Peter Schrager remembers the research Nate Burleson put into his move to New Jersey.
A former NFL wide receiver turned Emmy-winning broadcaster, Burleson lived in Arizona at the time. He had just accepted a job as a host on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football show, which debuted in 2016, and he was ready to take his family East. So Burleson leaned heavily on Schrager, an NFL Network teammate and Freehold native, in an effort to find the best high school for his three kids. The two talked about countless public and private schools, the state of their athletic programs, and famous alumni.
“Tell me about Delbarton. Tell me about Don Bosco. Tell me about Bergen Catholic,” Schrager remembers Burleson saying as he took notes with pen and pad. Never mind that all three of Burleson’s children—sons Nathaniel II, 18, and Nehemiah, 16, and daughter Mia, 12—were all years away from attending high school at the time. Burleson was going to make an informed decision. “I was his encyclopedia,” Schrager says. “It was almost like a recruiting informational session based on something years down the line.”
It’s no surprise that Burleson was thinking about the future in that moment, though, as he has gotten ahead by thinking ahead.
Now a Franklin Lakes resident and a cohost on CBS Mornings, Burleson planted the seeds for his burgeoning media career while he was still corralling passes. The third-round pick spent 11 years in the NFL, totaling 135 games, 457 catches, 5,630 receiving yards and 39 touchdowns—plus return duties—while suiting up for the Vikings, Seahawks and Lions between 2003 and 2013. But when Burleson wasn’t busy playing football, the Canadian native found himself learning how to talk about it in front of a camera or microphone.
A communications major at the University of Reno, Nevada, Burleson started doing television and local radio while he was still an active player. The 40-year-old also appeared in his teams’ multimedia content and attended the NFL’s Broadcast Bootcamp, which prepares players for potential media gigs.
But a creative job was the original goal for Burleson, who imagined life as a world-traveling poet or painter when he was a kid. Then came on-screen aspirations. When puberty hit, Burleson realized sports could be a vehicle for his dreams.
“If you were to ask me as a young kid what I wanted to be, of course I would probably quickly yell out, ‘I want to play in the NBA or NFL,’” Burleson says. “But if you sat me down and talked to me about my interests, football would be the fourth or fifth thing on the list. As much as I loved the NFL—here’s a strong statement, and I’ll stick by it—even when I was playing in it, it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. I had this sixth sense that it was going to end soon. And maybe that was just me understanding that careers don’t last long.”
Burleson, who celebrated his one-year anniversary on CBS Mornings on September 7, still works in the NFL media space, lending his expertise to CBS’s pregame show, The NFL Today, Nickelodeon’s kid-friendly football programming, and the NFL Network. In May, he won his second consecutive Emmy for outstanding sports personality/studio analyst.
But Burleson felt he “was put in a box just talking about football” when he was only appearing on shows dedicated to the sport. “Not to say that sports are surface level, but there were days where I felt like that. There were more important things to talk about,” Burleson says. “I didn’t feel fulfilled.”
On CBS Mornings, no such problem exists. No subject is off limits, including abortion rights, mass shootings, white supremacy and mental health.
“I watch him on CBS and I’m impressed. I’m also a little bit amazed because, in all of our conversations, [the war in] Ukraine wasn’t going to come up, on [Good Morning Football] or off,” Schrager says, citing an example of Burleson’s versatility. “And there he is, speaking eloquently on Ukraine. He’s incredibly well-read and he puts the work in. If he did feel boxed in, he certainly didn’t show that to us, because he gave us 100 percent just talking about running backs and tight ends.”
SOCIAL MEDIA AND MENTAL HEALTH: A group of kids ages eight to 18 told @NateBurleson that they feel anxious without their phones — and said they “constantly compare” themselves to other users on platforms like TikTok. pic.twitter.com/o3qlQrBoby
— CBS Mornings (@CBSMornings) May 24, 2022
Schrager added that Burleson has arguably already enjoyed a more successful broadcasting career than playing career. Prior to joining CBS Mornings in September 2021, Burleson also worked as an entertainment correspondent for Extra. There, he interviewed New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former First Lady Michelle Obama and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, among many others, as he pursued topics beyond football.
Burleson never thought he was out of his element when talking about matters unrelated to sports, but he recognizes that some may still question his qualifications. After years of sharing a locker room with players like Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Shaun Alexander and Randy Moss, CBS Mornings has Burleson working alongside veteran journalists Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil. As a former football player, Burleson knows some may view him in a certain light.
“I know how people see me,” Burleson says. “I can’t shed that. No matter how nice my suit is or how clean my haircut is or how bright my smile is, when people see me, they see a helmet and shoulder pads. I can’t do anything about that. All I can do is try to improve at my job.”
Clearly, CBS has no interest in Burleson sticking to sports. This fall, he will cohost Superfan, the network’s new competition series in which contestants try to show they know the most about their favorite musicians.
Burleson also keeps busy when he’s not in front of a camera. Other ventures include a podcast on Uninterrupted, voiceover work for Draft Kings, his own company that helps athletes invest their money, restaurants, clothing labels and a jewelry line. Burleson has also produced art and poetry—just like he wanted to when he was a kid—and he’s even been featured on a few rap songs under the stage name New Balance.
“He always has a bigger vision. He’s never satisfied. It’s not a ruthless ambition. It’s self-motivating,” says Schrager, who shared a dressing room with Burleson for five years. “I think he just wants whatever he can get in this life.”
In addition to everything else Burleson does, he must also carve out time for his wife of 19 years, Atoya, and his children.
They are all consulted and encouraged to speak their minds when Burleson is offered a new job; he once turned down a chance to host a show in Los Angeles because Nehemiah, the middle child, expressed concern over Burleson missing important moments and milestones.
While Schrager has jokingly chided Burleson for not spending his summers at the Jersey Shore, the family does have a few favorite spots in the northern part of the state. Brownstone Pancake Factory in Edgewater, where Burleson initially moved after taking the Good Morning Football job, is a favorite, and he adores the town of Ridgewood, his second New Jersey stop. His current town, Franklin Lakes, reminds him of where he grew up in Seattle.
Both of Burleson’s sons play football for Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes after stints at Don Bosco. With the help of naps, Burleson plans to assist the team when his busy schedule allows. “Maybe seven, eight years from now, you’ll be talking about the Burleson boys in the NFL,” he says—but he’s not pressuring any of his three kids to become professional athletes.
If they want to, great. If not, that’s fine too. But whatever the Burleson youngsters want to do, they will have contingency plans. As in more than one.
Dad has already laid the groundwork for that.
“I think I am a walking representation of having a backup plan,” Burleson says. “Sports won’t last forever. I don’t care how talented they are or if they want to pursue it. They could have a career that lasts 11 days. They can have a career that lasts 11 years. But what I do know is that the Burleson boys and my daughter will have a plan after their plan A, B and C.”
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