By William Kang and Jordan Burchette
No one embodies the phrase “strictly business” quite like Bobby Wagner.
In our interview with the future-Hall-of-Fame linebacker, he seemed less concerned about player rankings, pregame superstitions, and the perceptions of others and more focused on getting back to the Super Bowl. And when his face isn’t buried in his iPad, studying film, he’s managing his already-successful career off the field as a venture capital partner and angel investor.
But Wagner doesn’t negotiate with opponents on the field. His all-time ability to blow up ball carriers and lead defenders into battle has earned him a Lombardi Trophy along with nine All-Pro and eight Pro-Bowl selections — and he intends to keep blowing up those numbers too.
Learn more about this quietly ferocious competitor’s thoughts on meditation misconceptions, single-handedly negotiating his historic salary, and staying impervious to pressure.
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LADDER: You negotiated the largest-ever contract at your position without an agent. Were you intimidated at all going to those meetings?
No, I wasn't intimidated because I felt like I did the work to be confident in that room. Really I just wanted to do a good job and show players that there's other options in case you don't want to have an agent.
Do you have any tips for others — be they football players or just people in general — for getting the upper hand in negotiations?
I would say do your research and understand your market value.
Where did this passion for business come from?
I think it came from when I first got into the league, and seeing that people in my position played a long time but then ended up leaving and not having much to show for it. Guys in my position, we've focused so long on playing one sport that we don't really have an idea of what we want to do when we’re done.
I didn't want to be one of those guys, so I took the time to try to understand the business side of the game we play. My goal is to have a better career off the field than I did on the field.
Where do you see the parallels between football and business?
Football is such a unique sport where you get so many different people from all walks of life. So it forces you to relate to other people, because you can be in your own bubble for a long time. But as soon as you get on a football team, you realize that bubble is a lot bigger than you think.
So a similarity is trying to get everybody — from different backgrounds and beliefs — on the same page for one particular goal to achieve something special.
If you weren’t doing that as a linebacker, where else on the field would you be?
Probably running back or quarterback.
And if you weren't playing football at all? You recently suggested that you could score on LeBron — think you could have made the NBA if you’d focused on hoops instead?
Yeah, if I wanted to continue to pursue basketball, I think it probably could have worked out. I just like hitting people better.
Do you give a lot of thought to your nutrition?
I'm very conscious of what I put in my body. Even though I give myself cheat days, I stay away from junk food. I just try to eat clean because the older you get, the cleaner your meals have to be or it'll come back to haunt you.
What does an average day of eating look like?
In the morning I probably have a smoothie, oatmeal, eggs. For lunch, I might have a salad with some chicken. And at night I probably have steak, salmon, pasta, whatever, with some type of greens, spinach.
What made you sign with LADDER and what are your favorite products?
I like the vision. I think it's an important part of your nutrition to have different energy drinks and protein supplements. You want to put the best stuff in your body, and I feel LADDER's the best, so it's an easy call for me.
What are your training focuses?
Getting stronger, faster, smarter. And just making sure that I'm in the best shape that I can possibly be whenever the season comes around. It's a balance between training the body and training the mind.
In what ways do you train your mind?
I meditate a lot. Meditation is not just being calm. It's more about being present. There are a lot of things that you’re worried and concerned about, but you have to be present in that moment or you're going to miss it. So a lot of meditation is just making sure that you stay focused so you can perform at your best.
Do you feel like meditation helps you deal with the pressure of big moments?
There's no such thing as pressure. Pressure is what people put on you. I hold myself to a high standard and I feel like my mind is open to accomplishing anything that I set. So I don't feel any pressure from anybody because I put enough pressure on myself.
Let’s talk about how you prepare to take the field; what’s your pregame routine?
A lot of it is just good vibes. If it's not good energy, I don't want it around. But really it’s listening to music, having some good food, and meditating. Anything that's gonna put me in a good space to perform. If it's a later game, I gotta have some form of pasta.
Music is that important, huh?
I feel like I can't perform if I don't listen to music.
What makes your pregame playlist?
Anything Kendrick. Nipsey [Hussle] for sure. Jay-Z, J Cole. I do like to listen to some of the younger music, but it's not a staple.
Start, bench, cut: Jay-Z, Kendrick, and J Cole.
I think both Kendrick and J. Cole can understand me starting Jay-Z. And then I'm gonna have, primed and ready, Kendrick and J. Cole. If I gotta cut somebody, I'm gonna cut myself from making that decision [laughs].
What makes a good pregame playlist?
It’s gradual. Like, I'm listening to calm music, and the closer and closer I'm getting to the game, it's a little bit more energy.
But I've been listening to the same song since 2008: Lil Wayne, “Birdman Jr.” I don't know why I started playing that song, but I just really like it. So I listen to it before I go out.
When does your mental preparation start?
To be honest, it's a lifestyle — it doesn't ever really stop. I feel like I'm always thinking about the game in some way. As soon as you play a team, you move on to the next game.
So it really starts Sunday night, taking care of your body. And then Monday morning you’re watching film on the next opponent.
You place an emphasis on personal style. Do you go for mainly classy or comfortable?
I'm a combination of the two. Sometimes I wear a suit, but sometimes I like to just be comfortable, like a subtle flex.
What kinda closet are you working with?
It's a nice-sized closet. I'm pretty sure the majority of it is hoodies. Some suits. It's mostly Jordan stuff for sure.
And is this collection constantly growing? Will it eventually consume us all?
I have a lot of brothers and nephews that wear the same size as me, and whenever they come to my house, a lot of stuff comes up missing. So, I would say a lot of it is given away.