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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up: our Magazine Mavens break down the stories behind the stories in their publications. Today, we find out why athletes who make millions in their playing days go broke a couple of years after their playing days are over. That's in just a few minutes.

But first, we head to Cincinnati, where we're joined by football star Dhani Jones. Now you might know him as a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, but he has another life as a television star. And that's not pro wrestling or "Dancing with the Stars." He is at the heart of a new Travel Channel program called "Dhani Tackles the Globe," where he travels the world, sampling the national sports of 10 countries. The idea is that you can learn the most about people by trying to understand how and what they play. And he joins us now to tell us about his adventures. Dhani Jones, welcome.

Mr. DHANI JONES (Linebacker, Cincinnati Bengals; Star of "Dhani Tackles the Globe"): Thank you very much.

MARTIN: Just so audiences can get an idea of how challenging some of these sports are, I'm just going to play a clip of you learning a form of Swiss wrestling known as - help me…

Mr. JONES: Schwingen.

MARTIN: Schwingen, Schwingen.

MARTIN: Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe")

Unidentified Man #1: You've got three minutes to pin both of your opponents' shoulders to the sawdust floor. The twist: You've got to hold onto your opponent's (unintelligible) shorts with one hand the whole time.

Unidentified Man #2: Oh, good.

Unidentified Man #3: Good, very good. Ha.

(Soundbite of heavy breathing, panting)

Mr. JONES: (unintelligible)

MARTIN: You hear that heavy breathing there, that - there's a lot of that panting throughout this series, your travels to Cambodia, Russia, Thailand. What did you find the most difficult?

Mr. JONES: There's an episode that's coming up in probably a couple of weeks, Pradal Serey, which is sort of the big brother to Muay Thai. Muay Thai was actually the premiere show, and Pradal Serey is basically a step up. So it's kickboxing on a whole 'nother level. And that was in Cambodia, so it's not only just the sport itself, but it was the conditions, it was the language barrier, it was the competition, it was the whole essence of being in a place where some people understood you, some people didn't. But, you know, as you watched "Dhani Tackles the Globe," it's - that's part of the essence of the show.

MARTIN: Were there any sports where you just said, I'm not doing that. I'm just not doing that.

Mr. JONES: No, I mean, I'm up for the challenge. You know, I had a video blog on YouTube where I challenged people to submit different sports, to upload these different sports. And I'm like, tell me about the sports that you want me to try, because basically I'm putting myself out there and saying, I can do all these sports. I'm up for the challenge. I challenge you to test me and see what I can actually do.

MARTIN: I challenge you to rhythmic gymnastics.

Mr. JONES: Rhythmic gymnastics. I saw Will Ferrell do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JONES: And I'm sure if he can do it, I can do it. It's just a ribbon and a stick. You know, it's the sort of this gracefulness of it I have to capture.

MARTIN: Now I understand, speaking of challenge, that you sampled some of the traditional meals of the countries you were in. Let's play a clip of a snack that you had in Thailand. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe")

Mr. JONES: Bugs.

Unidentified Man #4: Yes.

Mr. JONES: What kind of bugs?

Unidentified Man #4: (unintelligible)

Mr. JONES: Like little bugs?

Unidentified Man #4: Yes.

Mr. JONES: Like, bugs, like…

Unidentified Man #4: (Foreign language spoken)

Mr. JONES: What are they called?

Unidentified Man #4: This one (unintelligible).

Mr. JONES: Ugh.

Unidentified Man #4: This one (unintelligible).

Mr. JONES: Who?

Unidentified Man #4: This one…

Mr. JONES: Cockroach.

Unidentified Man #4: Yes.

Mr. JONES: Man, black people just don't eat this type (censored).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JONES: See this?

MARTIN: How was it?

Mr. JONES: Oh, it was great, you know, just like your local American dish, you know.

MARTIN: Did you really eat it? Tell us…

Mr. JONES: Just like French fries and popcorn.

MARTIN: Did you really eat it? Tell the truth.

Mr. JONES: No, I ate it. Everything single thing that happens on the show, I do. I'm on the road, sometimes 40 days at a time, four countries, 10 days at each country, eight days practicing in a real fight. There's nothing staged. All the food I eat, all the punches I take, all the hits I endure, all the bumps and bruises you shall see, all these different things, I'm the stuntman, I'm the presenter, I'm the host. I eat the food, I sleep, I talk, I live the experience on "Dhani Tackles the Globe," of that sport.

MARTIN: You loved it.

Mr. JONES: Of course. I mean, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it.

MARTIN: Many of the places you travel, you're clearly the only African-American man around.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

MARTIN: Here's a clip of…

Mr. JONES: I'm the big black guy walking down the street.

MARTIN: The big black guy walking down the street.

Mr. JONES: Who's that?

MARTIN: Here's a clip of you in Ireland. And let's just say, some of your folks had little trouble with your name. Here it is.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Dhani Tackles the Globe")

Unidentified Man #5: Oh, Danny boy.

Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

Mr. JONES: Dhani. Nobody wants to pronounce the h in my name.

Unidentified Man #5: Oh, what is it? What is it, then?

Mr. JONES: Dhani.

Unidentified Man #5: It's Dhani.

Mr. JONES: Dhani.

Unidentified Man #5: Dhani.

Mr. JONES: Duh…

Unidentified Man #5: Duh…

Mr. JONES: …ha, ha, ha…

Unidentified Man #5: …ha, ha, ha…

Mr. JONES: …ni.

Unidentified Man #5: …ni.

Mr. JONES: Like Dhani.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You're a good sport. I've to say, you're a good sport about it. But I did want to ask you whether did you feel in part that you were an ambassador for African-American men, for athletes, as you traveled around?

Mr. JONES: Well, put it this way. When I was in Cambodia, you know, I got out of the van and this little girl, she came up and, you know, she was showing things. She was like, Mr. Obama, Mr. Obama. You know, so different places that I go, such as Cambodia or places like Ireland or even places like Australia, you know, sometimes they haven't seen a tremendous amount of people of color. And I took to football because I believed it would give me a platform, a stepping stone to do greater things. And if that's to dismiss the negative stereotypes that are placed upon African-American athletes, if that's to dismiss the stereotypes of African-American people, men, you know, and taking that one step further in "Dhani Tackles the Globe" and being able to travel and able to be that ambassador that you're referring to, so that when the next person comes along, they have a better experience, a new experience, that some of the ignorance is dismissed. And also to tell people back home it's okay to travel. It's okay to go to these different countries. You know, your best vacation is not your backyard.

Your best vacation is jumping on a 747, getting over the water, jumping over the pond, landing in places like Thailand, visiting a place like Ireland, and taking that chance. You know, my mission is to get people to travel the world. There's only 20 percent of Americans that have, basically, passports, and 80 percent don't. You know, get out there, buy a passport and travel, see the world and see what you're missing.

MARTIN: Had you traveled before you got this series?

Mr. JONES: Yeah. I had the travel bug, so to speak, since when I was younger. My father was in the military, and my mother was in the military. And we lived, you know, in California and Japan and we traveled in the Far East. And then we moved back to Maryland. I went to school, graduated in Michigan. And then I went from there to New York, Philadelphia and I moved back to California.

But I speak of that because, you know, traveling has sort of been in my blood. And then when I was in college, on my spring breaks, I would ask my mother for an open ticket. So during college, during - when spring break, when everybody would go to Mexico and people would go down to Texas, you know, I would venture to, you know, different places like Martinique. I would venture to places like Turks and Caicos. I would go to London. You know, I would go these places by myself because that would be the only time I was able to travel and I loved to travel so much, I would just do it by myself.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I have to talk about the Bengals - not the best season last year.

Mr. JONES: No. A lot of injuries. There was a lot of different things that happened and, you know, we recovered from that.

MARTIN: So what does the team need to focus on to rebuild next season?

Mr. JONES: Well, there's a little bit of luck that goes into it, a little bit of good fortune, great planning. But it all comes down to chemistry. So our team is very young. We have people in different places. But provided that the veteran leadership and people in their specific positions play well and the coach has designed a program for us to succeed, we will endure and we will succeed.

MARTIN: So I see you have a career as a diplomat in your future.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JONES: Well, if they want to give me the plates and the immunity, I'll take it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Oh, dear. Immunity. That's not something we want to be talking about.

Dhani Jones is a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals. He is the host of the Travel Channel series, "Dhani Tackles the Globe." It airs Monday nights. He was kind enough to join us from Cincinnati. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and good luck to you.

Mr. DHANI JONES: Thank you very much.

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