The latest edition of “Athletes’ Feet,” a series featuring interviews with athletes over pedicures:
Niles Paul showed up to the nail salon with his “brother,” Nate Prater, in tow. When a customer saw the athletic-looking men, she jokingly asked them about picking out a nail polish color.
Prater made his already large frame as big as he could and replied, “Why, would it be a problem if I did?” The woman was uneasy for two seconds before both Paul and Prater broke into laughter.
The offbeat sense of humor is characteristic of both men, who aren’t actually blood brothers but have considered each other family since they were kids growing up in Omaha.
Paul sat with his phone in his hands, tweeting and texting as we talked. Over the next hour, it would only leave his hands once.
We started chatting about Paul’s childhood. His mother, Marjorie, died when he was 12 years old after a years-long battle with Hepatitis B. Paul’s father didn’t handle her death well.
“He was lost,” Paul said. “My older sisters, they weren’t in the house anymore. My dad, this was the woman he was married to for 16 years. . . . Then it was just him and a bunch of teenage boys. He was lost, and so he was never around.”
With the relative absence of his father, it was up to Paul’s three older brothers to raise him. Paul struggled for attention and saw sports as a way to get it.
“When I was eight, I made a promise to my mom that I was going to be in the NFL like my uncle,” said Paul, whose uncle is former Packers running back Ahman Green. “I saw my uncle and the response he got from my family and I wanted that feeling.”
In high school, Paul excelled at wide receiver while maintaining his place on the honor roll. At the same time, he was still being raised by boys not much older than he was. Paul admits that their influence still affects the way he interacts with women.
“All my brothers now are settling down and becoming men,” he said. “But growing up it was like, ‘Don’t you fall in love.’ ”
But Paul, 24, said things will change as he matures.
“Hopefully I’ll be married with kids in five years,” he said.
For now, Paul lives with Prater, a mental health specialist who wants to work with at-risk kids.
“He is my therapist,” Paul joked.
Prater smiled and said that the only help Paul needs is with a small case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
“Just the other day we were watching ‘Troy’ and the action starts and he just gets up and starts vacuuming,” Prater said. “I’m like, ‘No. We’re in the middle of this movie. I can’t even hear Achilles yelling no more.’ ”
That led to a conversation about movies, and for the first time, Paul put his phone down.
“I like to break down movies,” he said. “Like ‘Man of Steel.’ People don’t understand. It’s a prelude. . . . No movie has ever explained how he became Superman, but the comic book did. The director clearly read the comic book and explained thoroughly how he became the Man of Steel. He wasn’t actually Superman until the last 30 minutes of the movie.”
Paul’s obsession with movies and superheroes offer him a temporary break from the anger he admits he still carries.
“I was an angry child,” he said. “I used to get into a lot of fights, especially after my mom died. I don’t use it as an excuse, but sometimes it’s hard to control it. If you’ve been at practice, you’ve probably seen my angry side get the best of me. But now, I let my anger out on the field instead of letting it out in everyday life.”