl, Burleson is also capitalizing on his love of music and sports to host the Best of Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, which premieres in national syndication on Nov. 18 and runs through Jan. 28. For nearly a quarter of a century, the Super Bowl Soulful Celebration has been a refuge from the stress of the big game and has served as a beacon of inspiration. Founded and executive produced by Atlanta-based marketing executive Melanie Few, it stands as the only NFL-sanctioned multicultural program during Super Bowl week.

“The gospel celebration and the Super Bowl are almost synonymous at this point. We’re talking over a couple of decades of celebrating the best voices in gospel music and also the best athletes in the world,” Burleson said about the honor of emceeing. “My youngest memory of falling in love with the gospel is of course growing up in the church. So to be able to lend my voice to something as special as this, there was no question at all.”

Performers set to grace the screen include icons like Gladys Knight, Kirk Franklin, and Fantasia, as well as a collaboration between Snoop Dogg, the late Rance Allen, and The Clark Sisters. Additional entertainers are Doug E. Fresh, Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams, and more.

When not preparing for a primetime interview or reviewing game footage, music remains the through-line of Burleson’s cultural diet. He grew up listening to all genres, but of course, hip-hop reigns supreme for the two-time Sports Emmy winner.

Jay-Z is going to be at the top of the list because I feel like his evolution reminds me that we can come from one space, evolve into another, be proud of where we are and never forget who we were,” he said. “And Jay-Z is a prime example of that.”

The television special precedes the Silver Anniversary Super Bowl Soulful Celebration on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at the Pearl Theater, Palms Casino Resort during Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. This affair honors 25 years of uniting a national audience through a shared love of music, faith, and football. Tickets are available on Dec. 1.

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today, and most recently Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University, and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.