Michael Strahan reaches new heights for pro athletes in retirement

OPINION - While plenty of former NFL stars move on to careers in broadcasting, Strahan’s success is a remarkable story, one that even amazes some of his contemporaries...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Michael Strahan is moving up, to ABC’s Good Morning America.

The retired New York Giants star and current co-host of Live! with Kelly and Michael announced yesterday that he would soon be joining the team at GMA.

Strahan seems to be effortlessly getting into the groove of his second career (dubbed “The Fifth Quarter” by the New York Times) with great results. A man once known for his relentless pursuit of quarterbacks has successfully shown the world that he’s also a sparkling media presence, evidenced by the wacky gags on Live! and his incisive analysis on Fox NFL Sunday.

And while plenty of former NFL stars move on to careers in broadcasting, Strahan’s success is a remarkable story, one that even amazes some of his contemporaries.

Before becoming a television darling, Strahan spent fifteen years with the Giants, setting the record for number of sacks in the 2001 season and snagging a Super Bowl trophy in 2007, just before his retirement. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.

As for his media career, Strahan has had a couple of misses (anyone remember his Fox sitcom Brothers?) but mostly hits, between landing a plum daytime-TV gig and appearing in commercials for Subway, Vaseline and other brands. His affable personality and big smile have made him a bankable personality, and has been credited with helping Live! achieve its highest ratings since Regis Philbin left the show in 2011.

Strahan, in fact, is so popular that daytime fans became anxious that he’d leave Live! for his new gig at GMA. He put those worries to ease yesterday, assuring fans that Live! was his first priority, and that he’d only appear on GMA a few times a week.

But the fact that Strahan has to put fans at ease illustrates how remarkable his career has been. It’s not like we haven’t seen a player-turned-personality before; in fact, television is littered with them. Terry Bradshaw made regular appearances on The Tonight Show to trade barbs with Jay Leno; Charles Barkley is known for his humorous and sometimes bizarre quips on Inside the NBA; Shannon Sharpe, Bill Cowher, Howie Long and a host of others have traded helmets for microphones. But Strahan’s approach to his off-the-field career has been a bit more unique.

Strahan’s gambit was that he pursued a demographic completely antithetical to NFL’s generally-male, generally-younger fanbase — the older, female, daytime television audience.

It’s a demographic Tiki Barber tried to crack when he signed on with NBC’s Today Show in 2007. That venture turned out to be ill-fated — partly because of Barber’s failure to connect with producers and viewers, but mostly because of Barber’s alleged affair with a 23-year-old NBC intern during his wife’s pregnancy.

Strahan, on the other hand, has managed to dodge the glare of controversy (most of his personal crises happened while he was still on the field), and win the hearts of the 25-to-54-year-old female demographic of Live! with Kelly and Michael. Now his audience is likely to grow even more once he joins the team at Good Morning America.

Strahan’s career also serves as an exceptional case study on players navigating life after the game. The ESPN 30 For 30 documentary “Broke” highlights that an astounding 78 percent of NFL players file for bankruptcy or experience financial uncertainty within two years of retirement — a fact Strahan knows well.

“There are a lot of broke athletes out there — I know plenty,” he told the New York Times, “and I didn’t want to end up as one.” Strahan wasn’t rolling the dice when he decided to venture into TV — he was playing chess. And in addition to his television gigs, Strahan also runs a management company set up to help players strategize for their post-NFL careers.

So what can we expect from Michael Strahan on the set of Good Morning America?

Certainly more of his charisma, maybe a bit of his mischief and a lot more of that trademark smile. The show may also provide the perfect platform for him to combine his talk-show wit with his pro-sports savvy. Whatever the outcome, Strahan’s latest move is just about guaranteed to be a winning one.

Veronica Miller can be found on Twitter at @veronicamarche.