- The Washington Times - Monday, May 11, 2009

Dhani Jones’ offseason training regimen lately has differed from that of most NFL players. This makes sense, considering that Jones is just different, period, from most NFL players.

He is an entrepreneur and a poet, a community activist who plays several musical instruments. He is frequently called a Renaissance man.

He is also a traveling man. During the past year, the Cincinnati Bengals’ middle linebacker has, among several sporting endeavors, learned the martial art of Muay Thai in Thailand and a form of wrestling called Schwingen in Switzerland and played jai alai in Spain.

It’s all part of “Dhani Tackles the Globe,” a program on the Travel Channel that has sent Jones here, there and practically everywhere as he enlightens himself - and he hopes the viewer as well - to a wide world of sports and its many and varied cultures.

“I’m broadening my horizons and hoping I can influence others to broaden their horizons as well,” said Jones, who went from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac to the University of Michigan before embarking on a pro career entering a 10th season with stops with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and Bengals.

At 31, he is well-traveled in every regard.

“I want people to obtain passports,” Jones said recently before heading off to Senegal to tape another episode. “I want people to jump on an airplane and go somewhere else. I want people to make the world a smaller, more cozy place.

“[The program] is using the entree of competition, camaraderie and sports to get a different perspective. There’s plenty of perspective of countries through food, hotels. But there’s very little perspective through sports. And sports is like music. Music holds people together and likewise with sports. … Each sport has a different story to tell.”

Each hour-long show (two remain in the current season, airing Monday nights) begins with Jones arriving in a new country, mingling with the residents, musing on his latest endeavor. The locations offer a full spectrum of surroundings, spanning the tony tailor shops of London’s Savile Row to the majestic Swiss Alps to the squalor and poverty of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In addition to Jones learning the fundamentals and nuances of each sport and then actually competing, he immerses himself in local life and customs. He will do whatever it takes. He has fallen from a horse during a fox hunt and sampled fried tarantula.

“It tasted like soft-shell crabs,” he said.

“You’ve got to learn something along the way,” added Jones, invoking the name of Paul Robeson, a professional athlete who became better known as an actor, singer and civil rights activist.

“You can’t just play football. I love traveling and meeting different people. You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. You play football, and it takes up a fair amount of time, but you also have some free time, and you don’t want to get involved in menial tasks.”

The son of a Navy man, Jones was born in San Diego and caught the travel bug early in life. His passport was well-stamped before he started working on the program.

“You can spend all your money on shoes or spend money on video games or spend money on plane tickets,” he said. “I’d rather spend $300 on a ticket overseas and not spend my time waiting in line for the next Air Jordans.”

Each sport posed unique challenges, and many left him gassed and hurting. Some of the preparation was as rigorous as the most demanding two-a-days. Even with rugby, the one sport he tried that was most like football, the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Jones learned he needed an entirely new skill set - including a capacity for copious amounts of beer, part of the rugby culture - to compete even though he was the biggest and strongest player on the pitch.

“Everything is difficult,” he said. “There’s always a difficult element. The way you hit in rugby is not the way you hit in football. In rugby, you play all the time. In football, you come off the field. In jai alai, I wasn’t out of breath, but the complexity of the sport, the small particulars and the ball in the basket were different.

“All these sports are very strategic. Some are more physical; some are more technical, but they’re all different.”

Asked whether the dangers pose a threat to his career, Jones responded, “Players are expected to come back [to camp] in top physical shape. I used the different sports I played as my cross training.”

Maybe it helps. Jones, who signed with Cincinnati in 2007 after he was cut by New Orleans during training camp, was in on 116 tackles last year, providing one of the few bright spots in a leaky defense. He also was elected defensive captain.

Jones markets T-shirts and his trademark bow ties; he owns a production company and what he calls a “creative agency,” which he describes as “a little bit of everything, soup to nuts in terms of creativity.”

His work with Red Line Films on an ESPN show called “Timeless” led to “Dhani Tackles the Globe.”

“They had an idea that had more of a travel bent,” said Charlie Parsons, the show’s executive producer. “They brought it to our attention, we saw some tape on Dhani and we loved him. It was easy to see him traveling the world with his charisma and credible authorship. He has the resume and the chops to back up his position.

“He came to us with the idea. We get sports pitches a lot, but with the idea they had and with him as a front man, we had confidence in him. … I love Dhani. It’s his passion. He doesn’t hold back.”

Although the program has yet to generate a large audience, the network is committed to at least another season.

“I love the show,” said Patrick Younge, president and general manager of the Chevy Chase-based Travel Channel. “It looks fantastic. It absolutely hits the spot in what we call a lustful life. Dhani’s living it large.

“He’s a really curious guy,” added Younge, a Brit who confessed he had never heard of Jones until he started doing the show. “He is curious about the world. And he’s the only talent I’ve got who writes poetry.”



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