NEW YORK — Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones prepares for training camp by eating bugs, taking kicks to the head and riding elephants.
Jones has expressed his eclectic tastes throughout his NFL career, from owning a company that makes bow ties to helping Al Gore spread his environmental message. His latest venture at least draws on his athletic background, though it takes him far from the world of football.
The 31-year-old is hosting the Travel Channel show Dhani Tackles The Globe, which premieres Monday. He spent the last two off-seasons bouncing from country to country to immerse himself in an exotic list of sports.
He learned about rugby in England, the martial art Muay Thai in Thailand, hurling in Ireland, dragon boat racing in Singapore, Schwingen (wrestling) in Switzerland, pelota in Spain, sailing in New Zealand, and surf lifeguard competitions in Australia.
Each episode chronicles his weeklong attempt to master a new sport, interspersed with sightseeing trips and forays into the local culture.
"It allows the entree of, 'I'm an athlete, you're an athlete, we both compete. Let's meet each other on those terms,' " Jones said by telephone from Ohio.
He was an obvious choice as the network pursued a show with a sports theme, said Michael Klein, the Travel Channel's senior vice president of content.
Drafted in the sixth round by the Giants out of Michigan in 2000, Jones played for New York and Philadelphia before Cincinnati. He has always been happy to talk about his passion for music, painting, poetry.
"His personality comes through on screen," Klein said.
In Thailand, Jones had to learn the punches and kicks of Muay Thai quickly enough to take on a fighter at the end of the week. He woke up one morning with his abdominal muscles swollen from his instructor hitting him with pads in training the previous day.
Jones visited Buddhist temples and a fortune teller, sampled cooked insects and played soccer with elephants.
"We wanted to make sure the sport was reflective of the culture and vice versa," Klein said of the choice of locales.
Jones is proud that as a 6-foot-1, 240-pound African-American professional athlete he doesn't look like your typical travel show host. He hopes his televised adventures will inspire people who never before considered venturing outside the United States.
He met people who gave him a new perspective on the world — and he thinks he gave others new perspectives when they met him.