Ronnie Lott is one of the best players in the history of the NFL. After a successful college football career at USC, he was the first-round draft pick of the SF 49ers in 1981.
Over his fourteen-year career, he played for the 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs.
In his rookie year, he helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XVI. He played on three more 49er teams that won the Super Bowl.
He was an All-Pro eight times, All NFC six times, and All AFC once. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, the first year he was eligible. Many consider him the best safety in the history of the NFL.
In the 1985 season, he crushed the tip of his pinky when tackling Timmy Newsome of the Dallas Cowboys. Surgery would have prevented Ronnie from starting the 1986 season, so he did what anyone would do: have the tip of his pinky cut off.
After his football career, he became a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley with 49er teammates Harris Barton and Joe Montana. He also owns a Toyota and a Mercedes dealership.
Interestingly, though he is one of the hardest hitters in the history of the NFL, he used the word “love” more than any other Remarkable People guest.
And finally, he drops many names for football players and coaches, basketball players, and other athletes. If you’re under twenty-five or so, you may have never heard of them, but suffice it to say that when Ronnie drops a name, the person was pretty remarkable in their time.
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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Ronnie Lott
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. This episode’s remarkable guest is Ronnie Lott. Ronnie is one of the best players in the history of the NFL. After successful college football career at USC, he was the first-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1981. Over his fourteen-year career, he played for the 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, New York Jets, and Kansas City Chiefs.
In his rookie year, he helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XVI. He played on three more 49er teams that won the Super Bowl. He was an All Pro eight times, All NFC six times, and all AFC once.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, the first year he was eligible.
Many consider him the best safety in the history of the NFL. In 1985, he crushed the tip of his pinky when tacking Timmy Newsome of the Dallas Cowboys. Surgery would have prevented Ronnie from starting the 1986 season. So, he did what anyone would do. He had the tip of his pinky cut off.
After his football career, he became a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley with 49er teammates Harris Barton and Joe Montana. He also owns a Toyota and a Mercedes dealership.
Although he is one of the hardest hitters and toughest players in the history of the NFL, he used the word love more than any other remarkable people guest.
And finally, he drops a many names of football players and coaches, basketball players, and other athletes.
If you’re under twenty-five or so, you may have never heard of them. But suffice it to say that when Ronnie drops a name, that person was pretty remarkable in their time. I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People, and now, here’s the remarkable Ronnie Lott.
Guy Kawasaki: How is your left pinky these days?
Ronnie Lott: My left pinky, it’s fine. I think one of the interesting things about life is you have these moments where people will walk up to you, and you find yourself not realizing that they’re looking down at your finger. And so, you’re trying to figure out why, and sometimes I forget that they want to know if it’s true.
And I think what I realized is that people do hear the story, but the story has become a story that now is that I bit it off or somebody chopped it off. And so the story has grown and it’s a tall tale, but at Halloween, I tell people this all the time at Halloween, I get a fake finger and when people come over, I go, “Oh, here it is right here,” so you do have fun with it and you do, and you do realize that, the tale continues to grow, but in sports or in life, we all have moments where we do something to make sacrifices because we understand that’s what we do in life.
We have to make sacrifices.
Guy Kawasaki: I live a couple blocks from Willie Mays, so now I know I can go to his house for baseballs and your house for pinkies. That’s good to know. What, was it just the tip or you cut the whole thing off?
Ronnie Lott: No, just the tip, and when you go to tackle somebody, the thing that you don’t realize is if you don’t get your hand out of the way, that your chest can become like an anvil and the helmet, when it hit, the finger, can be caught between your chest and the helmet.
In this case, all the things had to align, and they align. And when they did, the next thing I’m running off the field, screaming and hollering because I hadn’t seen that much blood, in a long, long time in my life playing the game of football.
Usually everybody goes, “Oh, I’ve seen that injury before.” But no, you don’t see, you don’t see somebody snapping their pinky in half and snapping the tip of the finger in half. And so yes, you do have strange moments that happen on the field.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s still better than Joe Theismann’s injuries.
Ronnie Lott: When I saw that, like a lot of us, we didn’t know, and we didn’t expect it and we didn’t believe that he could come back. And he did all of those things and I think one of the remarkable things about the human spirit is that we can see devastation, but we can also see moments where we can, find ways to get back and find ways to fulfill our opportunities to try to be our best self.
Guy Kawasaki: When I was growing up, I played football too, and I just loved it. So, I’m not a Ronnie Lott, but I loved football. What did football mean to you when you were growing up?
Ronnie Lott: You know, what’s funny. Cause when you said that you loved it, I could feel the spirit of how you loved it. And the reason I can feel it is that I can go back to when you felt that love and that passion and looking at kids across from me and realizing that “man, how cool is this that we got a helmet on, we got shoulder pads on. We look like pro football players. We’re really not pro football players.” And there was something about the love of being able to just to put on the uniform and then the love of understanding how to compete and the love of understanding how to try to win and the love of understanding that you’re going to lose and dealing with those issues.
The beauty of it is that I’ve heard stories that you’ve heard, of the greats like Willie Mays, where they do certain things, they would sleep with their glove or they would, make sure that certain things that were rituals that they had to do all the time.
We all have rituals. We all have moments. I had to have vanilla ice cream before each game. My point to you is that all of it was due to actually getting in the presence of the love of the game.
Guy Kawasaki: Looking back, what would have happened if you and Marcus Allen didn’t enter school at the same time? What would have happened if you played offense?
Ronnie Lott: Wow. When I look back, rooming with him and being around him and being around all the guys at USC, that I found myself in situations where I was in awe. And yet at the same time, I found myself realizing that I was just a kid from this little town called Rialto, and you really didn’t know what that felt like to be around guys like that.
And so, I remember sitting there thinking to myself, and a lot of people would say, “Oh, I heard that John Robinson said that you could have played offense,” and I laugh because I never had any wanting to play on that side of the ball. I mean, I didn’t have any of that in my blood, so I’m glad he didn’t choose me.
And I’m glad I didn’t have to go on that side because I love being a defensive back and I love having a chance to play basketball at USC. And those two things that I had a chance to do, probably were two of the greatest things that I’ve experienced in sports because it was awesome playing with Dennis Smith and Joey Browner and Jeff Fisher and Willie Crawford and Herb Ward and so many great guys that you think of playing with all those guys and you realize that all of those guys were really special.
On the other hand, I used to sit there and watch Marcus, and he would come home, and he played full back, and there were days that I looked at his body and I said, “Oh my God, You mean people are hitting you, and they’re beating you up like that?”
And he would look at me and he would say, “Yeah.” And I remember sitting there, “Oh my goodness.” I couldn’t believe how tough he was because the sacrifices of playing full back and blocking for Charlie White. And then when Charlie left, all of a sudden now he’s the tailback.
I think that moment in his life of being a fullback, made him even a better running back, but clearly as roommate, I used to sit there in awe because I never, I never thought that people got hit that hard and people got beat up like that.
Guy Kawasaki: But Ronnie, there is some irony there in that, you crushed a lot of people, so you caused a lot of injury and pain.
Ronnie Lott: I look back at those kinds of moments of, not necessarily crushing, but going back to the thing that you talked about when we first got on, the love, the love of trying to be your best.
The one thing that I loved about being around Marcus, one thing I loved about being around Dennis, and the one thing I loved about being around Eric Scoggins, is the love we had of trying to be our best and having fun and enjoying and loving each other.
And that’s something that even at this moment in my life, at 62, when I call Marcus, I love it because I love him. I love being around him. I love how he inspires me. I love the things that he talks about. And I miss Eric Scoggins, who passed away from ALS. And I love when I talked to Dennis Smith, and my point is that you hope that you leave this world with those kinds of loves in your life and those kinds of relationships in your life.
Guy Kawasaki: So, you loved your teammates. Do you think that you loved your teammates, so you guys became winners? Or you were winners, so you loved your teammates?
Ronnie Lott: Ooh. Great question. Great question. When I went to the Jets and playing with the Jets, we lost, and it wasn’t fun. And yet, I loved being around Pete Carroll. I loved the way he talked about ball.
I loved the way he talked about the game. I still love when I call him up, I love talking to him about life. I love what he tries to let you know about the quest of living. And I love that because to me, it’s authentic, it’s real. Not every person that I bump into or that you come in contact has that, authentic love for their particular sport.
Now they say they love it, but then you have some people that there’s a notion when you look at Bill Russell, and you look at Wilt Chamberlain, they both loved it, but Bill had this way of showing you how to love it even more.
And that was the thing that I grew up watching, that people loved it even more. And that’s what Jim Brown, and that’s what certain guys that you met– Deacon Jones and all these guys that you would meet, that they had this other kind of love that’s really special.
Guy Kawasaki: Since you mentioned Jim Brown, is this a true story that Jim Brown told you to get off his grass?
Ronnie Lott: Yeah, that’s a true story. It’s a true story, and it was funny because we were at USC and we’re going to a party at his house and we’re trying to get into the party and its Marcus, Dennis Smith, and myself, and we’re trying to all get in. We’re trying to figure out, “Man, we got to get in.”
And we’re standing outside, and somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around and it was Jim, and he said, “Hey man, you got to get off my grass.” And there are moments in people’s lives where somebody does that and you go, “Yeah.” And you get off the grass.
But when I saw with Jim, and the thing that I remember was not what he said, what I remember was the aura of who it was. And the aura of not only who he was and who he is and when I’m still around him, I feel the same thing.
The thing that’s special to me was there was now that connection of saying, “Man, I hope one day, I want to be like that.” I haven’t told anybody to get off of my grass, but I wanted to just have a relationship with Jim, and a relationship with Jim about not the game, but really to understand the game of life.
And, throughout my playing days and even throughout my life, from that time, he has been instrumental in being a teacher, an educator, a mentor, and I look forward to the Hall of Fame to see him — to just be around him. And I look forward to seeing a lot of guys at the Hall of Fame because there’s a lot to learn, and there’s a lot to understand, and there’s a lot to how you’ve got to finish your life like they finished their lives, like how they’re living out their lives, and so I’m just trying to model Mean Joe Green. I’m trying to model some of the guys that I’ve played with because it’s important to model those people.
Guy Kawasaki: Can I ask you to put modesty aside for a second for this next question? Ronnie?
Ronnie Lott: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay.
Ronnie Lott: I’m going to put it at aside
Guy Kawasaki: So, do you think you changed football by showing that players could be big, fast, skilled, and hit?
Ronnie Lott: Look, what I tried to show is the same thing that Mel Blount tried to show or the same thing that Mike Haynes tried to show. And what I mean by that is that I have this thought in life about “exhaust every moment.”
And Pete Rose, when you watch him on the field, he exhausted the game and he played as hard as he could play. Marcus played as hard as he could play. Jim Brown stopped playing because he felt like “I could go do something else to exhaust my life.” And I’ve just been around those kinds of people where you watch Kareem Abdul Jabbar exhaust every moment. Magic exhaust every moment. Michael exhaust every moment.
And what’s interesting about all of those people, when you watch him, like Tiger, when you watch him, you go, “There’s something more about not just how they play. But they live their sport, they live their passion. They live to try to always, to always try to be a marksman.”
They had that Navy Seal commitment. And I think that’s an important aspect in life. My dad, what he wanted that commitment of making sure that when I shined his shoes, that it was not just shining the shoes, but you were giving me your best effort of shining his shoes.
And I see a lot of great athletes do that every weekend. That’s the beauty of life. I look for that; when I’m sitting, when I’m looking at any games, I’m looking for the guy who, he jumps out at the screen and he’s Roberto Clemente, and you’re sitting there looking at Roberto Clemente and you’re going, “Whoa,” or you’re looking at Willie Mays.
So, my life has been around watching all of those kinds of guys do the, the impossible and it’s all due to effort. And I love watching that happen and what’s interesting to me, it doesn’t matter what sport, doesn’t matter who the athlete is, doesn’t matter… when Brandi Chastain did her thing, and she knows I’m one of her biggest fans, but I’m one of her biggest fans because it was electric to do something and achieve something. And to know that in that moment it was all her moment or Kristi Yamaguchi, to do something, or Kerry Jennings, to do something like all of those ladies have done to me, I can see that in them.
That’s why when I’m around them, I feel what they feel. And it’s a really amazing thing. And that’s why when you meet a lot of incredible people that are athletes, and what I think is really interesting… sometimes you don’t even know what to say to them, but you know who they are.
You’ve seen every move. I remember meeting Larry Bird and I remember thinking to myself, “Man, I know every move. I’ve seen everything.” And you just are in awe of the moment because that’s how you feel about their greatness.
Guy Kawasaki: About a minute ago, you talked about their grit and their effort. You didn’t mention natural talent. So, what separates a Larry Bird, a Ronnie Lott, from every other person who has a lot of talent?
Ronnie Lott: Whether it’s Larry Bird or Michael Jordan, whoever. I used to watch bowling. And Dick Weber and Dick Weber, man, when Dick Weber was rolling that ball, man, Dick Weber was amazing. My point to you is that everybody is trying to give their best effort.
Arthur Ashe is giving his best effort and you’ve got to appreciate the nuances of all the efforts that everybody’s bringing. And they all come in different flavors and different colors and different thoughts and ideas.
Are you focused on that spirit? I’ve always been focused on the spirit of understanding that and some of our great leaders, over the years, you could feel their spirit and that’s why when you’re around them, that it feels like they could walk on water.
Guy Kawasaki: Can you explain the mental differences between playing cornerback and safety?
Ronnie Lott: Yeah. One position is like literally playing basketball against Michael Jordan every day. And that position is so tough because sometimes the guy could out rebound you. Sometimes the guy can out quick you. Sometimes the guy can out juke you. Sometimes the guy can out do a lot of different things.
And what makes a receiver like Steve Largent so amazing is that sometimes they’re inside your soul and you don’t even realize it because they know how to get away from you at certain situations. And, when you cover like a guy like Steve, or you cover a Charlie Joiner, they’re not imposing, but they just have this art of understanding how to get open.
And it’s so funny. One game we’re playing Steve Largent and man, we’re double, triple teaming him because we don’t want him to catch a ball. We wanted to be the team that stops him from catching a ball and he ends up catching a ball, and it made me realize that we did all of this, and we still couldn’t stop him.
And the point is that that’s the greatness of some people. Their, their ability to, even when at the last moment they still find a way to make that play happen. That’s why, Jerry Rice is phenomenal.
That’s why Joe Montana is exceptional because even those guys will tell you, “Don’t count me out. Don’t count me out. I’m going to find a way.” And what I loved about competing with them in practice is that that’s how they live their life. I mean, it’s funny. Joe still lives his life.
People don’t realize; he’s, he’s in a venture business, but he really wants to beat everybody. And so, he’s trying to get into every great deal just because that’s his spirit, that’s his competitive nature of wanting to be great at everything he does.
Guy Kawasaki: So, I started this asking about cornerback versus safety. So, were you describing cornerbacks or safeties just now?
Ronnie Lott: When I think about both guys, one guy at the cornerback position is trying to find a way to be one-on-one.
The safety is, is Paul Blair. The safety is Willie Mays. The safety is, I’m trying to think of some of the great basketball defenders, the safety is a guy who is doing a lot of different things and he’s trying a lot of different ways, whether it’s in the run game, whether it’s in the passing game, you can find ways to disrupt a lot of what the offense is trying to do.
And that’s due to understanding what they’re trying to do. And why they’re trying to do it and taking certain things away or being able to be the extra man in the run game where everybody’s going, “How did he get there?” A lot of its anticipation of understanding why people are going to do certain things.
And are you willing to study to understand all the nuances and my point is that the game is also a game where you got to know everybody’s position. You got to understand what everybody’s doing on the field, and you got to understand why Joe Montana is going to call for this certain route.
You got to understand why Dan Marino might favor a certain guy. They’re just things that you have to recognize; when I watch sports, even today, when I saw Tom Brady make that throw in the Green Bay game, right before half time, I was like, “Ooh, that’s special,” because he saw something that nobody else saw and he went for, and he made it happen. And you said, “That’s what champions do.” They find ways to beat you when other people are not even thinking about that moment.
Guy Kawasaki: Including your own teammates, who you played against in practice, toughest receiver to cover?
Ronnie Lott: Look, Jerry Rice… first time he walked on the field, I was still playing corner at the time. And George Seifert said, “Hey, go cover him.” And Jerry ran like a shake, which is you run up the field and you run like you’re going to go to the corner, but you then bring it back to the middle of the field.
So, when he went like he was going to the corner, I was like, “Of course, he’s going to the corner. This is a rookie. He’s not going to go back inside.” And he ran back inside, and he was wide open. George said, “So what do you think about that?”
I hadn’t seen anybody as a rookie, be able to run pro routes. And, and the hard part about running a pro route is coming out of your break. Most young players can’t come out of their break because that’s not a skillset that they work on.
Or, most players, when you get to the sideline, in college football you have to do is get one foot in. Jerry Rice, from the time he walked in, he would do this thing called a rat-a-tat-tat and the rat-a-tat-tat, is he would tap his feet–every play that he caught the ball going towards the sideline.
So, imagine at thirty years old, he was still tapping his feet before he would go out. So literally from 21 years old, 22 years old for eight years, for the rest of his career, he would tap his feet. Most human beings don’t brush their teeth that much, right?
Here’s a dude who tapped his feet every time. And my point to you, that’s how great Jerry is and will always be because he did things that nobody else could do, and nobody else even thought about
Guy Kawasaki: Same question: toughest quarterback?
Ronnie Lott: Toughest quarterback, toughest quarterback. I played against Joe at Notre Dame. Joe. Joe’s pretty good. Joe was pretty good. I don’t know why he went in the third round. One game we played, and the ball didn’t hit the, it didn’t touch the ground in the second half.
So, we’re playing him at SC and we’re beating them 21-0. And the second half he came out and the ball did not hit the ground. And I remember sitting there thinking to myself, “that’s a bad dude.” And then to have a chance to play with him was, you know, remarkable– not only remarkable because he was a great player, but remarkable because you started to understand the kind the person he is and the person that he wants to be and the person that he continues to be.
And so, I think that he’s got to be up there with any of the other quarterbacks that I’ve ever competed against. And the other guy that had a lot of that was Dan Marino. Dan was a very talented guy, very talented guy and could throw the lights out of the ball. He was to me like Roger Clemens, he just had a little oomph that came off his ball and he was one of the great passers.
John Elway, one of the great athletes, I still, I have friends that come up to me and said, “Hey, you remember that play that he threw on you when you were at USC, and you threw the ball over your head?” And yeah, I remember you don’t have to remind me. So yeah, John Elway. Amazing. But those, those three right there, I would say are pretty phenomenal quarterbacks and great athletes.
Guy Kawasaki: But no Tom Brady?
Ronnie Lott: Look to me, Tom Brady and what he’s done. And literally, he verified that this year by winning; he’s the best quarterback because he’s made people better. And there is something about all of those guys that I just mentioned, they make people better.
They make the receivers better. They make their teammates better. They make everybody better; they make the coaches better. They hold the coaches accountable. They make everybody better and there was a great moment when, Bill Walsh was calling out Bubba Paris, and Joe stood up and said, “Hey, whatever he’s fined, I’m taking care of it.”
And I remember sitting there going, he didn’t have to say anything. He didn’t have to do anything, but it made me realize how he had his back, he had Bubba’s back, and that kind of moment made me realize, “Man, Joe had a lot of people’s back for a lot of reasons,” and it’s not usually for the reason of just being a good friend. It’s for the reasons of how he respects you as a person,
Guy Kawasaki: What makes a great open field tackler?
Ronnie Lott: A great open field tackler…you got to understand the nuances like you’re getting in a rundown. And what I mean by a rundown is like in baseball, you have that run back and forth, back and forth. You’re trying to get that guy down or you try to tag him out.
You better understand all the things that he could possibly do, and so a great open field tackler, as you’re coming up to find a way to tackle that guy, you’re trying and to know everything about them.
Now, here I am, I’m telling you what you’re supposed to know. And I remember Marcus Allen, I wanted to kill him. And I was looking, I mean, literally, I’m, he’s a rookie, and they’re playing at our park, and I’m getting ready to knock the crap out of him. He doesn’t see me.
I know he doesn’t see me, and I’m coming towards the, I’m coming towards him on the sideline. He darts back inside. I’m flying through the air, I missed him. And after the game and I’m like, “Hey man, I wanted to kill you.” He goes, “I know.” He goes, “I know who you are. I know who, I know what you were trying to do.”
And it made me realize that you got to be cognizant of what people are thinking and how they’re thinking and why they’re thinking it. And a lot of times as the great defender, you’re trying to understand what’s going on in their minds. And one of the great things about sports, and I’ve watched a lot of games where you’re sitting there watching basketball, and you see the two greatest players on the court and you would sit there watching these two great players, Jerry West going up against John Havlicek. And my point is, in sports, you’re constantly finding ways to try to understand people.
So a great open field tackler is always consciously knowing that as he’s coming up to try to tackle him, he’s got to calculate all the nuances, whether it’s Bo Jackson, whether it’s Eric Dickerson or whether it’s Earl Campbell, you better calculate a lot of different things about each one of those guys because all three of them were going to have different thoughts and different dimensions and different ways of how they’re going to attack you.
Guy Kawasaki: What is the physical price that you’re now paying for playing for fourteen years in the NFL?
Ronnie Lott: That’s a great question. Mentally, when I think about that question, mentally, I am constantly always trying to be overly conscious of my mental health because I think the stress of playing, the stress of competing, the stress of losing, the stress of pain, the stress of all of it, I want to floss a lot and I’m constantly trying to make sure that I’m not doing things that could be hurtful.
Now as a dad, as a dad, there are sometimes that I’m a dad and sometimes being a dad doesn’t allow me to possibly put myself in situations where I’m being the ideal dad. Now the ideal dad sometimes in my mind, is a different person.
Now according to my kids, my kids have said “Dad can you slow down? Can you back off? Can you do this?” Can you do that?” And my feeling is, no, because that’s how my dad was.
My dad didn’t back off. My dad, was, and to me, the best dad in the world. And I love my dad for all the things that he made me do and the things that he taught me how to give my all, and I’m hoping, like we all are, you’re trying to mentally continue to focus on being your best.
And so when I think of what the question you asked, yeah, I didn’t talk about the finger, but I got to deal with my shoulder, I got to deal with my knees, I got to deal with things that, certain injuries that I had during the games, were tough, they were challenging.
Having your shoulder dislocated and then popping it back in, no, that’s tough. And sometimes people don’t understand. “You mean you did that?” Yeah, because I’ve seen the body and I’ve seen how people have, I’ve seen great athletes that I’ve watched before me play and do certain things.
So, if they could survive, I could survive. And I’ve been very blessed to be able to live here in the Valley. And what I love about here in the Valley is that it’s allowed my mind to continue to evolve like your mind. And if you think about your mind from when I met you to where you’re at today and knowing the journey and the relationships and the people and the things you’ve seen, and here we are talking about AI and all these different stuff, and you’re going, “I got to learn this. I want to know this. I want to be around it.” And my point to you is that, isn’t it great that we still have a chance to expand on our knowing about the knowing of a lot of people?
I’ve never met Elon, but I have friends that know him. And to me, the thing that I would want to know is what keeps him up late at night? And the reason I would want to know is that I laugh because I’m sitting here thinking to myself, “When you’re around certain people, you want to know,” I want to know what George Roberts is trying to do right now in his life.
But the point I’m making in life is, you should want to know a lot about a lot of different people. I want to know a lot about a lot of different people. I want to know a lot about some people that are some of the venture capitalists in this because what I want to know what “Hey, man, somebody’s pitching him an idea about something that’s going to change how we think about the world, it’s not that I’m going to be able to solve the issue, but I’m going to be able to understand is there’s a new horizon of how we think about data that nobody’s ever thought about.” And what I think is really interesting to me about that is that there’s some kid right now at Stanford or at Harvard or at USC.
And what’s interesting is that that kid is probably sitting there going, “Hey man, I’m here to change the world. I’m here to try to find a uniqueness of….” I met this guy, who’s at Cornell, and he played football at the University of Washington. And now he’s a professor at Cornell University.
I was like, “You go from the University of Washington to being a professor at Cornell,” and I’m like, “Wow,” that’s, that’s — and we talked about football, but we also talked about, what he is in it. Think about that path that he’s taken. And it’s unbelievable. So, I think it’s interesting when you, you meet interesting people that are, that are still trying to learn and still trying to get better.
Guy Kawasaki: So maybe you can explain to us how you made the transition from football to business, because you have done that extremely well.
Ronnie Lott: To me, I don’t know if I’ve done it well, but I have done it in a way where I’m opened up to try to understand and I’m open to understanding how to play with a lot of different relationships and people. And I’ve learned from all of these people around the idea, like I learned from Joe, learned from Jerry, or learned from Eric Wright or learned from Carlton Williamson or learned from Dwight Hicks. You’re learning from everybody. And in business, I think I’m constantly learning. How we sell cars today is totally different than how we sold cars in 2000. It’s just totally different. There’s a whole different language, a whole different methodology of how you go through the process.
And my point is that we’re constantly evolving, and things are constantly evolving. You have to find ways to evolve. You have to find ways to get better and, and that’s why, Charles Haley and I are doing something on mental health. And he’s like, “Man, I wish that I had known some of the things about mental health today that I didn’t know when I was playing.”
And my point is that we’re always trying to get better and he’s trying to get better. And I know with yourself, that’s what you do. You’re optimistic on the idea that there are things out there that, I saw something last night on 60 Minutes, the robots, and I was looking at these robots and I was like, they were dancing. This is amazing. But the evolution of what, of computing power has changed. It’s allowed us to do a lot of different things. And so.
Guy Kawasaki: Perhaps more controversial question. If you were playing today, would you take a knee during the national anthem?
Ronnie Lott: I wouldn’t.
Guy Kawasaki: Why not?
Ronnie Lott: I wouldn’t cause my dad, my dad would, my dad would kill me
Guy Kawasaki: That’s a good reason.
Ronnie Lott: It’s a pretty simple thing for me. That’s just the respect that I pay to my dad. In terms of what I have seen and what I know and what I’ve watched.
Look when Dr. Edwards and Tommy Smith and John Carlos did what they did, were they right? Yes, they were right. And they were right because in this world, just like Jesse Owens was right when he did what he did. I can go down the list of moments in my life where people have done things that some people have said, “No, that’s not right”, but they’ve done it because it is right.
And right meaning that your compass, all of us have a compass. All of us have compasses. And I have some friends that have had a compass that they’ve had still because they didn’t believe that it was fair. That they couldn’t get what they needed to get to survive in this country.
And so, is it fair? No, it isn’t fair. Is it right? No, it’s not right. But survival does certain things. Justice does certain things, and we all have to understand that a lot of times in this world, you got to be able to have the right compass. And the compass starts with your beliefs and your feelings about what’s right and wrong.
And when you think about the justice, the justice of life and the justice around it, am I willing to make all the same sacrifices that others are making?
I got to play my role in trying to make the world better. I got to play my role. I got to find a way to make sure what I hear of people that have crawled on their knees to hear the Pope speak. I better get on my knees. I better find my way to show that I can do the same thing to make sacrifices to help others.
That’s something that, again, my dad and my mom have been…when they took us to see Martin Luther King, as a kid, speak in Washington, DC, and to be there amongst all those people and to be out there and go see all of that and to see all these people were committed to the cause of right. And it, in that kind of moment makes you realize that you don’t, you don’t need to go far when to know and see people that said, “Hey, that was right.”
And so that’s what I kind of try to live off of.
Guy Kawasaki: Do you think the 1980s 49ers the Super Bowl champions, would they have accepted an invitation to the Trump white house?
Ronnie Lott: I think that that team, just knowing the guys and knowing the people, I think that group of guys would have least looked at all the thoughts and ideas and try to find a way to say what’s the best thing that we should do?
The reason I say that is that, when we went back there, in going back there I wouldn’t, look, Eddie DeBartolo got pardoned recently.
And when he went and he asked me to come speak, I was like, “Yeah, I’m coming. I respect you for all of what you have done for my family and all of what you’ve given.”
I don’t care who the president is. He’s pardoning you; I’m respecting you. I’m there for you. And so, I don’t get caught up in, in that, but I do know that if there are moments where our group and all our teammates, we’ve had moments.
I remember Bill used to say to us, “Hey, all of us come from all different backgrounds. We’re not all the same.” And he would say this, but we have to find a way to make sure that we have the ability to acknowledge that if we do have guys on our team that are Jewish, we got to, let them be who they are. And if we have people that are on our team that have certain thoughts and ideas about their beliefs, we got to let them be able to be who they are. To me, Bill was phenomenal.
That’s why he brought in Dr. Edwards, to kind of help us understand a lot about other things other than the game of football. And other than the game of just getting in the huddle, that if you’re all going to get in the huddle, get in the huddle knowing that you stand for something. That you just, you won’t fall.
You won’t fall for anything. That you will stand for something. And…
Guy Kawasaki: If you haven’t figured it out by now, honestly, I don’t know what more I can do, but the Remarkable People podcast is sponsored by the reMarkable Tablet Company. And in every episode, I ask people how they do their best and deepest thinking. You’re about to hear Ronnie Lott’s answer. The reason why I ask them this question is because the reMarkable Tablet can help you do your best and deepest thinking.
It’s a solo purpose device. It’s about taking notes. Not checking email. Not checking social media. Not checking news. So here we go. Ronnie Lott. How he does his best and deepest thinking.
Guy Kawasaki: How does Ronnie Lott do his best and deepest thinking? What conditions? What time of day? Physical surrounding, whatever. How do you do your best and deepest thinking?
Ronnie Lott: That’s a great question, man. I think, I think my best and deepest thinking is about waking up in the morning. It’s like waking up in the morning, getting ready to play a game. When you’re getting ready to play a game, your best and deepest thinking is, how much does it mean to you? How much does the day mean to you?
How much does the moment mean to you? And are you prepared to understand that all the things that are going to be presented to you that day are going to be some celebrations? There’s going to be some moments that are going to go against your thoughts and ideas. Just like you pose the question about Trump, the bigger thing is, are you willing to understand? Are you willing to understand what everybody’s going to say?
I used to see my dad as a recruiter for the Air Force, and I used to sit there and watch him understand a lot of people. I remember when the general said, “Hey, I’m going to help you. I’m going to help you.” And I remember thinking to myself, here’s a general, it literally decided to understand my dad and his needs.
And it made me understand that, that some people see people and they try to help them out. They try to give them, they just, and I want to be one of those kinds of guys. I want to be one of those kind of guys like that, that was like this general. And my point to you is that your deepest thinking comes from the start of the day of knowing that God is giving you a chance to be your best self again.
And then the question is, are you going to go out and exhaust every moment of it, try your best and know that you’re going to fail? You’re going to, you’re going to, and then you get to do it all over again. And in this environment with the COVID situation and all of what we’re going through, hey man, playing in bad weather is not fun. Playing when it’s cold outside, it’s not fun, but I learned, and I know that in those tough moments, I can still figure it out.
And I think that there are a lot of human beings right now at, at the end of this, we’re all trying to figure it out and we’re going to get better for it because we’re going to find a way to be able to see our best selves. And we’re going to find a way to wake up the next day trying to make plays.
And that’s how I live my life, trying to make plays. I will say this, there are a lot of plays I’ve missed, and there are plays that, that are, are not perfect, but in the, and what he has given me to do, I still know I have a lot more to do to help a lot of people. And I feel really good about where I’m at in my life and I feel really intentional about continuing to win Super Bowls.
And to win Super Bowls, meaning, hey man, you just got to be in the right huddle with the right people. And hopefully I’ll be able to continue to get in some great huddles with the right people and making really a difference, really around the world, that would be the ultimate moment to be able to say, “Hey, you look back and you did do some things that helped people see a different perspective on life.”
Guy Kawasaki: I think this interview of you is going to do that. It’s going to help people see a different perspective on life. So, Ronnie Lott, you are the man. Thanks.
Ronnie Lott: It’s great hanging with you. And it’s great knowing that it was great knowing that you had that love of the game, man.
Guy Kawasaki: When I was in high school, there were only two seasons. There was football season and preparing for football season.
Ronnie Lott: You try to explain to people what that feels like and what… All I know is that the people that understand the commitment of getting ready for any of these things that they do in their life and that you get to see it and you get to feel it, it’s some of the greatest stuff. It’s some of the greatest medicine. Our coach used to have us lay down in the gym and we would sit there and lay down in the gym before the game and just think about all the great things that were going to happen in that game, man, that’s what we do now. I lay down in the bed sometimes go, “Man. How lucky am I that man, I get to think about doing something great the next day.”
Guy Kawasaki: I hope you enjoyed this interview with one of the greatest players in the history of the NFL. Truly a remarkable athlete. I love his ass. I love the concept. I hope you learned that lesson from this episode. Exhaust life.
I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Sieh and Peg Fitzpatrick who exhaust podcasting, and make me in the words of Ronnie Lott, “love” podcasting. All the best to you. Mahalo and aloha.