[Interview] Her Son May Be A ‘Giant’, But NFL Mom Annie Apple Is Super In Her Own Right

(Eli and Annie)

When it comes to Annie Apple, the pen, or in her case, keyboard strokes, are definitely mightier than the sword. As @SurvivinAmerica on Twitter, her Ginsu-sharp hilarious tweets make her an instant must-follow. When the journalist by trade and mom to New York Giants cornerback Eli Apple isn’t making the world less mediocre one tweet at a time, she’s a contributor on ESPN and enriching the lives of students and student-athletes by advocating on their behalf.

I recently caught with the media maven to discuss everything from motherhood advice and Serena Williams to her ‘Raising a Pro’ foundation and who makes her list of #BaeGoals.

I have to say, I think you’re bold, beautiful, and brilliant, and I know you got it from your mama.

You know I did.

Can you share some sage advice on motherhood that she handed down to you?

The most important thing my mother ever did for me was — well, first and foremost, you know we’re from West Africa — she didn’t raise me as a Black woman or as a woman. She raised me as a child of God; that was my identity. I think that was so important because no matter where in the world I lived, I never allowed where I was or my present circumstances to dictate who I was and am as a person. I have lived in just about every country in West Africa. I’ve lived in London, Scotland, and came to Newark, NJ. I lived in the so-called hood, but the hood wasn’t my identity. So I attribute that to my mother because she always told me, “You’re a child of God.” Even when I experienced challenges in my life — and I went through hard times — I never allowed that to determine my value or my abilities.

That is great advice. With that being said, you know our girl Serena Williams is expecting. What advice can you give to Serena about becoming a mother and motherhood in the spotlight?

Well, first of all, she’s just phenomenal. She’s one of the top three athletes in the world. When I say that, I don’t mean just female. I mean overall. But, on motherhood, the most important thing you can do is be authentic. Don’t try to parent like your mama did, or like your auntie did; each child is different. Love that child, but make time for yourself, and do it your way. And if they come out a mess, listen, they can go on television 20 years from now, and say, “My mom was horrible,” but by that time, you won’t even remember. Just be authentic and know you’re going to make mistakes. You’re not going to know everything; nobody does.

That’s great advice.

As long as you don’t drop the baby, you’re a good mom.

What’s the most memorable Mother’s Day present you received from your children?

I loved it when they were a lot younger, now that they’re older. When they were younger — you know how they used to make those cards in school, and have you make different artwork?

(Annie with her three sons)
I sure do remember.

I loved that! I have every little card my kids have given me over time. Especially with Eli. He’s not the most poetic, and definitely not emotional at all, but I would remember him being little, and he tried it. He’d write these little poems. So for me, knowing that that’s not something he’s great at and he tried, it means a lot more to me. Moms like that stuff. Chocolates and a nice brunch, all of that is good. But at the end of the day, that’s [handmade gifts ]what tugs at your heart.

So what do you guys have coming up? Do you have any plans together?

Yes, we’re going to have brunch, but I already got my gift. I picked out a carry-on. I got that a couple of weeks ago. We’re going to spend time together and just chill. For Mother’s Day, honestly, I don’t think you should spend it with your kids. Mother’s Day is your day. I’m like, “Do I have to see you?” It’s not their day.

Hip-Hop legend, Common, wrote a book —

He has a book?

Yes, it came out a while back, and it’s based on his life.

That’s so funny. I was in L.A. a couple of months ago, and went to One Church [Los Angeles]. I’m standing there waiting for one service to be over and Common walks by. He almost knocked me over. I was like, “Ooh, that was Common.” I guess the Word was so powerful, he had to get out.

So, he wrote a book.

Yes, it’s named after one of his albums, One Day It’ll All Make Sense. At the end of each chapter, his mother would chime in with her thoughts. I’m not a mother, but I found powerful that she shared about being a motherShe says:

I never liked him more than I liked me. I don’t mean love. I loved him more than anything, but I always liked me best. If you don’t like yourself, it makes it very hard to like and love your child.

What are your thoughts on that sentiment?

I think she’s accurate. For me, I always say, you have to love them and when you get to the stage when you like them, that’s great. But I love what’s she’s saying, and I think that’s the advice that I was giving Serena: you have to love yourself. You have to take care of yourself. I think as women, especially Black women, we give and give and give so much, that we honestly don’t even know what it feels like to receive. Sometimes we don’t even know how to accept that kind of love coming back to us. I think that’s solid advice. Love your child, but you’re only as good to them as you’re good to yourself. If you’re not happy, you can’t give what you don’t have. What a lot of moms do, we give everything and leave nothing for ourselves. That’s never healthy. Most kids grow up and leave, and what are you left with?

A shell of your former self.

Exactly. You’re never going to get that back. I think I saw this story where the person said, “My mom had three pieces of chicken and three kids and she gave it all to the kids.” I was like, “No! I need to eat, too! We’re gonna cut this in half.” I am not that woman. Next story will be, “Mom died of starvation, but we all were full.” That makes no sense.

But a lot of women think that motherhood is about struggle and survival. And, yes, there are parts of it where you are struggling, but that’s not all that it’s about. My late pastor gave me great advice about motherhood. He said, “The number one job of a parent is to connect their child to the Heavenly Father. It’s not to buy them this or give them that, it’s to do that.” Being a young mom — I’ve been a mom since I was 16 — something went off in my heart and in my head. I said, “I can do that.” Whether you have three dollars or three billion dollars, you can do that. So it made me feel empowered about knowing whatever I don’t have financially, it doesn’t take away from what I’m able to give to my child.

(Annie)

You already had your blog ‘Survin’ America’ before you burst onto the scene in 2016 when Eli was drafted by the Giants, and I consider you Twitter gold —

I’m random as heck.

You are Twitter gold. Would you ever consider writing a book based off your tweets?

It’s so funny you say that. I am looking at a book project. It’s one of those things when you’re a writer. I really do enjoy screenplays a lot. It helps me heal, and it helps me make sense out of life and different situations. So, I’m looking to write a screenplay. I do want to write a book, but I really want it to be for women. People go, “Oh, you’re America’s mom.” I think we have this idea of moms just being these heavenly beings. No, we’re women first. We have the fate of another life in our hands. You’re like, “Oh, my God. I hope I don’t drop you.”

You have this fear of dropping kids, what’s going on?

‘Cause that’s the worst fear. I can do everything else, but just don’t drop ’em. But, I do want to [write a book]. I want to share, so I’m trying to field that out. I want to be honest about the experiences of being a woman. Loving. Losing; the whole nine. There’s never a destination in womanhood. It’s a journey. I think the most important thing I want to say in a book to women is, “Be yourself.” Just be who you are and work on being the best you that is humanly possible. Enjoy life: laugh! Don’t wait until everything makes sense before you start to enjoy life. Don’t say, “Oh, I’m gonna wait until I get more money. I’m gonna wait until I find that man. I’m gonna wait until I get that job.” No. You gotta enjoy life every day.

I love that! Do other sports moms reach out to you seeking advice? You are considered “America’s Football Mom”. Actually, now, you’re “America’s Mom” — you’re the new Oprah.

 Oh, my gosh. Can I have her money? Like every three months, I tweet at Oprah asking if I can hold $3 million ’til Thursday. She has not responded, “yes,” but I am hopeful one day she will. I just want to hold $3 million.

But, I don’t see myself as “America’s Mom.” I have a passion for people because that’s how I grew up. I traveled a lot as a child; my mom was a missionary. She would preach, and we would sing. That was our life. We were literally like the African ‘Partridge Family’. I love all people because I’ve traveled all over the world and got to know people for who they really are. We’re all more the same than we are different. So, I don’t feel like everyone’s mom, but I am very close to a lot of moms in the league, Especially when I was at Ohio State [University], where we had a bomb draft class last year. A lot of the moms do really rely on each other. We’re all there for each other. We would have a weekly call where we would pray together. Matter of fact, six of us are going to Jamaica next month.

I saw you tweeting about that. You were talking about working out.

Yeah, I’m like, why lose weight when I’m only going to gain it back when I get there?

You’re extremely vocal about student-athletes exercising the power they have and the power they don’t know they have. What are some ways they can stand up for themselves? 

I think before you can make any change in the world, you have to look yourself in the mirror and say, “Who am I and what do I deserve?” If you don’t know what you deserve, you’ll settle for anything somebody wants to give you. That goes across the board. Even as women, I think a lot of times we’re afraid to ask for the love we deserve because we think we can’t get it. For the athletes, I want them to be knowledgeable. Football is about more than just Xs and Os on the field: it’s a business. Until they realize that, they’ll never win. I also want them to look at the whole scope of the game and how it’s changed. Coaches are making quadruple what they earned when football first started, but what the players get is still the same. They don’t have the rights to their names or likeness, but they can use their name, their number, and their likeness to make and raise money. When these guys realize that they are the workforce and product that everyone else is buying, and they are getting none of it, until they demand more, nothing will happen. I know firsthand how hard these kids work. I know how much they sacrifice and how unprotected they are. No one looks out for them. About three years ago, I had to step up because some grown-ups decided to form a college football playoff, but no one thought of how the players’ families were going to get there. There were three major games that required travel around the holidays; it was crazy. For me, I saw the coaches and their wives, girlfriends, and kids getting on a private jet, and I was like, “wait a minute, something is wrong with this picture.” I had to fight it. It wasn’t until five days before the first playoff game that they finally approved the travel stipend. We had to do all of that for them to [approve it]?

Why do you think the players and their families are so reluctant to speak up?

Even when I stood up, it was a lot because college football is all about control and where you don’t say anything. I think a lot of times when families come to college athletics, they only focus on their kid. For me, I took an approach that, whatever Eli is going to be, whatever he’s going to accomplish, it’s in God’s hands. It’s my job to make this a wonderful experience, not just for him, but his teammates and all of our families. So I became focused on the whole. It was tough to step up because people are not used to that. I love Ohio State, it’s nothing personal against them; it’s the system that’s messed up. It’s hard for the players because they buy into the whole sense of brotherhood, which is part of the philosophy coaches teach. But if all of us ain’t winning, this ain’t a brotherhood. Out of the brotherhood, the only ones winning are the coaches. If they really care about the players, then they would help them fight for what’s rightfully theirs. They buy into the culture of teamwork, but they don’t understand that teamwork is empowerment.

Speaking of empowerment, I want to congratulate you on starting your foundation, ‘Raising a Pro‘, which will assist students to reach their potential and prepare for real life. You’re doing more than just talking the talk. What from your own experiences led to you creating this organization? 

‘Raising a Pro’ is something that has been dear to me for a number of years. I love young people. Eli would even tell you when he was in high school, I would volunteer all my time, and mentor and talk to the kids. He went to an upper middle class high school. But for me, I love the hood. I love those kids because I was that kid in the hood. People are surprised when they learn ‘Raising a Pro’ isn’t about athletics. I just started it in March, and right now I’m doing a lot of groundwork. In September, I’m going to have my fundraiser launch. But it’s really about helping kids in the inner city to develop a vision and to restore and revive that vision. To equip and support them in making that vision a reality. I think if you don’t know where you’re going, then life is a waste; you don’t see the purpose in it. I was at a school in Newark a couple of weeks ago, and I was talking to some girls because I’d like to do an after-school program for young ladies, also. A lot of kids now, they just want to be famous. Everybody wants to be an athlete or singer. I’m like, “There are other ways to become a success in life.” I always define success in being content in the person that God has created you to be. So for me, it’s about helping introduce them to other professions because it’s not about being an athlete. Fame does not determine your success. ‘Raising a Pro’ is about equipping these young people through speaking tours and assemblies, after-school programs, and really working with educators and families just to help restore hope. It doesn’t matter where you live, America needs you to be the best that you can be. A lot of people talk about giving back, but sometimes giving back just means going back. Our kids need to see us. They see the Lebrons and Jordans of the world, but they need to see more people like you, Nicole, and my friend Sade who is a PR executive. They need to be able to look and see themselves in someone else.

Women are the first coaches athletes receive yet, they’re still fighting tooth and nail just for a mere seat at the table. What do you think both men and women can do to open up more opportunities in sports?

I don’t think it’s women’s problem; it’s men’s. We just need more men to kick down the door because I think a balance of both helps both. I’ve been watching sports forever, and especially as a Black woman who enjoys sports and three sons who enjoy sports — I have a 16-year-old daughter, too. I’ve always watched the games with them, but you never see anyone who looks like you on the sideline. The sideline…anchor desk…anywhere. Only until recently did the NFL Network hire a woman of color on-air. I think that diversity is needed. It’s not just diversity in color, but diversity in perspective and background. Everybody is from the same place. That’s what makes Jemele [Hill] from [ESPN’s] The Six so special. She comes in with who she is and brings that to what she does; it adds much-needed flavor. The taste is bland now; we need to spice it up. Women are like half the NFL fan base, and have birthed every athlete on the planet, yet, somehow, our insight and wisdom has become unimportant. No. I’m hoping to see that change, and personally, would like to see more Black women in sports media coverage. I’ve been very vocal about it on Twitter.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about your relationship with your son Eli? I know some media outlets got a little messy and tried to pit you two against one another after you spoke out on [former Giants kicker] Josh Brown still being on the team after abusing his wife. 

Yeah, they always do.

(Eli and Annie)

But, you’re a trained journalist, so I don’t even know why they try to come for you. They will never be able to snatch your edges.

When I came on the scene — well, I don’t want to call it coming on the scene because I’ve been on Twitter since 2009, before Eli even knew Twitter — I wanted to humanize these guys because a lot of them are objectified. To many, players are just numbers on jerseys or on helmets, but, no, they’re somebody’s son, brother, husband, and uncle. They are people, too. That was my main thing, and I think people were so surprised like, “Oh, my God, he has a mother…and she can speak English!” It’s the perception they have of athletes. It’s like you’re either straight from the hood, don’t know anything, and your family is just waiting for you to rise. They’re not numbers or objects.

I think people underestimate how close Eli and I are. We are close. Eli has always known this is who I am, so it’s not like all of a sudden, because I have more followers I’ve changed. I think that would’ve probably been more upsetting to him. He would’ve been like, “Where’d you come from?” He’s always known it’s never been about me. It’s always about others. I think he respects that. Even when speaking out against domestic violence. When I was fighting for players’ families to be able to travel and doing press, and when we finally got the stipend — I wouldn’t it even call it victory because they need to do more for these kids — Eli asked me, “Were you ever concerned that people were not going to like you?” One thing I told him. I said, “In life, when you know you’re doing what’s right, God is with you and that’s all you really need.” That’s what’s been my most important thing. I live for an audience of one. I’m not perfect; no one is, but at the heart of it, I think that’s what he respects. He’s also funny, and got a lot of my qualities. He has my confidence, and he has my game. That back peddle [on the field] is all me.

(Eli and Annie)

Speaking of funny, who’s more humorous, you or your brother [comedian] Michael [Blackson]?

I am. It’s so funny because nobody even knew that he was my brother. When people would ask if he’s my brother, I’d say he’s my mother and father’s son. But, I think I am because I’m smarter. To be witty, you have to be smart. What people don’t know is he’s extremely bright. He was an honors student in high school, but he would never show up for the honors ceremony because he didn’t want people to look at him like he was smart. He’s definitely a hard worker, but I’m definitely funnier…and better looking, of course.

(Michael, Annie, and Annie’s son Dane)

Switching gears a bit. You grew up in New Jersey and Philadelphia, how in the world did you end up becoming a Lakers fan with Dr. J. right in your backyard?

Dr. J.? Whatever! Who couldn’t love Magic and Kareem? But for me, my fandom really blew up when Kobe came aboard. I loved Kobe Bryant. His dad was an assistant coach at LaSalle University, and that’s where I went to school.

Okay, I get it.

You see, it comes full circle. One thing I loved about Kobe, he wasn’t your average athlete. He lived around the world. He was smart. He was strong. He made his mistakes, but he was always very strong in his own identity. I think a lot of time with professional athletes, guys tend to assimilate or dim their light to elevate the mass. He was always upfront about what he was about: he wanted to be the best. I always admired that, so I was like, “Lakers forever!” We’re on a winning hiatus right now, but we’ll be back.

I saw that you tweeted about Dominique Wilkins being #BaeGoals in high school, who is your all-time fine NBA starting five?

It’s funny now because everyone under 30 is like my kid. But, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter — I like Vince Carter more now than I did before. I think it’s the age 40 thing. John Stockton I liked. He has beautiful eyes; I met him before. He’s very nice and respectful: a good human. So, that’s three.

What about Alonzo Mourning or Larry Johnson?

No.

Jordan? A lot of people liked him.

Michael Jordan was great, but personality-wise –‘cause all of that goes into you being bae level — Jordan was a no. Horace Grant and Robert Horry – yeah, they were good.

What about Rick Fox? He was a Laker.

You know those light skin dudes will break your heart.

Too pretty?

Yeah, I need a little bit more naps in that hair.

More like Idris Elba. I know we wanted to talk about him.

Yes. Idris. We’re in an imaginary relationship that he doesn’t even know about.

Who’s your pick to win the NBA Championship?

Lebron is looking like Superman, but I have to give it to the Warriors. I think they’re the most complete team. If Draymond can keep his emotions in check, they can do this. Honestly, he cost them it last year. What do they say, “The best talent is availability?” You have to be there. So, I think if Draymond keeps it in check, they can get ‘em. You know what, if the Wizards end up beating the Celtics, the Cavs are going to have a fight on their hands. If the Wizards come out and play the way they need to play, they can shock the world.

John Wall is like –

John Wall is off the wall right now. Michael Jackson would be proud.

Finally, what’s next for Annie Apple?

Right now, I’m fielding different opportunities as far as television, and I’m getting ‘Raising A Pro’ off the ground because I feel like that’s my life’s work. I’m really excited about that. Just giving kids the power to see themselves as more than what they are and not letting their environment dictate who they are and who they can be. I’m excited about that. I’m also looking to do some TV writing, and looking forward to working on a project for a television sitcom. That’s where my heart is. Being on-air is cool, but my main thing is writing and I’m looking to do a little more of that.

Be sure to follow Annie here on Twitter and www.RaisingaPro.org for her foundation.

 Photos: Courtesy of Annie Apple, The Sports Daily

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