Shawne Merriman takes 100 students to NASCAR The ex-NFL player launched ‘Lights Out Drive’ youth initiative that exposes children to the sport

Shawne Merriman named it after his apparel line — Lights Out. The former NFL player recently expanded his personal brand to launch Lights Out Drive, an initiative that gives children exposure to NASCAR. Which is why on Oct. 1, 100 children from the program visited Dover International Speedway.

“All those kids won’t get the opportunity to be a football player in the NFL, [or play in the] NBA, but exposing them to a different demographic and exposing them to a different platform will ultimately, at the end of the day, allow them to be a part of the NASCAR circuit, somehow, some way,” the three-time All-Pro linebacker said.

“There’s media departments. There’s marketing. There’s working at the track, being a part of whatever it is. NASCAR is such a big sport, there’s so many different levels and so many different ways to be part of it, that’s ultimately what you want to do. Out of those 100 kids, you want a good percentage of kids walking out of there to still follow the sport and want to go to another track.”

Merriman’s passion is in line with NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, an initiative launched in 2004, which works to diversify its drivers. As owner of NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver Jesse Iwuji’s Chevrolet, Merriman’s goal is to offer accessibility to youths. Iwuji is one of two black drivers in NASCAR.

Merriman grew up in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, and as a high school player quickly gained the nickname “Lights Out” because players who he hit were rendered unconscious, as the story has been told. He attended the University of Maryland, was drafted 12th overall in 2005 by the San Diego Chargers and was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Merriman spoke to The Undefeated about giving back by bringing children to NASCAR.


When did you first get interested in NASCAR?

You know what, it happened in 2008, when I was invited out to be the grand marshal of the race in Fontana [California], and it really caught me off guard because I was going to a NASCAR event. I didn’t think that people would really know who I was or know who I am. I was honored. It was cool for NASCAR to invite me out. I didn’t know that it was going to be that many football fans.

So they announced me over the intercom, people went crazy, and from that point on, I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy. I didn’t even know.’ I was walking up to the top, I was about to start waving the green flag. A guy behind me tells me, ‘Don’t drop the flag,’ and I’m looking at him like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s just waving a flag. There’s nothing to it.’

The cars all started up, and the crowd went crazy and I got so nervous because my hands started to get like clammy and I felt myself about to drop the flag because I was so damn nervous, but it was that adrenaline and it was the energy from the crowd that kind of made me fall in love with the sport. That was my first time actually being at a race. I used to watch it on TV growing up as a kid, but I had no idea it was that much excitement, that much energy there at the track.

What do you think about the lack of diversity in the sport?

For me it never really hit me hard. It was 2008, so basically nine years ago. I was in my mid-20s, and that was the first time I had an opportunity to go to a track but I got the opportunity to go to the track because I was Shawne Merriman, football player, linebacker of the San Diego Chargers at the time. That was my opportunity.

If I wasn’t who I was, I don’t know if I’d-a been open to going to the races. I don’t know if I would have been invited. I don’t know if I would have ever got a chance to see how exciting it was. That was part of my initiative of trying to get more ethnicity in there, more minorities involved in the sport, because without the opportunity, how do you really know?

I would have never known how to go to a track or how to look up the schedule or anything about the sport. That’s just part of our whole initiative to get this done.

Did the children on hand to go to the race as part of your initiative enjoy the event?

It was incredible because they really didn’t know what to expect. And we got there, and walking into the parking lot they heard a couple of the cars, it was probably two or three cars, on the track and they were doing all their practice runs. They were like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s loud,’ so they all wanted the little earpieces. I said, ‘No, no, no. Those are two or three cars that are practicing right now. Wait until 20-plus cars start up and then they start going around the track, then you’ll really see how the intensity and how crazy it is to be there.’

Maybe one day, when they get older and they’re looking for a career, they’ll remember that race that they went to and how exciting it was and want to be a part of the organization. To me, it was much bigger than trying to really inspire them to just be in the car racing.

How did you choose that group of students? What was the process for getting that initiative started?

I got the James Madison Middle School, where I went to middle school, so I got some kids from there, but I also got some at-risk kids at a top-notch program in Baltimore. I got some kids from D.C. We really wanted to get inner-city, most of the city as possible, because those are the kids that won’t have the opportunity to even go or won’t even find out the information to go or how do we get there. Whatever the case is.

I hope that grows from 100 to 1,000. I thought it was a great turnout. The kids really enjoyed themselves, and I would love to have even more involved and possibly even one day having a big race even closer to the inner city, if possible, so even more people will get the opportunity to be there.

How did you meet your driver?

So I have my company, Lights Out brand, which is an apparel company, and I was having a fashion show in downtown Los Angeles at a place called Brigade, where we hold a lot of our fashion shows at and I was introduced to Jesse, my driver, by a mutual friend of ours who’s a really big YouTube and social media star named Jason Dozier.

We talked about another 30 minutes or so at the event and I said, ‘Man, just come up. I would love to hear more about what you’re doing and how can I be more involved in the sport. Will you come to my office in the next few weeks or so?’ And he drove up from Monterey, California, all the way to my office in downtown Los Angeles, and from that point on we made it happen. He became an ambassador for my company, for Lights Out, and I became his car owner.

We were able to bring on a huge partnership and sponsor, Perfect Hydration, the water company, and they really liked our efforts and what we’re trying to accomplish. Without them, I don’t know if we could continue to do what we’re doing right now. They just really came in and gave us the resources that we need in order to be successful in our initiatives.

What do you have upcoming?

I have stuff for Lights Out. Actually, I’ve got a show coming out that I guest-starred on, the comedy Get Down, on BET, with George Lopez, Cedric the Entertainer, Charlie Murphy, Eddie Griffin, D.L. Hughley.

How was it working with the late Charlie Murphy?

Oh, my God. I was so privileged to not only work with him on the screen, but off set, when everybody’s trying to just relax and stuff like that, you hear Charlie. Charlie’s so real and raw and blunt and up front. I was in hair just listening to him talk all the time. He was just so damn funny. I was really blessed to get a chance to work with him before he passed away.

Are you missing football?

I’m still around it. I’m at every home Chargers game in L.A., support them in that move and really trying to get them more involved in kind of L.A. market and just do whatever I can. I’ve been around the team since 2005, and so I’m just glad to be a part and still kick it with them.

The ringside style bar has been set high for Mayweather vs. McGregor Why big boxing matches are always the most glamorous sports night of the year

Get out those red-bottomed Louboutins, fight fans.

The boxing match everyone has been talking about, Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor, is finally going down in Sin City on Saturday night. Many of the biggest names in sports, business and entertainment have been jetting into Las Vegas for the most glamorous, high-fashion sporting event of the year and will be suited, booted, slicked down and Spanxed to death in their $107,000 seats.

According to TMZ, Drake, LeBron James, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Rick Ross and Charlize Theron are all expected to sit ringside at the T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a likely attendee. Michael Jordan, George Lopez, Mike Tyson, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have been to Mayweather fights.

Mark Wahlberg, Idris Elba and Evander Holyfield have endorsed McGregor and will likely cheer on the Dublin-born mixed martial arts champ from the crowd.

Judging by a handful of recent Mayweather fights — especially the star-studded, years-in-the-making showdown against Manny Pacquiao in 2015 — the ringside style bar will be very high.

Singer Cassie Ventura and Sean “Diddy” Combs pose ringside at Mayweather vs. Pacquiao presented by Showtime pay-per-view and HBO pay-per-view at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for SHOWTIME

Power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z scored a fashion knockout when they were photographed ringside at Mayweather-Pacquiao. Bey’s red cut-down-to-there Harbison caped jumpsuit and Jay’s champagne-colored tuxedo jacket and black tie earned them god status on social media. Nicki Minaj brought her girls to the yard in a blue form-fitting Herve Leger dress and matching patent leather stilettos. Diddy and his longtime girlfriend, Cassie Ventura, did “CEO and wifey” chic in a beautifully coordinated business suit and cocktail dress combo.

Actor Denzel Washington (left) and director Antoine Fuqua pose ringside at Mayweather vs. Pacquiao presented by Showtime pay-per-view and HBO pay-per-view at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images for SHOWTIME

And, of course, Denzel Washington’s now infamous blue polyester Adidas tracksuit and black New York Yankees baseball cap debuted at the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight and birthed a thousand “Uncle Denzel” memes that gave Twitter life for months.

But what exactly is the dress code for a big fight?

“It’s really ‘dress to impress,’ very ‘grown and sexy,’ ” said celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, the former creative style director for the National Football League who has dressed clients for big fights in the past. “You don’t have to be as dressed up as Beyoncé, but this isn’t the crowd that you want to look like a ho.

“Really big fights used to be a very elite thing to go to, and boxing still has an old-world feeling to it. If you’re a boxing enthusiast, this kind of fight is a part of history. You’ll definitely remember what you wore to this event, so you want to be comfortable and stylish.”

Actress Ava Gardner (center), actor and singer Frank Sinatra (right) and band leader Joe Loss in the front row at White City Stadium to watch Randolph Turpin fight Charles Humez for the world middleweight boxing title in 1953.

Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Modern boxing has a particularly glamorous spectator history, especially in the Rat Pack era, said Bloch. Think of movie stars such as Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand and Jack Nicholson attending title matches in perfectly tailored tuxedos and ball gowns.

“The last big Mayweather fight [against Pacquiao], Beyoncé was there in this red, plunging dress with a cape and all kinds of shiny cleavage,” Bloch said. “It was a moment. And Jay wore a bow tie and tux. Let’s not get it twisted: If Beyoncé and Jay come to a fight, no one else in that arena will look better than them.

“Jay envisions himself as a kind of modern Sinatra, so it’s very appropriate that he dressed up in that old-school way. Something like this in Vegas isn’t like going to the Super Bowl or an NBA Finals game. People have flown in, gotten the hotel suite, made a weekend of it — and they’re paying a fortune for their seats.”

The hilarious and self-aware glory of Charlie Murphy Comedian, actor, screenwriter — and yes, Eddie Murphy’s older brother — was a funnyman in his own right

Charlie Murphy, the straight, no-chaser funnyman who died Wednesday afternoon at the age of 57 after a private battle with leukemia, pulled off the seemingly impossible. Indeed, the older brother of Eddie Murphy, a once-in-a-generation comedian and record-breaking film star, would not have been blamed if he rode the red leather tails of his sibling’s career.

Yet, Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories sketches were central to Dave Chappelle’s Comedy Central gem: The tales of a coke-fueled, slap-happy Rick James and Prince the hoops god serving pancakes to his vanquished and confused foes are eternal. Murphy also became a successful touring comedian. “It’s been a riot,” he told me during a 2013 interview when asked about his move to stand-up.

Of course, Murphy, who flashed his trademark toothy grin as if he were in on the joke, was not oblivious. He’d heard the whispers: that he was piggybacking off Chappelle, as well as his brother. “All the people that have been wondering if I could pull this off, and wondering if it was real,” he said, “that’s human nature.”

Charles Quinton Murphy was a very self-aware person. “I’m not going to make a fool of myself,” he said, “or besmirch my brother’s legacy. Before I started doing stand-up, I knew I had what it takes to develop an act. I went to clubs with not many people there and I just worked on it, man.” That’s the legacy of Charlie Murphy: hard work. Which is why it’s not surprising that there has been an outpouring of heartfelt tributes.

“We just lost one of the funniest most real brothers of all time. Charlie Murphy RIP,” posted Chris Rock, who recruited Murphy to portray the all-too-gangsta Gusto for 1993’s cult comedy classic CB4. Fellow comedian D.L. Hughley glowed about Murphy: “After every gig, he rushed home to be with his kids. He died with gigs on the books.” Oscar-nominated director Spike Lee, who cast Murphy in some of his most acclaimed work — including 1990’s Mo Better Blues, posted on Instagram: “My Late Brother-The Very Funny Charlie Murphy … Rest In Power.” And actress Gabrielle Union praised him as a “kind, sweet, funny man.” Murphy’s wife, Tisha Taylor Murphy, died of cervical cancer in 2009. He is survived by his three children.


The irony, of course, is that early on the acid-tongued, Brooklyn-born maverick wanted no part of the entertainment business. He seemed content with having served in the U.S. Navy as a boiler technician and just trying to figure things out. Even after Eddie became the biggest comedian and movie star on the planet, Charlie, who was honorably discharged in 1983, took on a more supportive and protective role in Eddie’s legendary entourage. He was security. But Charlie was watching and learning.

You could see the progression. A bit role in 1989’s Harlem Nights led to parts in The Players Club (1998) and Roll Bounce (2005). Sure, he mostly played the hated bully, but he did it with a knowing wink. By the time he became a featured player on Chappelle’s Show, his deft and thoroughly engaging ability as a storyteller was on full display.

“I’m not going to make a fool of myself. Or besmirch my brother’s legacy.”

Eddie’s big brother was now more than just a member of a Hollywood clique.

“Let me put it like this,” he explained to The A.V. Club back in 2010 of his newfound celebrity. “I’m at the Four Seasons Maui, and yesterday I was with Joe Rogan. We were standing by the pool, and the waitress came over and she said, ‘We’re getting these paparazzi in the bushes right now filming you guys. We’re going to get them out of here.’ And I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve made it.’ ”

But Murphy — who co-wrote the screenplay for Eddie Murphy’s 2007 Norbit, which grossed $159 million — liked to prove to himself and his peers that he could thrive without a net on the often brutal stand-up circuit. Although his 2010 Comedy Central special I Will Not Apologize was uneven, he continued to perfect his craft. The jokes and timing got sharper. The gigs became more diverse and interesting … and bigger. There was voiceover work for The Boondocks and 2012’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was a recurring role on Cartoon Network’s criminally underrated Black Jesus. At the time of his death, Murphy was part of the all-star The Comedy Get Down tour, which also featured George Lopez, Cedric the Entertainer, Eddie Griffin and Hughley. It was a powerful affirmation that the stand-up he’d worked on so consistently was ready for prime time.

Comedian Charlie Murphy performs during his appearance at The Ice House Comedy Club on December 4, 2013 in Pasadena, California.

Michael Schwartz/WireImage

“A comedian’s job is so dangerous,” he said in 2012. And then two days before his death he tweeted, “Release the past to rest as deeply as possible.” Yes, Charlie Murphy could have been just Eddie’s big brother. But where was the glory in that?