Marvin Gaye, Detroit Lions Wide Receiver?
We’ve seen plenty of athletes—probably too many—try to become musicians. But what happens when it goes the other way?
Soul singer Marvin Gaye actually considered dropping his musical career at one point to fulfill his dream of playing in the Super Bowl with his hometown Detroit Lions. In the midst of a depression after the death of his longtime singing partner Tammi Terrell, Gaye recorded the single “What’s Going On.”
Appearing as background singers on the track were two of Gaye’s friends, Lions cornerback Lem Barney and running back Mel Farr. Barney had once introduced himself to Gaye by knocking on the door of his Detroit home and the two became fast friends, eventually roping Farr into the friendship. Gaye brought them to the studio when he recorded "What's Going On" and invited them to sing on the track. However, when Motown producers refused to release the politically-charged single, Gaye again turned to his friends to pursue his longtime dream of playing in the Super Bowl with the Lions.
Barney and Farr helped Gaye bulk up and train to become a wide receiver. He approached coach Joe Schmidt and asked him for the chance to try out. When Schmidt asked him for game film, Gaye reportedly said he had never played, not even in high school, but that he always believed he would score a touchdown the first time he touched a football.
According to Schmidt, the first time he met with Gaye he said, “If I could sing like you, I certainly wouldn't want to play football.” The second time Gaye approached him for a tryout, Schmidt decided that he couldn’t put the singer in harm’s way and declined to let him on the field.
It probably all worked out for the best. A few months later, “What’s Going On” was released and Gaye was once again catapulted into the spotlight with what would become his most acclaimed album. And the Lions? Well, they're still waiting on that Super Bowl.