Football fans know Nate Burleson for his impressive NFL career as a wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions and his work commentating and anchoring for Good Morning Football and CBS. But the Bergen County father of three’s talents and passions have extended far beyond the gridiron since he was a kid. Throughout his career, Nate knew he would use football as a launch pad for other things and stuck his toe in the waters of fashion (he’s considered one of television’s most stylish personalities regularly donning custom suits and rare sneakers), art, music, finance, the restaurant business and entertainment, interviewing everyone from Michelle Obama to J.Lo for Extra TV. He’s even commentated football games for kids on Nickelodeon and has a huge social media following (@nateburleson on Instagram). These experiences helped lead Nate to his newest role at CBS Mornings, the national show he co-anchors with Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil.
But it’s his role as family man Burleson cherishes most. He met his wife Atoya at the University of Nevada, where they were college sweethearts. He was a football player and she was a hurdle champion. Like Nate, Atoya wears many hats along with mother and wife. She’s the co-host of InsideLINES, a podcast that covers everything from life as an NFL wife, marriage, motherhood and entrepreneurship to mental health, work-life balance, sexism and racism. On Instagram (@atoyaburleson) and through her website (atoyaburleson.com), she shares all things home décor, cooking, fashion, beauty, self-care, fitness, travel and parenting.
She and Nate are busy raising their three kids. Nate, 17, and Nehemiah, 15, play football, basketball and run track. Mia, 11, plays tennis and loves art and theater. We met up with the Burlesons to talk family, work, football and what they love about living in New Jersey.
New Jersey Family: We’ve watched you on Good Morning Football for years. What has the transition been like going from the sports world to CBS Mornings?
Nate Burleson: The transition hasn’t been as tough as I thought it would be simply for the fact that I’ve been strategically taking jobs over the last few years to help add the element of news and entertainment to my arsenal. Working with Extra in the entertainment space and tackling tough topics on the variety of shows that I was on gave me the confidence knowing that I can work any type of show. But more importantly, it gave the execs confidence that I’d be the right man for the job.
NJF: What do you hope to bring to the show?
Nate: I’m a storyteller by nature. There’s a ton of topics that I want to touch on. I want to highlight the heroes. I’m talking about the real heroes, not in sports uniforms, but in everyday uniforms… the doctors, the nurses, the police officers, firefighters, the volunteers, the teachers. I want to highlight the mom-and-pop businesses, whether it’s a restaurant or small businesses that are fixtures in their communities. I want to touch on the financial sector. There’s a wave of young men and women that have really created their own lane in the financial space, whether it’s in the real estate market, in media, like you guys are doing, even in cryptocurrency and NFTs. I want to be that bridge that can help translate that financial foreign language that a lot of people might not understand. Also, I want to bring a little bit of pizzazz. I feel like I’m a well-dressed, articulate young Black man that can spread myself across a few different demographics. I’m relatable in the sense that the urban community can recognize that it’s somebody that looks like them and suburban community, they can also identify with somebody that lives in that same type of environment. I just feel like I’m relatable.
NJF: You’ve interviewed so many newsmakers. What are some of the standout moments from those interviews?
Nate: J.Lo was one. I’m a huge fan, so I had a fanboy moment and then Al Pacino on the red carpet really blew my mind because he knew who I was, and as much as I think I’m doing a good job, you never know how many people are watching you, especially celebrities that you’re interviewing. I just left New York and I did an interview with Paul Rudd who was just named ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ and me and Paul, we go back. We’re good friends.
NJF: And he’s a Jersey boy.
Nate: Yes, that’s right. Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson, all of these individuals from their original Ghostbusters movie, the 1984 film. We were there talking about the new film that Paul Rudd is starring in and of course, I gave him a hard time about being the sexiest man alive. Paul’s always great. I talked with the Rock, and the Rock was just so cool. It was one of the interviews where afterward I was like, “Well, Anna, me and Rock are we best friends right now?” He made me feel so comfortable.
Lenny Kravitz. I remember talking with Lenny and he just had this zen about him. I’m a fan first, a fan of the moment. When people see me on TV, the reason why I have this energy about me is because it isn’t lost on me the position I’m in so I never sit down on a show. I never sit down to do an interview and I feel like I’m the star or I feel like the person meeting me should be honored. I always feel on the flip side of that, that I am honored to be in this position, which is why I always fan out and it comes across as organic. I’ve had a few moments where I had to pinch myself.
NJF: Speaking of pinch-me moments: Nate, what have been the biggest ‘pinch me’ moments in your career so far?
Nate: Being parodied on SNL was cool, because I’m a big fan of comedy and Saturday Night Live. I was preparing for the Super Bowl the next day and my phone just started blowing up. I like to go to bed early to prepare for the big stages. Then I had to turn it on right away and then I went online and I saw it and I kept laughing. I just thought, “Wow, what a moment.”
Then winning an Emmy—I think that was one of the most life-changing awards. The reason I say that is because after 11 years in the NFL and more than 10 significant injuries, six or seven major surgeries or procedures, I always felt like the football guys didn’t bless me with the Lombardi trophy, and I was upset about that. I tell people all the time that the Emmy, it didn’t validate who I am. It just validates the work that I’ve put in.
NJF: Can we talk about your NFL career? You played for three teams. Can you reflect on your career and also what’s it like as a father watching your two boys play football?
Nate: I was blessed to play over a decade. Eleven years in the NFL…it’s not easy. I do have a laundry list of injuries. To be able to bounce back from all these injuries and then make plays and be respected in a few different franchises, the Minnesota Vikings drafted me, I played in Seattle where I’m originally from and then went to Detroit…hard times in the city. Our team really lifted up and lifted the spirits of Detroit while I was there. These special moments in these cities really helped shape who I am.
I remember somebody telling me the average career was going to last around two-and-a-half or three years. After like two-and-a-half, three years, I started planning my exit strategy. Every year was like bonus level, bonus level, bonus level. By the time I looked up, I was a decade in going on year 11 and I’m thankful for that.
Now watching my kids play the same sport and fall in love with the same sport is exciting. The only time that I’m conflicted is when they’re banged up or injured. I think to myself, am I putting them in the best position to stay healthy at this age if they’re playing a sport that at times can be a little physical.
The one thing I can proudly say as a father is I’ve never pushed sports on them. I never pushed the NFL or football in general on them. Their love for sports has come organically. Yes, it’s been a long athletic career in college and in the NFL and it’s never lost on me how awesome that is. All of this has been because, one, I guess I was blessed athletically. I have a family that always supported me and pushed me.
Then I met my beautiful wife Atoya when we were in college and her being an intelligent woman, a track star, graduating, going to get her masters….without her I wouldn’t have accomplished half of the things that I did. I’m a blessed man so many times over.
NJF: You guys are an amazing team. What is a typical day like when you’re commentating on games for CBS? What’s your Sunday game-day routine?
Nate: My Sunday routine is long. I wake up bright and early. We have a meeting at 8 a.m. and then I have two different hits. I have one for our digital show and then I have one that I do in LA and that’s before we start the rehearsal for the noon show. We do a rehearsal at 10:30 am and then we’re live at 12 pm. From 12 pm we’re just doing highlights and we’re doing halftime shows and sometimes we have a post-game.
The Sunday is usually 8 am to 8 pm. Which is a long day but I’m sitting on the set talking football with Bill Cowher and Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason and James Brown. I’m not complaining at all. There’s people that do hardcore labor so you will never hear me complain about my job.
I’m not saying there aren’t long days and short mornings. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m not saying that I’m not ever stressed. I remember losing my beard when I first moved out to New York because I was working too much and I wasn’t sleeping enough. This job isn’t easy and I know that firsthand, but you’re never going to hear me complain about it. That’s for sure.
NJF: Nate recently chatted with your daughter Mia on CBS Mornings about social media and screen time. What are the screen time rules for your kids?
Atoya: They have definitely been altered a bit after that interview. School day screen time is very limited. We want Mia’s main focus to be on school, homework and sports/activities throughout the week. On the weekend, there’s definitely more flexibility. If it’s nice out, I make her go outside and ride a bike or hang with friends before allowing for more screen time. We know she is too young to understand balance, but hopefully, with subconsciously practicing it and the daily reminders, it will become a part of her daily routine.
NJF: In the interview, Nate talked a lot about the positive reinforcement messages you both share at home. How do you both practice positive reinforcement as parents? Atoya, you mentioned creating a mantra and saying that only you and your kids know on your website? We love this idea!
Atoya: Mia knows how beautiful she is because her father and I tell her all the time. She also understands inner beauty and the essence of who you are is the most beautiful that you can ever be. We also practice self mantras, family mantras, and find something positive to say to each member of our house every week. The kids actually look forward to it which I love!
NJF: We noticed you call attention to some big issues on the air, such as mental health and race. Are these issues you want to continue to raise on TV?
Nate: When it comes to race, social injustice, mental health, assault, sexual assault, relationships, I just want to make sure that I’m a positive voice. The people that I worry about are the kids. When an 11-year-old comes up to you and he says, “I watch you every day before I go to school”…you don’t want to fumble. When I hear these stories, it makes those moments worth it.
NJF: Atoya, what can we expect from your podcast this year?
Atoya: This season we focus on celebrating women in sports and the amazing businesses, endeavors and ventures that they are bringing to the table. We are talking to top professionals, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, TV personalities and influencers. We also felt it was important to open it up to talented women that are doing fantastic things to positively impact others.
NJF: What does a typical morning in your house look like?
Atoya: A typical morning in the Burleson house is never the same. The funny part is my husband is not an early bird. I have three completely different kids and I am the only one who is truly an early bird. I definitely got my early bird tendencies from my dad and I am that obnoxious, over-the-top mom that opens the door and tells each one of them good morning every day! I usually wake up a good hour before them so that I can have some me time. I make my bed, shower, brush teeth and figure out what I can wear that’s quick, cute and functional. I then wake my kids up—typically multiple times. It’s always a gamble who gets downstairs first. While I’m waiting I make their breakfast and snack—they all like different things—and fill their water bottles. They are responsible for grabbing items off the counter and placing in their bags. I drive 20 minutes to drop the boys off at school, say prayers with everyone for a good and safe day, then I drive another 30 minutes to drop off my daughter. We usually get plenty of mommy/daughter time because she loves to chat. I appreciate my neighbors that help with Mia on some days when it doesn’t go smoothly which happens at least once a week. Some days, it’s smooth sailing and other days—creative chaos!
NJF: Nate, you were born in Canada and have lived all over the country and traveled all over the world with your family. What led you and Atoya to settle down in New Jersey?
Nate: Yes, born in Canada, raised in Seattle. To be honest, New Jersey reminds me a lot of Seattle, the greenery, the environment, and then the people. I love New York. I work in New York, seven days a week, but New Jersey fits my energy. It’s just the vibe. The people are great. There’s always a smile waiting for you around the corner. You’re really a conversation away from getting to know somebody that could quickly turn into not just a friend, but more like family. The food is good. It’s spread out enough that you get your space, but it’s intimate enough to where you know enough people. It really is a place that I didn’t realize I’d fall in love with until I started living here.
NJF: Atoya, you juggle so much and your schedule is non-stop. How do you make time for self-care?
Atoya: Juggling is no joke! Some days I am exhausted and want to run away. Other days, I just want to do nothing. I pride myself on taking Sundays and spending time with myself. I try to schedule a massage, go somewhere on my own (even if it’s as simple as Target to drink some Starbucks as I shop), or even meet up with a girlfriend. Self-care is all about taking the time and meeting your needs in real-time. Each Sunday looks different but I fill my cup with what I need for the week.
NJF: Between Nate’s shoe collection and Atoya’s closet, we are wishing y’all would come over and style us for a night out. What do you all like to wear to date night and what are your favorite things to do/spots to hit up on date night?
Atoya: First of all, I love date night. It’s a great time for my husband and I to connect and enjoy one another as well as catch up on what’s happened throughout the week. It’s also a moment where I can go back to when it was just us and how excited I got to dress up and go out and spend time together. Dating keeps us young, connected, and I always want to put my best foot forward with the one I love the most! I try to grab a cute dress with heels or a fun pencil skirt or leggings. It’s form-fitting and shows off these long legs which I have grown to love! My mom was right–she always told me one day I would appreciate them.
NJF: Atoya, you’re doing a lot of work in the lifestyle space and share fashion, fitness, food and home décor inspiration on your website, atoyaburleson.com. We’d love to pick your brain on a few of these areas starting with what’s your go-to easy weeknight dinner family dinner?
Atoya: Chicken fettuccine florentine with breadsticks or Taco Tuesdays is always a hit!
NJF: What’s the one thing every woman should have in her closet?
Atoya: Workout clothes, a good pair of heels and a pencil skirt that can handle any transitional opportunity that arises (meeting, date night, dinner with girls–you’re always good to go!) and don’t forget to grab a fun jacket or blazer with an amazing clutch.
NJF: Nate, what style tip would you like to share with the guys?
Nate: I would say focus on the fit and it doesn’t mean you have to be fit, just focus on the fit. You don’t want clothes to be draped all over you like curtains. You want them to fit you, because if it fits you, if it’s made for you and you feel like your outfit is tailored for you, you’re more confident. I would also say accessorize, because it’s not just about the items, it’s all about the pieces that you put with the items. It could be a nice watch, some bracelet, a small chain, it could be some glasses, colorful socks.
Then also, don’t worry about matching so much. I used to think that matching was everything. Just take a risk. Being fashionable is wearing what you want to wear, not what you think looks good on you, so it’s a big difference. You might see something in the magazine or see somebody else wearing it you think, “That will look good on me.” No, no, no. Fashion is wearing what you want to wear because when you put on something that you want to wear, you walk around confident. Here’s a secret guys, it’s not about the outfit. It’s really about how confident you are in it.
NJF: What’s your most efficient workout if you have just 15 minutes?
Atoya: I’d say lunges, jump squats, push-ups, arm curls, and abs circuit. 3 sets of 10 nonstop. It will get your heart rate up as well!
NJF: What’s the easiest way to update/transform the look of a room in your house?
Atoya: Start with cleaning and organizing. Then, update your pillows, throws, add some candles, and change a picture. Just remember this phrase, “Less is more and change the decor!”
NJF: What’s a non-profit we should know about/support that’s near and dear to your hearts?
Atoya: The Bobbi Engram Foundation. A near and dear friend of ours started this foundation in honor of their daughter Bobbi who was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia as a baby and recently transitioned. Also, Mary’s Place in Seattle, Washington. It’s a shelter for abused women and their kids to have a safe space to stay.
Nate: I work closely with the Boys and Girls Club and I have for years and that has evolved into just community centers that do good in their communities. For me, if I can point anybody in a direction I’m walking into a community center and you will find a kid or a family that needs assistance and that’s the best way to give. Even if you don’t want to find that kid or that family, trust me, if you go to the front desk they will have a list and you can anonymously give. I’ll say Boys and Girls YMCA, but really any local community center that’s doing good things for their community is a great place to start.
NJF: What’s your favorite workout?
Atoya: Whatever my mood is for the day. Some days, I box, other days I lift, or I may go back to my collegiate roots and go on a run. As long as I do something and move my body that’s all I need.
Nate: I like to do ads and a variety of and that’s because at this point in my life I could care less about how strong I am. I just want to look good with my shirt off and if my abs are good I usually look great.
NJF: Tell us a New Jersey restaurant you love to go back to again and again.
Nate: River Palm Terrace is a great spot. We first experienced that in Edgewater. Also Brownstone Pancake Factory in Edgewater. River Palm Terrace and Brownstone–those are my two favorites.
Atoya: Roots Steakhouse in Ridgewood or Concourse Club in Wood-ridge.
NJF: What are some local mom-and-pop shops in NJ you love?
Nate: Ridgewood– everything in Ridgewood from the local watch fixer who takes care of every single watch that I need fixed to all of the small fashion shops and restaurants in downtown Ridgewood. The one thing I like about downtown Ridgewood is I can show up and get everything I need. I can shop for the family, I can go get a tux, I can pop over and grab a quick gift for my daughter to make her smile when she comes home from school. Then I can go grab dinner and I can get whatever my taste buds want from Italian to Asian, ice cream to American steak, whatever it is, so Ridgewood has everything that I need.
Atoya: Backyard Living and P. Smith Design, both in Ridgewood.
NJF: What’s your go-to NJ spot for dessert?
Atoya: Wild and Hearty in Ridgewood. Me and the kids go here for after-school snacks all the time. I believe they may have just closed due to COVID, but we’re hoping they reopen soon!
Nate: Brownstone is up there. I’m a Häagen-Dazs guy and that’s down there in Ridgewood. Also am a Ben & Jerry’s guy. As you can tell I love ice cream so those would be my three.
NJF: What’s your idea of a perfect day with family in NJ?
Nate: We would wake up, take a walk, experience the fresh air, wave to the neighbors and then hop in the car and go for a drive. I’d say 30 to 45 minutes, windows down, the music on low and then we’ll go to a park and bring some lunch and just kick back and relax, maybe grab a football or a Frisbee and toss it around. Then after that we’ll pick a place to go eat dessert and walk around. The perfect day is perfect weather and the ability to experience New Jersey while eating good food.
Atoya: Brunch at Brownstone Pancake Factory in Edgewater, a warm day walking in the city, and a movie at Ipic theater in Fort Lee.
NJF: What are your top vacation spots?
Nate: Oh, Costa Rica number one. I love Costa Rica. Anywhere in the Caribbean really, Turks and Caicos would be at the top of that list as well. Then I’d pick a couple of Canadian spots, Toronto and Vancouver.
Atoya: Maldives, Dubai, Costa Rica
NJF: What’s your guilty pleasure?
Nate: It comes in two forms. I love sweets. You cannot send me to the store without me coming back with a bag full of Halloween candy, and I’m talking about in January or February. I love sweets. Then also TV. I love movies. I’m just a movie guy. I love just sitting back and watching movies over and over and over again until I know all the words. Those are my two guilty pleasures and if you give me them both at the same time, I’m in heaven.
Atoya: Working out so that I can eat what I want. For example, warm, soft milk chocolate chip cookies or a Chai Tea Latte with Oat Milk from Starbucks with toasted banana nut bread.
NJF: What song are you listening to on repeat?
Atoya: I am really into podcasts more right now, but Adele’s new album is amazing per usual.
NJF: What’s the last great book you read?
Atoya: The Spanx Story by Sara Blakely
Nate: I have a book right now that I’m reading. It was a recommendation by my brother and it’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. I’m currently thumbing through this one and it’s just a practical guide to freedom and as we become adults, we get locked down by so many different things, so many different ideas. When you’re working sometimes you can feel like you are a prisoner to your job.
For me I’m constantly trying to find ways to tap into the freedom because when I feel free that’s when I’m at my most creative and when I’m my most creative, I am my most productive. As we know productivity equals money. Freedom equals creativity, creativity equals productivity, productivity equals money.
NJF: What concert do you want to go to now that live music is back?
Atoya: Beyonce when she drops her new album! Let’s go Bey! I’m waiting–wink wink!
Nate: I love Jay-Z’s PSA. The first thing that comes out of his mouth in that song was the first verse where he says, “Allow me to reintroduce myself. My name is Hov.” The reason I love that is because I feel like every day, every job, everywhere you go, it’s an opportunity for you to re-introduce yourself. We get caught up in being one person because somebody throws a title over our head.
I try to encourage my kids to, “Re-introduce yourself on a daily basis.” It could be academically, you just got to get better. Better grades. It could be in sports, how are you reintroducing yourself to your team? To your coaches? Because if you have a starting position and you want to keep it, you have to continue to show up and show out on a daily basis. If you’re trying to earn a spot, if you’re trying to earn a raise, if you’re trying to get a new job, you have to re-introduce yourself to the bosses or the execs.
Those words are powerful to me. It’s a public announcement, and if we remind ourselves to continually re-introduce ourselves to the world, the world will reward us.
NJF: Advice you give your kids?
Atoya: Always try your best, speak your truth, pray and stay humble.
NJF: Do you believe in resolutions and do you make them?
Atoya: I believe in vision boards. Anyone can make a resolution but if you don’t have a vision, a plan and goals it is just words with no actionable plan behind it.
NJF: We asked you about some of your social media rules with Mia and we just wanted to also ask how you make sure you’re raising confident and poised kids?
Nate: Starting with all my kids, Nate at the top. He is my namesake and he is an incredible young man along with Nehemiah, so my two boys, I want to make sure I raise these young men just to have some integrity, some respect for women, some respect for hard work and appreciation, even though it’s hard when they live a privileged lifestyle. I love hearing that these guys are nice and they love to help people.
Like when I meet their teachers or their coaches that stands out to me and my daughter, the same thing. She is a bright light and every time I see her, I smile. This world wouldn’t be the same without her. She is me in female form.
If people think that I’m cool on TV, just wait until Mia gets her shot, because she is going to put me to shame. That is the movie star in the house and she can do it all. She has a book of songs that she’s written, she writes stories, she can paint and draw. She has a big imagination, everything, literally everything I was as a kid. Looking at her is like looking at mini-me.
Then lastly, my wife. She is the most intelligent, passionate, focused person that I’ve ever been around. She keeps the train on the tracks. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Without her, I don’t think the world would know this version of Nate Burleson. They say, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I think that’s a lie. I believe, “Behind every great man is his shadow. Next to every great man is a great woman.” Occasionally, she’s going to have to take the lead if you trust her and I trust that woman with everything that I have inside me.