Some CBS viewers already noticed James Brown’s dramatic weight loss late last season. By the time the next NFL season starts, it might be impossible to miss.
The longtime football studio host is down 74 pounds from his 6-foot-5 frame since October, having lost exactly 25 percent of his weight. Brown has chronicled smaller weight losses at various points in the past decade: before the 2015 Super Bowl (when SportsBusiness Journal had him chomping on brown rice crisps in studio), in 2010 (when the New York Times said he lost 40 pounds, describing a lunch of Greek organic yogurt, maple syrup and raw sunflower seeds) and in 2008 (when the Washingtonian had him close to 275 pounds and hiring nutritionists to help).
But none of the previous losses seem as dramatic as this one, which he detailed to Jason Romano on the latter’s Sports Spectrum podcast. Brown, a grandfather of four, was on the podcast to talk about his faith, which, he said, spurred his striking weight loss.
“You know, I had been battling this for quite some time,” he told Romano. “I would always tease and say when I started doing football . . . [that] I really threw myself into the job. And Howie Long, my colleague at Fox, used to tease with a bunch of his buddies, asking, ‘Man, what line did he play on? I mean, he obviously played for somebody.’ So I was trying to look the part, until Howie told me I looked like a swollen tick. That was not a good compliment.
“Athletes, don’t they engage in — as much of an oxymoron as it is — they engage in negative incentive,” Brown said. “And I remember when I was working out — and I had been doing it religiously for a few years, trying to get down — and I came into the studio one Sunday and I was all excited because that week I had lost five pounds. Howie looked at me, he didn’t crack a smile, didn’t give me a vote of encouragement at all, he said ‘That’s like taking a cup of water out of the Atlantic Ocean. Talk to me when you’ve really lost some weight.’
This latest moment would qualify. Brown, a former basketball star at DeMatha and then Harvard, said he weighed 292 pounds in October, and is now about 218. The photo evidence is just as arresting as you’d expect.
“So I’m very excited about it,” he said. “And the principal reason also: I wanted to be, and want to be, a strong vessel for the Lord.”
Brown said his weight-loss program was developed by a Christian doctor, and that the numbers used all have Biblical connotations.
“There’s a 40-day weight reduction period — the number of transformation,” he explained. “There’s a three-day recovery period — new birth or resurrection. And then there’s the maintenance phase. So it’s gone really well, but as I looked at their affirmations — and they’re good affirmations — I made mine all about the Lord, saying I want to be a strong vessel for your use: energetic, enthusiastic, healthy. And as a result, my family and everyone else, my employer, they would benefit. So it’s kind of the same concept as in Matthew 6:33, which says ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these other things will be added.’ If I seek to be a strong, healthy, energetic vessel for Him, everything else — my family, my wife, my grandkids — they’ll be beneficiaries.”
Brown went on to detail at great length his lifelong religious journey, which included hearing a radio evangelist mornings as an elementary school kid, going to Catholic church when he began playing CYO baseball as a 12-year old, and finally investing in religion as a 20-something businessman in D.C., with the moment of introspection coming during a late-night ride down North Capitol Street. He was young and comfortable, with an active social life and all the trappings of success, and yet life seemed empty. His religion, he said, then became a lifelong pursuit, even if he rarely discusses it on air or even in the workplace.
“I don’t go around trying to beat people over the head with the Bible; I try to model it in my lifestyle,” he said. “I try to do my job with excellence so that there’s no complaining, no issues at all about me not only meeting the mark but exceeding the mark, treating people like I want to be treated, like Christ treats us, with grace and love. So I try to do that, and it’s interesting because people over time when they get some hint of who you are or Whose you are, things will change. And before, I didn’t want to be looked at as an outsider, but in fact, I may well be. I’m okay with that now.
“You know, you’re around athletes, you’re in the locker rooms and sometimes there’s some profane language, but that’s where they are. You don’t castigate, you don’t vilify, you try to model the behavior that is consistent with the word of God. And then all of a sudden in meetings people will say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry JB about the word that I just used.’ And sometimes back in the day, I used to say ‘No no, that’s okay.’ No, it’s not okay. So when they say ‘Oh, I’m sorry about that, forgive the word,’ I accept that and I say, ‘Well thank you,’ and just move on.
“And before it had me feeling like I’m sticking out, but yeah, you are sticking out, because we’re supposed to be examples of Him in how we carry ourselves, So that’s how I’ve been doing it all along.”
Brown said he doesn’t talk about his faith on air because his boss, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, “didn’t hire me to come on board to proselytize. He hired me to be the best studio host that I can be, to help make the show the best it could be, to elicit the best from my colleagues. He hired me to display excellence in my broadcasting skills. That I’m clear about.
“However,” Brown went on, “if off work hours, people say, ‘Can I ask you a few questions?’ — and they have — I can share with them. Again, not in a holier than thou attitude, but to simply share and answer questions. You know, the Scripture says that might be considered planting a seed.”
And when asked how long he plans to continue in sports broadcasting, the 66-year-old Brown returned to the issue of his weight loss.
“This is where I truly put myself in the Lord’s hand, knowing I’ve indicated to Him I want to be an excellent ambassador for Christ, I want to serve Him,” Brown said. “As I told you, the overriding reason for wanting to get into good shape — clearly for health purposes — but was to be a strong, healthy vessel for His use.”