Dhani Jones is a professional football player, reality-TV star, sports analyst and men’s fashion designer. In other words, he’s a hard guy to pin down. During two seasons on the Travel Channel’s Dhani Tackles the Globe, he challenged the international community at its own game and won some well-earned friendships and respect in the process. This summer, Jones is stepping into a different arena altogether with the release of his debut book The Sportsman, which Kirkus called “a thought-provoking adventure that’s part travelogue, part sports journal and even part fitness manual.”

Here, Jones opens up about what it was like tangling with all those folks on their home turf and how he faced an even newer challenge—becoming an author.

Read more new and notable nonfiction at Kirkus.

How does writing a book compare to playing sports you’ve never tried before?

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All of it just takes time, thought and energy directed in the right place. Writing a book is hard. You have to gather a lot of information and devise a storyline that brings it all back together. That’s probably the hardest part, and then outlining it. But working with a great guy like [co-writer] Jonathan Grotenstein, who understood my voice, made it not as difficult. There will be a lot more books after this.

Have you met people who’ve told you that they’ve gotten a passport and started traveling because of you?

Oh, yeah. During one game last year in Pittsburgh—it was like third and goal—one of the guys on the other team kept bugging me, and I didn’t really want to speak to him. It turns out he just wanted to tell me that he really liked my show and that he was starting to travel a little more. So, when you hear stories like that from guys from other teams saying, “I appreciate you going on that journey because now I feel I can go on the journey too,” or just walking down the street and having somebody say, “Hey, Dhani, I really like your show, and I just got my passport,” those types of celebrations really make me excited.

What’s the one thing you wanted to tackle for the show but didn’t get the opportunity?

We only went to 20 countries. I would have loved to have gone to 100 countries. It would have also been interesting to get more involved with the political authorities as it were. A lot of countries have very different types of governments than here in the States. So it provides a different perspective. I would have also liked to have spent a little bit more time in each country. Mostly, I only spent about eight days in each place. When it’s all over, you still want to meet more people. You want to go and try more things and involve yourself in the culture just a little bit more. 

Not every country you visited exactly welcomed you with open arms. You encountered some prejudice. How did you deal with that?

I term it ignorance without education and without understanding. If one person is prejudiced and the other person doesn’t mind it, then you’ve created an opportunity. And with that opportunity comes a chance for change, or really, understanding.

In Australia, I just kept fighting harder and harder to learn about the culture and the people and understand where they were coming from. In Switzerland, I just went about my business and in the end, I wouldn’t say I was celebrated, but definitely more people shook my hand after I was finished with my wrestling. Sometimes, with prejudice you have to learn how to fend it off and not be so confrontational and be open-minded about what’s actually happening.

Is there one thing you’ve learned that unifies all people 

We’re all inherently very competitive. But at the same time, we respect family to the highest order. And we’re adventurous. Everyone is always looking for adventure—in all directions. People want to know what’s going on in the world. If you give someone a little bit of information, they’ll run with it. They want to know more and more. That’s why education is so important. It creates this sense of adventure, this vision of what’s out there and you want to go seek it out and find it.

What do you think of reality television?

I tend to like reality shows because I think people like to see reality personified. It’s always a little bit more. But at the same time, it gets into that age-old question of “does art reflect life or does life reflect art?” If you want to look at reality television, that’s art. It’s definitely a close, if not exact, comparison to life. All of it is quite entertaining and brings a perspective on the world that you might not have known about in the first place.