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Third Screen: Why I Love Dhani Jones, And You Should, Too

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In a June 2007 article for The New York Times, reporter John Branch watched five top NFL stars train for television stardomas guest commentators: "[Dhani] Jones and [Matt] Hasselbeck were part of Group D, one of the five-member groups rotating through a round robin of seminars. They began in the editing room, reviewing a 25-yard completion from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning to Dallas Clark against the Patriots in last season's American Football Conference championship game. The clip was embellished with on-screen labels next to certain players, arrows showing the pass routes, and the ball arcing in a blue glow. It just needed a voiceover."

The point of the piece was to give readers a slice of life about how NFL players prep for what they want to do after football is over. Many of them choose broadcasting, but how to get broadcasting to choose them? Dhani doesn't have to worry -- he's got it all right now. The Bengals, a bow-tie business, tennis, medicine, poetry and travel. Especially that last one.

His brand new television series, Dhani Tackles the Globe, premieres on the Travel Channel Monday night, March 16th. Each week, you'll find him a different country learning a national sport at warp speed, and then playing it professionally. And I don't mean the wussy ones. Monday night, it's Muay Thai boxing in Bangkok, Thailand, and it is hilarious, impressive, and a little frightening. Under the tutelage of fight promoter Mr. Pong and trainer Mr. Pit of Windy Sport Gym, Jones has a week to learn kick boxing, arms, style, even the pre-fight dance. Did I mention he and his amazing trainer make a stop or two, eating silk worms with the locals or catching a cab in traffic that would be the envy of midtown Manhattan? Dhani also takes the time to visit the Red Light district, where dodging and running away come in handy, and to watch fighting fish mix it up in a jar for four hours (he politely excuses himself after about an hour, with one fin down and three to go).

I caught up with Dhani Jones to talk about his new and exciting play by play, his love of travel, and more.

Third Screen: Where did the idea for this series come from?

Dhani Jones: The producers and I were talking about doing a television show that answered the question is rugby tougher than football, and we realized there was a bigger story, that going to different countries and playing their games was a great way into the culture.

Third Screen: Were you worried about being a television star off the field and without a team around you?

Dhani Jones: My inspiration is Paul Robeson. I was a tennis player. I competed professionally. I have a line of bow ties. I may go back to medical school one day, which was an early goal of mine when I was in college. But my real passion has always been travel. Different cultures. What better way to get to know a culture than to go there and learn their sports? And I say to people who tell me they can't travel, 'How much did you spend at the mall this year? How many times did you eat out? Take that money and go.'

Third Screen: Where did you go? Your schedule sounds like something only a pro-sports guy could possibly manage without dying.

Dhani Jones: Last year, after I finished the season, I basically had five days off. We took off to London for 12 days and I did rugby. The real shooting of the show started in May. May 15th to the 26th, Ireland. Five off then June 1st to 14th, football practice. Then the 15th of June, Thailand. Ten days later, Singapore. Ten days later, Switzerland. Ten days later, Spain. Two days later, full-padded two-day practices for the football season. A week off. January 12th, Australia. Then Cambodia, New Zealand, Russia, and back for three days."

Third Screen: I saw the one where you go to a fortune teller, visit a temple with an avenue of Buddhas, eat a few bugs, and face one of the scariest fights I've ever seen. Did I mention I saw you eat silk worms?

Dhani Jones: Silk worms, roaches, tarantulas, I'd put it in my mouth and say, okay, this is nasty. Okay, this is nasty, too. You want to say it's okay to the camera, but that doesn't happen. It's good though. Some people go through their whole lives only eating hamburgers and pizza.

Third Screen: Your opening episode is Muay Thai boxing in Thailand, where coach Pit and fight promoter Pong prep you in a week and turn you loose against a professional opponent in the ring. It's hilarious, impressive, and more than a little frightening. I won't give away the end.

Dhani Jones: It's a once-in-a-lifetime adventure I hope to continue to experience. Travel around the world is amazing. New people. New-found family, really. Utilizing football as my entrance into their lives is a dream come true for me. You know, I think something like 20% of the people in the United States who are citizens have passports. About 80% don't. I want to get that number up. I want to get them out of their backyards. My parents took me around the world when I was young, so I caught the bug. Every person is different when he travels. and every travellers' story is uniquely his own.

Third Screen: Is being part of this series anything like being a football star?

Dhani Jones: No. 75,000 people come to football games. We used to get 150,000 at my alma mater for a game. Football proper in Europe has millions of fans. People get so passionate about soccer games that they fight each other. When I had my Muay Thai boxing bout in Thailand, about 5,000 people came to the game. It felt great. It was different.

Third Screen: What are some of your other passions, and how do they play into your daily life and plans?

Dhani Jones: I bought two cameras to take with me and i want to continue doing photography. Each lesson in each sport in this series, from pelota in Spain to schwingen in Switzerland to sailing makes me better and gives me something to apply to football. And I love poetry. You know that poem by Robert Frost? "The Road Not Taken?" "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I, I took the one less travelled by"? That's what it's about.

Third Screen: So your retirement plan is in place at the ripe old age of 28?

Dhani Jones: I'm passionate about the Bengals. Last year was one of my best. But let me break it down. If you're passionate about life, and you love what you do, you learn how to organize yourself and switch your various sides on and off. Football is one side of me. Art is another. Travel is another. As I mature, I can organize it so that when I'm done with football, whether it be travel, or becoming a doctor, or going off on a farm and raising chickens, which I'd also like to do, or climbing ten of the most difficult peaks in the world, or spending time backpacking in a flannel shirt and big boots, I'll know how to take off into the world.

Third Screen: What does the name Dhani mean?

Dhani Jones: It's a Hindi name and it means "thinking man." My middle name, Malakani, is Hawaiian and means skilled in writing. I didn't have a name for the first two weeks of my life. My father wanted to watch and listen to me and see what kind of person he thought I might be. Whether I was a thinker first or I became one because he named me Dhani, I don't know. As for travel, sometimes you walk down a street and you have a conversation with someone you don't know, and I believe they were put there for a reason. It tells you who you are. Take a moment. Stop and take it in. Get out there and see things. Find a new part of yourself to be excited about it.