Following the Washington Redskins’ signing of undrafted rookie Nico Marley, the grandson of Bob Marley, the players reacted in the locker room exactly how one might expect — with a mix of admiration and curiosity for the descendant of a reggae icon and humanitarian.
But running back Rob Kelley didn’t flinch. He had been through this already at Tulane, where Kelley and wide receiver Ryan Grant were teammates with Marley. And after Kelley and Marley’s first encounter, Kelley’s perception completely changed.
“When he first came to Tulane, you hear somebody like Nico Marley, you think, ‘Oh, Bob Marley’s grandson. He’s probably an uppity-type guy, living off the name,’ ” said Kelley, who listened to Bob Marley’s music growing up. “But you get the total opposite.”
Perceptions can be created off a surname, especially if it’s one revered throughout the world. There are some recognizable last names, at least in the football world, in the Redskins’ offseason practices; a Cousins (Kirk), a Norman (Josh), a Kerrigan (Ryan), a Pryor Sr. (Terrelle), a Hall (DeAngelo).
Now, there’s a Marley. Yes, that Marley.
Nico, an undersize inside linebacker, is two generations removed from his grandfather and the impact he had on the world, but his lasting legacy continues to give the family last name a sense of royalty.
“I kind of got over it now because he’s so down to Earth that you don’t even be thinking about his name until somebody else [mentions it],” Kelley said. “When he first got here, everybody was like, ‘Oh, it’s Bob Marley’s grandson!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay.’ At the end of the day, when I’m talking to him, it’s like, ‘What up, Nics?’ ”
Born almost 14 years after his grandfather’s death, Marley, 22, has been aware of the significance of his last name since middle school, but he doesn’t compare his name to others. Instead, he uses the platform to promote the same message of positivity, peace and love.
“Having the name just comes with an understanding of the teachings of my grandfather,” Marley said. “Getting lessons from my father, lessons from his music and interviews, it’s just putting it all into perspective.”
At 5 feet 8, he is small for a linebacker, just like his father, Rohan, was when playing for the Miami Hurricanes during the 1990s alongside Ray Lewis, and he compensates with a passion that is reflective of his grandfather’s message, and was on display during Washington’s rookie minicamp.
Coach Jay Gruden said Marley had two interceptions, a fumble recovery and about three tackles for loss to earn a spot on the 90-man roster of the Redskins, which happens to be the team Rohan Marley grew up watching in Jamaica as he became acclimated with football.
His last name didn’t matter when it came to Gruden’s evaluation, which is what Marley wants. Kelley quickly learned that despite his name, Marley is not seeking any level of privilege.
“When he come out there, and he just wants to work,” Kelley said. “If you don’t ask him, he won’t even tell you that he’s related to Bob Marley. He’s come out to work, and he wants to treat it like everyone else. He’s a low-profile type of guy.”
When he’s on the field, Marley describes it as “Nico being Nico.” He enjoys the pressure, the adversity and the camaraderie that come with playing the sport.
Football is still relatively new to the Marleys, but as he fights for a spot on the 53-man roster this summer, Marley hopes to carry the legacy into this unique endeavor.
“[I’m] like my dad also on the field, or like my grandfather when he’s doing music,” Marley said. “I’m passionate, running around excited. I bring all that together,” Marley said. “It’s still my grandfather’s passion, but it’s in a different eye to the public. Now it’s like, ‘Oh, we’ve got a Marley playing football? Okay.’ Then, you can watch me, watch my grandfather’s performances, and you can be like, ‘Wow, all right.’ You can see how it resonates and how everything coincides.”