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It’s been 15 years since Michael Strahan called it a career in the NFL. Since then, you’d think he was still an active player, because the 51-year-old dominates the small screen in multiple capacities. The former New York Giant owns the daytime crowd as a co-host on Good Morning America. On the weekend, football enthusiasts tune in for his rarely incorrect takes as an analyst on Fox NFL Sunday. Finally, Strahan also hosts the $100,000 Pyramid game show for ABC. If he already isn’t, Strahan is emerging as one of the most recognizable retirees, but few eclipse such success in their later years without being surrounded by a team equally committed to helping them prosper.
Enter Constance Schwartz-Morini, Strahan’s longtime business adviser and friend, also partner and co-founder at SMAC Entertainment. The duo have known each other for decades, first meeting while Schwartz-Morini was at the NFL in the 90s. After spending ten years with the league, Schwartz-Morini left sports to become a talent manager at a record company, leaving that post after just 11 months. Nonetheless, valuable lessons were learned in that short tenure, worthwhile enough to catapult herself as one of the most sought-after minds in marketing.
“Nothing's a failure if you've learned from it,” she said to Boardroom.
Despite earning recognition for being a football player, it sounds like being a media personality was destined to be Strahan’s endgame. After all, it’s how the working relationship between him and Schwartz-Morini flourished.
In search of a host for a golf tournament in the mid-90s, Schwartz-Morini and Tracy Perlman, currently the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Player Engagement, tapped Strahan for the part. To no one’s surprise, Strahan excelled as emcee, and it slowly led to more opportunities for an offseason job. As the Super Bowl champ explains it, hosting kept him busy.
“I needed something to do in the off season because it's a lot of time off, and what am I going to do? Sit at home every day? I mean, I'm young, my mind's working. I want to do something. And I found what they were doing fun. It was engaging. I can't say that I ever said I'm doing this because it's going to lead to this and lead to that, and I'm going to be on TV or work closely with the NFL to build this career. My career was playing football. I always realized that was my primary job and I've never thought about the secondary because I always said don't mess up the primary working on the secondary.”
While he never looked at those gigs in a way that would determine his future, Strahan admits they prepared him for what he’s doing now, and, ultimately, being at the helm of his own entertainment company that he runs alongside Schwartz-Morini.
Short for sports, media and culture, SMAC describes itself as “a cultural creator and connector that builds and guides multi-hyphenate, world-class talent towards dynamic and rewarding careers.” Strahan and Schwartz-Morini co-founded SMAC in 2011 in the latter’s living room, with their first major project running the entertainment sector of the NHL.
It’s no surprise Schwartz-Morini approaches business with that attitude. You probably can’t pinpoint the exact moment Snoop Dogg went from a rapper signed to Death Row to international media mogul landing commercials with mainstream brands, launching a pet line and starting the Snoop Youth Football League. Schwartz-Morini can because she was Snoop’s manager at time, and is responsible for helping him land those aforementioned ventures. Though she left at 40 years old because she wanted “her life back,” Schwartz-Morini still maintains a close relationship with the Grammy-nominated artist.
Over the last decade, the pair have made SMAC one of the most valuable brands in sports. As a talent management firm, it credits the likes of Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews, and Wiz Khalifa as clients. Diana Flores, Mexico Women’s National Flag Football team quarterback, also trusts SMAC with her management. Flores landed her own Super Bowl commercial in February, starring alongside Andrews, Sauce Gardner, Jalen Ramsey and other famous faces in the NFL universe.
There’s a trust issue with athletes, especially when it comes to finding the right person to partner with on business endeavors. Establishing that connection takes time and can’t be formally taught. When it comes to Strahan and Schwartz-Morini working together, the former credits the latter’s spot-on advice as a catalyst behind bringing her on officially as a partner years ago.
“There's so much to be learned from her and there's so much inspiration to come from what Constance has built,” Strahan credited his friend of 15 years. “I understand I’m going to get a lot of credit for a lot of stuff I don't deserve credit for. It's important for me to let other people see that it's a collaboration. I may be in front of the camera, but I'm not there without her and without the team that we built.”
Though revered for bringing their city a championship or recruiting the next superstar to their respective franchise, these days the likelihood of athletes achieving unprecedented levels of success post-retirement is not unusual. In fact, we see veteran players setting themselves up for life after the game while still playing. Between venture capital firms, production companies, clothing lines, analyst roles and other undertakings, the first question an athlete’s normally asked after they’ve walked away from the game is, “What’s next?”
The multidimensionality of an athlete is incredibly attractive in a business sense, and Strahan undoubtedly fit the qualifications of someone poised to excel off the gridiron. Strahan also dabbled in music. In 1998, the NFL had this grand idea to pair an active player with a popular country star and produce an album with the pair singing a duet. Strahan linked up with Randy Travis and the two recorded “Brinks Truck.” Strahan jokes it would have been a No. 1 hit “if Randy Travis would have let my vocals shine a little bit more,” but it was the first example he noticed of the NFL creating chances for its players.
But it wasn’t always like that, Strahan notes. Pros weren’t always given the green light to separate themselves from the game for financial incentive. “You had to literally be there on the ground floor, come up with an idea or trust them with their ideas.”
Perhaps that’s why his alliance with Schwartz-Morini was unscathed from the beginning. In Strahan’s eyes, there was a healthy amount of mutual confidence in the other person. As for Schwartz-Morini, it was her ability to look past the superhero moniker often attributed to celebrities and instead consider them peers. Internally, the two are bringing a combined decades worth of experience to the robust team they’re building at SMAC.
Another factor that has significantly contributed to their success is understanding each person’s responsibility within the brand. For example, Strahan doesn’t run the day-to-day operations of SMAC. That’s Schwartz-Morini, COO April Giudone and a host of other execs. But just like any mindful co-founder, Strahan reads every email, proposal and correspondence that comes across his desk. Because he’s the decorated NFL player and the beloved talk show host, Strahan acknowledges his strengths are leveraging his long-term relationships, getting his team in the right rooms, and helping them remain in said rooms.
“Once we're in that room, I guarantee you I know what's going on,” Strahan affirmed. “I'm going to show you. I know what's going on and I'm gonna take the pressure off of them.”
Strahan credits Schwartz-Morini’s ability to spot lasting potential as “unbelievable,” adding that it’s “a gift I’ve never seen anyone have.” It’s easy to marvel at the high praise they have for one another, because it comes from a place of authenticity. Even if the vision isn’t executed in a manner than yields success, Strahan and Schwartz-Morini don’t dwell on their misfortune. Rather, they regroup, analyze a different approach and use the lessons learned to avoid a repeat occurrence. SMAC’s success is largely attributed to their willingness to adapt, penchant to elevate and enthusiasm for helping others thrive.
“These people are trusting me with their careers, so I don’t really stop and think about it. It's always the gut, the instinct. And you just roll with it.”
It started as a management firm for A-listers in sports and entertainment, but Strahan and Schwartz-Morini want SMAC to be more than that. Now, they create original content, consult for brands, and develop original consumer products with signed talent. Essentially all things needed in the sports landscape.
So what’s next? At one point Schwartz-Morini mentioned they have three offices: New York, Los Angeles, and a satellite operation in Boulder. The reality is, SMAC is playing a large part in the evolution of first-year Colorado football head coach Deion Sanders. After three seasons at Jackson State, the NFL legend accepted a role with the Pac-12 powerhouse. In describing their partnership, Schwartz-Morini says conversations began two years after Sanders retired and when his team played against Snoop Dogg’s side in the Snooper Bowl. Sanders was looking for suggestions on team management and Schwartz-Morini suggested herself. The two forged a friendship and as time went one, she helped him land national campaigns and collaborate with well-known brands.
When the topic of head coaching came up, Schwartz-Morini advocated for Sanders to promote himself as a candidate. The original plan was for the Florida State product to help recruit for his alma mater. Instead, Schwartz-Morini advised he enter the coaching arena. After all, Sanders has plenty of experience being wooed by franchises.
“He always says this in his recruiting meetings that he was the kid being recruited. He's been the parent of a kid being recruited and now he's the recruiter. He knows how the game is played,” she says.
“He is an incredible dude and he just wants to motivate these kids,” Strahan added. “For him it's more than just on the field. He wants these kids to have a life after because everybody's not going to play sports. So I tip my hat off to Deion, he is definitely the special one and I think he going to crush it at Colorado.”
When Sanders announced his move to Colorado, it was met with some pushback. The former Atlanta Falcon has been a staunch advocate for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), leading Jackson State to a 27-6 record and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) title in 2021. So, leaving the Tigers in favor of the Buffaloes left some understandably confused. Schwartz-Morini explained that while his exit was “emotional,” Sanders “went in to do a job and felt like he accomplished it.” With the help of Walmart, Sanders helped Jackson State acquire an updated, freshly manicured football field, replacing the unusable one the team had before.
“It wasn't easy. But at the same time, he's a very spiritual man,” said the Yonkers, New York native. “Even when he was deciding if it was going to be Colorado or some of the other schools I was talking to, he called me up and said, ‘Okay, God just spoke to me. Let's go to Colorado.’ So we called the athletic director [Rick George] and said, ‘We’re coming.’”
As an alum of an HBCU, Strahan shared that Sanders’ involvement in promoting HBCUs hasn’t ceased since his departure. In fact, Sanders plans to hold a camp and mini combine for HBCU football players with a desire to play at the professional level.
“He's never been about just JSU athletes. He's inviting every HBCU school, letting these scouts get a chance to see these kids who they may not have gotten a chance to see and possibly give them an opportunity,” said the Texas Southern graduate. “He took a lot of criticism for leaving, but he didn't talk about those things because it wasn't about that. It wasn't about him. It was about moving on, moving forward and helping more kids and taking care of his coaches as well. And I commend him for that.”
There’s also plenty to look forward to from SMAC on the production front. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival in June, “BS High” recounts the odd story that was Ohio’s Bishop Sycamore football team. It made national headlines when the team lost an ESPN-televised game to IMG Academy 58-0 in a matchup that didn't live up to the hype between what was supposed to be two rivals. Not to mention, it was revealed the Centurions played two games in three days and wasn't even associated with the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Consequently, head coach Roy Johnson was fired and the situation became the laughingstock of the internet. BS High will stream on HBO and HBO Max later this year and it’s being directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, who won an Academy Award for their 2020 short film Two Distant Strangers.
“The fascinating thing about the documentary is you're not talking around the situation,” Strahan teased. “You're talking directly to the people in it, from Roy who was the coach, to the kids, to their parents.”
Another project from SMAC Productions the duo can’t wait to share is a forthcoming docuseries focused on the evolution of Black quarterbacks in the United States. Ex-Falcons QB Michael Vick will executive produce and host, and the series will be told from his point of view and feature Vick interviewing many current and former NFL players and coaches. Vick made history in 2001 when he became the first Black quarterback to go No. 1 overall in the NFL draft when the Atlanta Falcons took him out of Virginia Tech. The four-time Pro Bowler went on to have a historic 13-year career in the league with the Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers before retiring in 2017.
In speaking of Vick’s excellence in this role, Strahan made sure to note that while this production highlights Black players in the NFL, ironically Vick’s idols growing up didn’t necessarily look like him. However, it didn’t stop the now 42-year-old from breaking an institutionally racist narrative.
“I was blown away by how good Michael was at this,” Strahan said. “But the thing is with Mike, his influences were Joe Montana, John Elway, and Steve Young, So he's talking to them, talking to Andy Reid because it's not just a Black quarterback being so good, but you had somebody who had to give him opportunities, too. Yeah. But also all of them are influenced by different types of guys. So everyone would think he's influenced by Randall Cunningham or something, and that's just not the case.”
Former players pursue different paths post-retirement, and Strahan couldn’t help but focus on his career advancement over the last 15 years. The Hall of Famer tells Boardroom that his career has somewhat redefined what is expected of athletes and what the public expects to see from ex-players. After all, Strahan succeeded two of the most historic white guys in television, between Regis Philbin as a daytime host to Dick Clark hosting a game show.
“Who the hell would've ever thought? To me that shows that the world has changed. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the world has changed and people are willing to accept someone that is, I guess, non-traditional to do things. And I think if you're someone who is thinking about a career change, the world is open for you.”
Quite frankly, multihyphenate is an understatement when discussing the empire Strahan and Schwartz-Morini have built. Off the screen, the duo work tirelessly to continue growing the former’s skincare line, men’s fashion label and on the women’s side, Erin Andrews’ licensed apparel collection.
“Every time I go into a CVS or Rite Aid, I run over to the men's shaving section where the skincare is. I’m always like, ‘Oh my God, we have men's skincare sitting next to these legendary brands that have been in business for how many years,” Schwartz-Morini said. “And we launched it during the pandemic. Again, we couldn't do it without the team at SMAC.”
On the outside, it appears luck was always on their side. On the contrary, Strahan attributes his ability to see failure as teachable moments. Finally, above all, trust your gut.