Jason Pierre-Paul is an enigma. He draws your eye on the field and draws your attention in a crowd. Since arriving in Tampa Bay this offseason, he has emerged as a leader within the Bucs’ defense because of the example he sets - not the words he says. He is calculated when he speaks and his words are carefully chosen.
Hear about his journey to elite NFL pass rusher along with what it’s like to be the child of immigrants and his passion for producing music in his own words. This is Behind the Buccaneers with Jason Pierre-Paul.
Carmen Vitali: You had a little bit of an up-and-down path into professional football and from what I understand, had a bit of a late start.
Jason Pierre-Paul: “I went to College of the Canyons at first but I ain’t play football until the 11th grade. I had a lot of schools after me, but USF Coach Levy gave me a chance. He told me after high school he was going to come get me but then I just disappeared and went off to a school and didn’t tell anybody where I was going. I wound up doing great there but then I left and went to Kansas at Fort Scott Community College, where I went with Lavonte [David] and Jacquian Williams, who played at South Florida. It’s crazy I can just come up to Lavonte because he knows what that struggle was, too. I left before him and I’m so happy he made it out. That was a struggle itself. Then when I got to USF it was just easy. We went to a place where you had to be some dogs, but then it made it easier to go to four-year university, though. Getting to the NFL is a whole different life story. I thought I could do the same thing I did in college until I got up and was going against Tyrone McKenzie on the Giants and tried to do the same move on him and he tossed me. From there, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is real. I don’t know if I can be in the NFL.’ But at the same time, I never quit. You can never quit in what you do. Once you’re a quitter, you’re always a quitter. That’s just point blank, period. My whole journey of football was up and down but at the end of the day, football is important to me but life is more important. Changing somebody’s life is more important to me.”
You spent your whole career with the Giants in New York before now coming here.
“Tampa Bay is where it all began for me. It’s where I had to come through to get to the NFL. It’s like a homecoming for me. I’m 29 years old, I’ll be 30 January 1. I’m just blessed to make it to see 30. It’s been an up and down journey but I’m just happy to be living.”
Is there something you think you wanted to accomplish by 30 that you haven’t yet?
“Sky diving. But I’m not doing none of that. Most people don’t know, but I’m crazy. I’m adventurous. I like going to different countries and seeing the culture. Like I said, it’s always good to ask. That’s just the type of person I am. I was in Jamaica two years ago and I saw them jumping off this thing into the water and I was like ‘I could do that’ but I can’t now. I’ll do it after football.”
[Collective exhale from Bucs fans]
Is traveling what you try to do in the offseason then?
“Yeah, in the offseason I do a lot of traveling. I try to get away. This past offseason was a lot of packing and trying to find a place to stay because I haven’t been in this situation. I’m happy though because my family is here, my son is here. I’m just happy. My son is already screaming, ‘Go Bucs!’ I ask him, ‘Do you know who Daddy’s new team is?’ and he says ‘Tampa Bay Bucs!’ and I say, ‘What color?’ and he says, ‘red.’ I’m trying to bring that tradition over here with him when I was with the Giants I taught him to beat on his chest. Every time he sees me on the field now, he beats on his chest. He knows my number so he’ll be looking out for me. He’s three years old, has his own personality. He’s trying to figure out who he can try. He know I don’t play that, though [laughs] I treat him right and try not to just give him everything. I steer him the right way and let him know that things don’t just come off trees. You have to earn it, even at a young age and he knows that.”
Well you saw what your parents went through coming from a whole different country.
[JPP’s parents are from Haiti. They came to the United States in 1983, before Jason was born.]
“Yeah, they came to a whole new country. My dad has been blind for probably about 30 years. With my hand injury that happened – it really was nothing to me because I saw what my dad went through.
[JPP suffered an injury to his hand in a fireworks accident back in 2015, where he had to have his right index finger amputated. JPP now wears a custom glove when he plays and uses the injury as a lesson in overcoming adversity.]
Blind for 30 years but he still looked after me. He cooked for us when my mom was working so it was really nothing. Take what God gives you. People will cry and be sorry about things but go blind right now and then what? Unfortunately, things happen to people but take what you got because at the same time you’re still living. There’s a lesson in everything.”
What was it like growing up as a first-generation U.S. citizen with immigrant parents?
“Feels good. English is not my first language. Being born here and going to school here, I picked it up very well. In my household, we speak Creole. My mom cooks every day, all meals. You can’t beat it. Even my friends love it. It’s a different way of cooking, Creole food. I picked up some of it. I would never do it like my mom. Moms going to be moms. And even if you can do it like her, don’t tell her that [laughs]. If she cooks a big pot, at least stop by and eat. If you don’t – let’s say she said the food is ready and you say you’re not hungry, she’s definitely going to take that offense.”
That’s a lot of moms I think. You show your parents and your life in general a lot because you go ‘live’ on Instagram a fair amount. Why do you like doing that?
“I go live because everything in life isn’t picture perfect. On social media these days, you just see a whole bunch of young kids influencing other young kids to do things that aren’t really how life goes. When I look on social media – everything is perfect. People will post perfect moments, but what about your bad moments? Not saying you have to actually post it but there’s always the bad moments in somebody’s life, you know what I’m saying? I go on social media live to influence people like, ‘hey, at the end of the day, life is not picture perfect.’ The things that I post are not perfect. I post whatever. I post about family. If I’m going through something, I go live and I speak about it. I post even things that are bothering me. I post something but I turn off the comments now. Only thing you can do. I don’t do captions either because I want to capture the moment. I don’t want your comment or your input. I just want you to see the moment. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you just go about your business. Social media is basically like a game to me. I post what I’m doing or how I’m feeling but I don’t need comments to make me feel good about what I’m doing. There’s a lot of insecurity going on. That’s why I go live a lot.”
You’ve talked about the state of rap music a lot on your live streams.
“Yeah, because I’m a producer myself. I produce music for myself. I actually have a homeboy, I don’t put his music out there but it’s all about motivation. He speaks upon real stuff and real things that are going on in life. I produce most of his music. I got into it by a guy named Nick. I saw my homeboy going to his place and rapping and I saw him on a computer doing things and thought that maybe I can help pick it up. So I just started asking him questions. These days, people are scared to ask. That’s the society we live in. No matter where I’m at, I’m always asking. If I’m lost, I’m asking directions. So I asked him, ‘hey, can you help me get into this?’ and he helped me and then I went to a Guitar Center and bought the equipment. It started to get very expensive with the equipment, but in order to be successful, not saying you have to get the best equipment but it helps. Those guys were just motivating me to do and now I just produce music on my low key side. That’s like a hobby for me.”
What would be your producer name?
“Right now I call it Raw Sounds. Because everything I do, I know what I’m doing but it’s all about the sounds. When I came into the game of football, everybody said I was raw. I think that’s why Tampa Bay passed me up nine years ago… [starts laughing]. But I’m here now! That’s why I call it Raw Sounds, though. At the end of the day, when you’re first starting something, you’re raw. Once you get it to a level that you’re comfortable with, then you can push it to the elite level. I try to motivate people that no matter what, you can be that person who’s successful.”
And just like that it comes full circle.