Life After ‘Undisputed’: How Shannon Sharpe Became The Most Entertaining Person In Sports Media

Shannon Sharpe used to be described as a “Hall of Fame tight end”. However, this is no longer the case. Sharpe is now renowned as a sports media juggernaut who is creating a brand that stands out among his contemporaries, which is why Complex placed him first on our list of the Most Entertaining Sports Media Personalities Right Now.

“I think more people probably know me now, in this space, than when I played professional football,” Sharpe said. “I think that’s a true testament for me to be able to transition from one career to another and do so well at it that people actually forget that you were pretty good at the other career.”

That may seem crazy when you consider his NFL accomplishments—three-time Super Bowl champion, five-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler, and the first tight end to accumulate over 10,000 yards. However, it reflects his swift rise to prominence as a sports media figure, as well as his relationship with his audience. As a commentator, Sharpe emanates a passionate genuineness that rings true whether he’s discussing a serious problem or ridiculing his co-hosts—all in that unmistakable, lovable Southern drawl.

Though Sharpe’s star has risen quickly, his path to this point has not been easy; like his NFL career (he was a seventh-round pick), Sharpe’s media climb is the result of a tireless work ethic. He began his broadcasting career at CBS in 2004, where he worked as an analyst on The NFL Today before leaving the business in 2010.

He was out of a job in television for six years before joining FS1. Sharpe’s media career took off on FS1 when he co-hosted Undisputed alongside Skip Bayless.”If somebody had told me, when I got back into this business in 2016, this was going to be the ascension that I had, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Sharpe said. “I was just happy that someone threw me a lifeline and gave me an opportunity to get back on television.”

At the age of 55, he has not only returned to television but has also become the most memorable, quotable, and viral face and voice in sports. Sharpe left FS1 earlier this year and joined ESPN’s First Take in September. Sharpe has become unavoidable on your timeline, whether he is arguing with Stephen A. or developing his own platform with the Club Shay Shay and Nightcap podcasts.

Complex’s Number One Most Entertaining Sports Media Personality spoke with Complex about attaining the top slot, his journey in sports media, his biggest influences, and what comes next for him.

How does it feel to be No. 1?

Wow, this is fantastic. I mean, being honored and having someone think you’re really decent at what you do is quite an accomplishment. I greatly appreciate it. When I first started in this business, I had no idea this was possible. I started at CBS and was there for a decade, then was out of work for two years, and then [had] an opportunity to move to FS1 and Undisputed with Skip [Bayless], where I was there for seven years, then out of work for a couple of months, and I had no idea what to anticipate.

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Then I got a call from Stephen A [Smith], who wanted me to join him on First Take. And then this happened. It’s been an incredible ride. I simply try to be honest with myself. As an ex-professional athlete myself, I try to be fair to all of the players while also acknowledging that I am human. No matter how much money I make or how skilled I am at a particular activity, I am still human.

What stands out to you after looking at the list of the most entertaining sports media personalities?

Let’s look at the top three. I mean, we have two HBCU guys in myself, and Stephen A. went one for two. Charles Barkley, who is sort of a measuring stick, especially for me—Charles Barkley is the one who gave me faith that I could do it. He is from rural Alabama. I am from rural South Georgia. We both have a colloquial dialect, and I thought, ‘Man if Charles can do this as an Alabama native, talking the way he did, why can’t I? Why can’t I be Shannon Sharpe and do well at this?

I saw numerous speech therapists and pathologists in an attempt to improve my communication skills. And then I understood that wasn’t who I am. The listening and seeing public will never realize this is who I am. They’ve heard me speak enough to recognize my voice and how I should sound. And once I returned to being who I was my real self, everything seemed to take off from there.

How does it feel to be ranked atop the names of the people on this list?

No. 1, just look at some of the names on this list. You’ve got Stephen A., Barkley, Pat McAfee, Shaq, Cam, Mase, and Gilbert Arenas. Michael Irvin is a good buddy of mine, as are Draymond Green, Ryan Clark, and Nick Wright, who I worked with at FS1. The Kelce brothers provide a significant benefit. This is an astounding list. This is an amazing list. Stephen A, you made this possible, brother. To invite me to your home after you’ve already prepared a wonderful table, had great males and ladies debating things, and invited me in.

But to be on the list in terms of entertainment, and to watch Shaq and Chuck on TNT, they just have fun, which is what I’ve tried to do regardless of who my partner is. Whether it was Skip before Stephen A or Ocho [Chad Johnson] on Nightcap. It’s been a fantastic ride. And I’m not finished. I am only getting started. But thank you, Complex Volume, for this prestigious honor. I greatly appreciate it.

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