There are countless stories about pro athletes who cannot handle life as productively when they leave the playing stage as when they were in the spotlight.
Shawne Merriman is not one of those stories.
In 2005, Merriman was a first-round draft pick by the NFL’s then-San Diego (now-Los Angeles) Chargers and immediately proved himself as a linebacker, being named the Defensive Rookie of the Year and runner-up for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He had 10 sacks his first year and 39.5 sacks through his first three seasons, the most among all players from 2005-07.
Although he was named to three Pro Bowls, he did face controversy with a four-game suspension in 2006 for violating the NFL’s PED policy. In 2008, he underwent reconstructive knee surgery and played in just one game. His career lasted through 2012, the final two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, but he recorded just five more sacks after his stellar start.
It was during his rehab when Merriman seriously began to formulate an idea he previously had about life after the NFL. His goal: Create an athletic sportswear line based on his nickname, Lights Out, a reference to how quarterbacks and other opposing players felt when he tackled them.
“When you play in the NFL and play football for as long as I did, it was like living a dream that I had since I was a kid,” said Merriman. “I started playing when I was about ten. Then one day it stopped. And you have to find your next passion. Something that gets you up in the morning and gets you going. For me, it has been Lights Out. I loved playing, but building Lights Out is as much a passion for me as football.”
Today, Lights Out is thriving online and expanding into retail outlets nationwide. But not content with being CEO of his own company, Merriman also is a Nascar owner, aligned with driver Jesse Iwuji in the K&N Pro Series West, driving for Patriot Motorsports Group. He also is associated with Bellator MMA as a spokesman, with the potential of climbing into the ring.
Nascar and MMA-related gear will soon be part of the Lights Out inventory.
Merriman, 32, said much of his current drive in business, sports and life traces back to his childhood in Maryland, where he attended Frederick Douglass HS and the University of Maryland.
“I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood. I loved motorsports but we didn’t have the opportunity to experience Nascar. So my thinking is, What happens when you can make a great sport like Nascar available to an 11- or 12-year-old Shawne Merriman. You could have a lifelong fan.”
For Merriman, the fact that Iwuji is also African American greatly adds to the equation.
“Nascar has been dealing with the issue of bringing diversity to its sport and Jesse is someone who can do great things in Nascar,” said Merriman.
Even with his numerous endeavors, Merriman is tackling another passion in his life.
“I speak to as many kids as I can. I work with the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation (which is dedicated to supporting the well-being of abused, neglected and at-risk children). There is a reason I do this. I know I can’t help every kid. But there are kids who will listen and turn their lives around. Or change their lives in some way. That’s why you do it. Because there is a kid out there whose life I can impact.”