After spending the last eight years of his life in the NFL—not to mention the 20-plus years he spent on the football field as a youngster—Victor Cruz announced his official retirement from the game in August. Now, barely two months later, the former wide receiver is already making a name for himself in his second career as an ESPN analyst.
Ask him how it's going so far and you're likely to receive Cruz's million dollar smile along with a particularly exuberant a response: "Exciting!"
"I'm finding new things out about myself that I didn't know before," Cruz told me at Captain Morgan's Halloween popup event recently. Along with becoming an NFL commentator for the biggest sports network in the world, Cruz has also added Captain Morgan Crewmember to his impressive resume.
"The best part that I still get to talk about football and be connected to the game," he said, adding overall, his addition to ESPN and the First Take team has been an incredible learning experience.
"Understanding how to talk to different people about the game and learning different shows on ESPN, getting to know all the people that I used to watch on TV all the time, it's been a great ride so far. My first week at work Fat Joe was there, all these different people, and I was just like, 'Yo, this is my third day.' It's been fun," he said.
Despite the good times he's had post-retirement, taking on a whole new career endeavor hasn't come without its challenges, especially considering his new colleagues are some of the most notable sports analysts and commentators in the field. "The hurdle is for me right now is finding my own voice within all these different voices. Everybody knows what Max Kellerman brings, Stephen A. [Smith], Greeny [Mike Greenberg] and guys like that. They have their lanes and I'm just trying to find mine," Cruz said.
He's been getting some help along the way in the form of Smith. "The first week we exchanged information and [Smith] called me. He'll text me from time to time, [advising me on] things like looking at the camera a certain way when I'm talking, starting conversations with Molly [Qerim] and having interactions with everybody," Cruz said. "He's been helpful with a lot of little things that I need to queue in on when I'm on the show or doing any other TV for that matter."
Cruz has obviously been putting Smith's notes to use too. Since joining ESPN in late August he's already gained an even bigger following of supportive fans who appear to enjoy his commentary on First Take in addition to what he delivered during his heydays out on the field. "It's been an amazing response [from viewers] so far, and I'm actually enjoying this. I'm feeling more and more confident when I'm on the show," he said.
Getting better at analyzing the game for a worldwide audience is particularly important to the New Jersey native as he views his new position as an opportunity to advocate and use his voice for those who don't have a platform. "A lot of black men around the world, in New York City alone, they don't have that platform to have a voice to say things that matter. Obviously, everyone has social media and things like that, but I'm on a nationally syndicated television show that millions of people watch around the world. I have to use my voice," he said.
"I understand the power that comes with [having a platform] and I go into every show understanding the responsibility that comes with that," he continued. "I just want to use my voice for the good, to bring people together, to continue to bring people the game of football or sports in general. I'll bring my own flavor to it and make it fun, but making sure I understand where I come from, where I'm at in life and what I'm trying to portray to people and kids that watch me, that's what's most important."
Aside from the new job, what's the best part about retirement so far? According to 31-year-old Cruz, it's freedom. "I now have the freedom to do certain things, freedom to use my time doing things, traveling, going to different events and speaking to people," he said, noting fans can expect to see him doing all the "fun and energetic" things that are relevant to him and his brand, like his promotional partnership with Captain Morgan Rum.
"I'm going to Complex Con to speak on a panel in the coming weeks [November 3 to 4] and I probably wouldn't be able to do that if I was playing because we'd be in season. So just little things like that. I can continue to use my platform and my voice to reach more people and create more resources and more connections," he said.