In recent years, Super Bowl Sunday has been met with mixed reviews. As Black Americans and POC communities endure continued police brutality, leaders like former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick went out of their way to inspire widespread change. Kaepernick actively vied for equality but was met with anger from NFL owners and Donald Trump, our nation’s former president. Despite national headlines promoting a culture of equal opportunity, Kaepernick was blackballed from the league and his final 49ers game was in January of 2017. To fight the backlash that followed, the NFL employed a total of three Black head coaches in 2021 — two of whom were fired last month.
Following the dismissal of coaches David Culley (from the Houston Texans) and Brian Flores (from the Miami Dolphins), Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers is currently the only active Black head coach.
That said, before football fans lean into 2022’s exciting league campaigns, we should note an important finding. Today, the NFL contains thirty-two teams from across the nation who compete in two conferences. 70% of the players within these teams are Black men, but the owners have almost always been white. The 2021 year-end AP report faced this mind-blogging finding, confirming: “Over the past 100 years, around 110 people have owned controlling portions of NFL teams. Of that select group, all but two have been white.”
One philanthropist and Super Bowl champion who is committed to shifting this narrative is Victor Cruz. Most recently, the retired salsa-dancing wide receiver partnered with Frito-Lay and PepsiCo Beverage brands for the “Road to Super Bowl LVI” television spot. NFL notables Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Jerome Bettis and Terry Bradshaw will star alongside him. Managed by Roc Nation Sports, Cruz’s NFL sing-along TV moment reaffirms JAY-Z‘s 2019 partnership with the NFL. Since Hov’s announcement, halftime shows have featured a diverse group of artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Bad Bunny and The Weeknd, touching the cultural demographics that Cruz embodies.
“Representation is everything to me,” he said in a new and exclusive interview with REVOLT. The athlete and entrepreneur checked in to discuss how game day has grown following his victorious Super Bowl XLVI experience. He also opened up about the Victor Cruz Foundation‘s educational aspirations and the behind-the-scenes action of his new joint campaign. Cruz also let us in on why he believes we need to “… extend Black History Month for eleven more months.” Check out our conversation below.
You’re a part of Frito-Lay and PepsiCo’s joint Super Bowl campaign. What was it like to prepare for 2022’s “Road to Super Bowl” television spot?
It was incredible being a part of Frito-Lay snacks and PepsiCo’s beverages. I grew up on all of this stuff. So, to be involved in this capacity — to do an ad campaign with legends of the game like Terry Bradshaw, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning and Jerome Bettis was incredible. I actually was not sure that they wanted me there.
I asked, ‘Are you sure you want me here?’ I will show up anyway, I guess. It was great to see Eli again and kind of hang with him and banter with him. [I enjoyed being] on set with Peyton and Jerome, well, just being around these legends. Hanging, laughing and joking was the highlight of time.
Now that you’re a veteran, how has your love for the game changed?
Oh, man! I think I have a different appreciation for the game now. I look at it from a different lens. I played the game. Now, to see how the evolution of the game is forming, seeing where the game is going is interesting. It’s fun.
I appreciate it a little bit more because I am not going across the middle of the fifty-yard line and having people wanting to take my head off. Now I can sit here in the comfort of my own home. I can critique and be a fan with everybody else. So, I kind of like that, too.
Your name exists beside Afro-Boricua sporting legends like Félix “Tito” Trinidad, Roberto Clemente, Carmelo Anthony and Jasmine Camacho-Quinn. What does representation mean to you ahead of Black History Month?
Representation is everything to me. I think about that in everything that I do. I think about that with everything I attach my name to and am a part of. I consider how I am representing my culture, heritage, who I am and my family. [I keep representation in mind with] every single step that I take.
In an interview with Jesús Triviño, you once expressed the importance of teaching your daughter her history. Is there one lesson, in particular, you felt was essential for Kennedy to grasp?
One thing that I live by is ‘Always be yourself.’ I think the biggest thing that I love is the fact I am able to navigate the world and do all these business opportunities, fun ad campaigns, and I am myself. I don’t have to be anything else. I do not need to be something I am not. I don’t have to be a caricature of myself.
I always teach her to be herself. Be proud to be yourself. Be happy to be yourself. There is nothing wrong with that. That is who you are. It is who God made you. That is your personality, so ride with that. If no one else likes it, so what. Your father loves you (laughs).
The Victor Cruz Foundation invests in STEM educational resources for underserved children. How has your team navigated the pandemic? Can fans get involved?
It has been tough doing this during the pandemic. We have been trying to implement programming during quarantine. The Boys & Girls Clubs [of America], who we work through [helps provide program solutions]. We are trying to work through them. We figure out when kids will be there and when they are not.
We do things like donations. Also, we are doing a coat drive together soon. We have a bunch of coats lined up for Eva’s Village in Paterson, New Jersey. We are doing a lot of things to stay integrated into the community. As mandates lift, we will be able to get more people around. We will be back to our events and some bigger things.
What are you most looking forward to this Black History Month?
I am looking forward to the fellowship, appreciating our culture, who we are, and being seen for it. Also, extend Black History Month for 11 more months. It does not have to be one month. Our story can be told at any time. Obviously, there is a focal point in February. We want our stories to be told year-round. We will use February to get there, but I think that is the overall goal.
You grew up in Paterson, N.J. with a single mother. Today, you are revered as a champion and entrepreneur. What is your advice to young people who need to overcome similar circumstances?
The biggest thing for me, and the thing I see now, is consistency. One thing I did was stick to whatever I was going to do. Rain, sleet, hail, snow, good or bad — I was sticking to it.
Whether that was football or the educational part of it — practicing or staying on top of my craft — I put everything into it. I knew that over time I would be better. I was going to be good. Nowadays, a lot of guys, kids and youth want instant gratification.
They want to practice one time and then [be] in the Super Bowl. It does not work that way! You have to have that consistency and that persistence. Continue down the path and continue what you are doing in order to be successful. It is not going to happen overnight.
You recently partnered with Pierre Hardy for the V.C.II capsule collection. How hands-on were you with the new sneaker designs?
I was extremely hands-on. I was a part of the project. It was another pandemic product, so we were doing it all on Zoom. A lot of me squinting [into my laptop] to make sure all of those materials were what they said they were.
It was great. What I loved the most was that each shoe had a specific story that I was able to tell through the products and visuals. It was included in some of the stuff we put out on social [media].
You are a man who wears many hats. What do you enjoy most about grooming on-the-rise talent?
People who see me and see all the things that I do — [it means] I get hit up from guys all the time. I get contacted by different athletes and people who ask me questions about what I do, how I got there, or what they need to do to get here. I tell them, ‘Find a passion that you love. Hone in on it.’ That is whether you are playing or not playing.
While you are playing is the most important time — you are in your prime. You will then get the most people who want to talk to you. If someone says, ‘Hey! I have a current player from the Carolina Panthers,’ anyone is going to take that meeting. Everyone loves to meet an NFL player, as opposed to a retired guy or a guy that is not a Peyton Manning, so to speak. Find a craft that you love because it will carry you all through football and post-game as well.
What is Victor Cruz manifesting in the new year?
I am manifesting more positivity! I manifest a peaceful world. A time for all of us to fellowship and all be together. I think quarantining and COVID-19 have taught us how precious life is. We know how precious our families, relationships and friendships are. I want to be able to manifest more positive moments — time with our family and children. We need more time to smile because there have not been many smiles out these past two years.