Barney: How Marvin Gaye sought ... and got ... tryout with Lions

Marvin Gaye wanted to be more than a professional singer. He wanted to be a pro football player, too, and Hall-of-Fame cornerback Lem Barney recalls how Gaye gained a tryout with the Detroit Lions.


(Lem Barney photos courtesy of the Detroit Lions)

Talk of Fame Network

Marvin Gaye is a Hall-of-Fame singer, and you can look it up. He was inducted into the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Apparently, though, he didn’t confine his interests to music. He wanted to play pro football, too, and with the help of former Lions' Lem Barney and Mel Farr, sought … and gained … a tryout with the team in 1970.

The idea made sense. After all, Barney – a Hall-of-Fame cornerback -- and Farr didn’t confine themselves to football. They had befriended Gaye and sang backup vocals on his signature anthem, "What's Going On." So why couldn’t Gaye try their profession and see if he could make it there, too?

It made sense, Barney said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. It just didn’t work out.


(Marvin Gaye)

"Marvin started working out with Mel and I in the offseason, " said Barney, "and he felt he had an opportunity to become a Lion. So coach Joe Schmidt brought him into the office and talked with Marvin, and said, 'Listen, Marvin, do you have any film from when you played in college?' And Marvin said, 'Well, coach, I never played in college.'

"And (Joe) said, 'Well, do you have any from when you played in high school?' And (Marvin) said, 'I never played in high school.' So coach jumped up and said, 'What makes you think you can just walk out on the field and play without having played?' And Marvin said, 'Well, coach, I believe I got a chance. I worked out with Mel and Lem, and I've been working out at the University of Michigan. And I really feel like the first time I touch a ball I'll score a touchdown.' "

That seemed to convince Schmidt, who granted him a tryout. Gaye was better, it turns out, than author George Plimpton, who wrote Paper Lion about his audition as a professional football player, but he was not good enough to make the Lions.

"Coach gave him an opportunity to come out and he tried him out at wide receiver and running back," said Barney, "but he just didn’t have it to take it over. So Joe told him he wouldn’t feel really good if he put him out there and he got injured. Marvin appreciated the tryout."