Here’s a 30 For 30 pitch: What if I told you one of the greatest R&B singers of all time sought to build his legacy on the gridiron?
That sounds fictitious and like a setup for a sitcom. But it happened. Marvin Gaye was the R&B singer, and the uniform he tried to wear on that gridiron belonged to the Detroit Lions.
The forgotten saga began with former Lions cornerback Lem Barney in 1968. After a round of golf, Barney visited Gaye’s house and bonded over sports and music. The two, along with running bang Mel Farr, became friends. Gaye would regularly attend Detroit practices and games. This happened right before Gaye went into depression; the death of his singing partner Tammi Terrell in 1970 had crushed him.
This brings us to “What’s Going On.” Gaye didn’t feel like singing at this point, and he only agreed to do the song if Farr and Barney provided background vocals. They agreed; you hear Barney and Farr on Gaye’s most important song.
Gaye, 31 years old with no college or high school football experience, then spoke to Farr and Barney about seriously trying out for the Lions. If two football players could sing on one of the most impactful R&B songs ever, Gaye could run some routes, right?
Well, as ESPN‘s Justin Tinsley says, Gaye was the only one who thought he might’ve had a shot. Of course, he didn’t make the cut, and his friends would have to remain friends rather than teammates.
The whole story is a pretty entertaining one. You can read the whole thing over at ESPN.