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'American Ninja Warrior' Host Akbar Gbajabiamila Details Life Journey In New Book

May 7, 2019
On May 6, 2019, former NFL linebacker Akbar Gbajabiamila celebrated his 40th birthday. In those 40 years, he not only played four years of professional football, he earned a college degree, became the host of the popular show "American Ninja Warrior," and, most recently, became a published author.

To a casual observer, it may seem like Gbajabiamila has navigated the first 40 years of his life with little trouble. In his new book, "Everyone Can Be A Ninja," however, he revealed that his journey hasn't always been easy.

"I was transitioning from doing football and sports my whole life to saying, 'Hold on, now I got a college degree, I played football. ... What do I do now?'" he said on Glenn Clark Radio May 6.

Gbajabiamila retired from the NFL before he turned 30. He played 31 games for the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins from 2003-2007. His brother, Kabeer, found more success; he was a standout defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers from 2008-2008 and was named to the Pro Bowl in 2003. 

After retirement, Gbajabiamila got married and quickly saw his savings account drop to just $40,000. He sought out a job in broadcasting, but the best he was able to do was calling Division II games for CBS Sports.

His first year working for the network he made $26,000 for working 13 games. The next year wasn't much better, as he still took in less than $30,000 for his broadcast work.

"That put a financial strain on my family," he said. "I started to think, 'Am I selfish? Am I crazy? You're Akbar Gbajabiamila. Nobody knows your name. They know your last name because of your brother, not because of you, and you think somebody is going to give you a prime-time job? You're joking.'"

Searching for a new opportunity, he jumped at the chance to work for the E! Network. The move was just the break that Gbajabiamila needed, giving him the exposure needed to eventually land a job as a host on NFL Network's "NFL Fantasy Live" in 2012. In 2015, he became the co-host of "American Ninja Warrior" alongside Matt Iseman.

That job led to a chance meeting between Gbajabiamila and Ravens quarterback Robert Griffin III while the show filmed in Baltimore in late April. It was a coincidental meeting between two men who have fought through their own personal obstacles in their lives. To Gbajabiamila, Griffin embodies everything that his new book stands for.

"Boy, has he had to overcome a lot of obstacles in his life. I'll tell you, what a phenomenal dude to get to spend more time with," he said. "I think about RGIII and I think when he makes that bounceback -- and I really, truly believe he's going to make that bounceback -- his career started off with a bang and is going to be even bigger when he makes it.

"Everybody loves a comeback story, and I think that is the American dream, it's the American way. You see somebody rise, you see them being pulled down by the media and all these different things -- then rise again, it's like, 'Whoa!'"

He may not have a starting job right now, but to Gbajabiamila, it's hard not to root for people like Griffin. Gbajabiamila compared Griffin's comeback from the injuries that plagued him from 2012 onward to Tiger Woods' recent victory at the Masters.

"You guys saw the promos out there. How many people said, 'Oh, he's never going to rise again. This will never happen,'" he said. "And when he came back roaring, the whole world stopped and watched Tiger Woods win that Masters when many people didn't believe."

While Gbajabiamila's personal journey did not involve winning the Masters or earning Pro Bowl nominations, it doesn't mean he won't get emotional when looking back on the first 40 years of his own life.

"I didn't even think, growing up in South Central L.A. in the 1980s and 90s, that I would make it to 18," Gbajabiamila said. "To be sitting here ... at 40 years old, having played in the NFL, hosting a prime-time show like 'American Ninja Warrior' and now to be an author -- boy, you guys are going to get me all choked up on this show.

"I hope people are inspired by the book."

Gbajabiamila's book hit the shelves May 7.

For more from  Gbajabiamila, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC