Fletcher, though, is out of the locker room now. And in fact, he’s switched sides; this season Fletcher will serve as a studio analyst for CBS Sports Network’s “That Other Pregame Show,” airing from 9 a.m. to 1 on NFL Sundays. So what’s it feel like for a say-the-right-thing stalwart to move into a job where stolid and bland soundbites are no longer valued?
“Liberated!” Fletcher wrote in a recent tweet to ex-teammate Brandon Meriweather. And he wasn’t joking.
“You’ve got to understand, as a player I never really wanted to bring unnecessary attention to our football team,” Fletcher said in a phone conversation. “It’s difficult enough to beat an opponent; when you bring other unnecessary distractions about something you say, it’s just something I never wanted to do. And I was always conscious of that.
“Regardless of how I may have felt about an opponent or a situation, I was conscious about saying the appropriate thing,” Fletcher went on. “When you’re on a team, you have to be cognizant of what you say. That’s the way I looked at it. Now, some people don’t always feel that way, and they may say some things that don’t always help your cause. But now, I’m no longer restricted by being part of a team. I can kind of voice my opinion without worrying about the consequences, so to speak; the affect it would have on the team. …
“When I was in that arena, if I felt like we had an advantage over another team, I wasn’t going to say that to the media, regardless of if I felt that,” Fletcher said. “Now, to be able to just truly speak my mind, it does feel good. It’s liberating. Sixteen years I’ve been in the National Football League. It is a bit liberating.”
Which might help explain why Fletcher is the rare retired star who says he doesn’t miss the game. At all. When the Redskins opened training camp in July, he was on an airplane heading across the country; “I would rather have been on that flight to L.A. than going to training camp,” he said. The last two seasons his family (including his three children) stayed in Charlotte even during football season; now he can go to flag football practice with his son, go to gymnastics with his daughter, drop them off at school, do “little stuff that people take for granted that’s so important to me.”
He still works out five times a week, but he still has aches and pains from 16 years in the NFL, and said with a laugh that “everything hurts.” When a fan recently wrote to him that he should still be playing in the NFL, he responded, “man I’m old as hell!”
“That was a chapter of my life, I did it, it’s over with, now you move on,” Fletcher said. “Football has been great to me, but as far as playing, I have no desire to play. My desire to do other things is greater. There was nothing else for me to give to the game in that capacity, so I don’t miss it.”
Fletcher started experimenting more in front of cameras in the final years of his career, and he said it was easy to choose media over coaching, at least for now. He started reading the sports page in junior high and continued to read voraciously about the league as an adult — as a player, he would read about all 31 teams except his own. He continued to follow the NFL closely in the months after he retired; “I was doing it anyway,” he noted; “now I just get paid to read about it and talk about it.”
(His favorite source? Newspapers, of course. “I just like the feel of paper,” he confessed. Good man.)
The CBS Sports Network job will mostly take Fletcher away from Charlotte on weekends, although there will be a few weekday trips to New York as well. He still has a lot of friends in Washington and wishes them well; the Ohio native described himself as both a Redskins and a Browns fan for the time being. I mentioned some of the words people used to describe him as a player — dependable, passionate, consistent, committed — and asked how he’d like to be described as an analyst.
“Honest,” he said at once. “Being as honest as possible. Not really being concerned about going with the popular opinion, or going against the popular opinion, but just really saying the way I feel about situations, truly my feelings on them, whether it’s the way most people feel or it goes against the grain. Just being comfortable and true to myself, and true to the people who are watching.”