How Former NFL Player Spencer Paysinger Inspired the Show? Is All American Based on a True Story

The series All American draws inspiration from the true story of former NFL player Spencer Paysinger

Published Time: 08.07.2024 - 17:31:10 Modified Time: 08.07.2024 - 17:31:10

The series All American draws inspiration from the true story of former NFL player Spencer Paysinger.

The CW show, which premiered in 2018, follows Spencer James (Daniel Ezra), a star high school football player from South Crenshaw High School who makes a transfer to Beverly Hills High after he’s recruited by the team’s coach, Billy Baker (Taye Diggs).

When Spencer moves in with Billy and his family, he experiences a clash of worlds. As the show unfolds, tensions arise as Spencer grapples with his role at school, in his family and in his community. Although dramatized at times, All American is inspired by the true story of Paysinger, a former New York Giants linebacker turned producer of the show.

Reflecting on the pilot episode on an episode of the In The Zone podcast in May 2023, he explained how creative liberties were taken with the storyline and plot. “That whole experience was so crazy because there are definitely things in the pilot, sometimes they’re word for word how it happened in real life," Paysinger said.

He continued, “There are some moments in the pilot that I wrote, that I changed, so to see those acted on a grand scale like that and then people actually like it was something that completely redefined the goals that I wanted in my life."

Here’s the true story of All American, including who Spencer Paysinger is and how he inspired the show.

Spencer Paysinger is a former NFL player whose life inspired The CW series All American.

Much like the character Spencer from the show, Paysinger grew up in South Los Angeles and attended high school in Beverly Hills. He played football at Beverly Hills High School before he went off to University of Oregon, where he continued participating in the sport and graduated with a degree in economics in 2010.

Afterward, Paysinger was not drafted to the NFL but signed with the New York Giants as a free agent in 2011. He played for the Giants from 2011 to 2014 and helped the team win Super Bowl XLVI during his rookie year. Paysinger eventually joined the Miami Dolphins for two seasons.

In 2017, he was signed by the New York Jets but released before the start of the season. Paysinger went on to end his career with the Carolina Panthers, with whom he played three games before he was released and subsequently retired.

Reflecting on the decision, Paysinger revealed that he was looking forward to exploring different opportunities inspired by his love of movies. "I remember sitting in my locker that day, packing all my stuff, smiling," he told ESPN. "I never wanted football to be my highest peak."

In his retirement, the former linebacker has focused on more creative projects, including producing All American. According to a press release from Northwest Missouri State University, Paysinger was pitching the show's idea in the months leading up to his departure from the field.

All American is loosely based on Paysinger's life, though several aspects of his experiences were changed in the show.

Paysinger told the New England Sports Network in April 2020 that “a lot of the stories are rooted in the truth.” He explained, “Obviously to create a compelling CW show, we have to sort of bend the truth a little bit and take a digression from what originally happened. But for the most part, a lot of the stories do ring true.”

Some notable changes between Paysinger’s real life and All American include his football career. While he transferred to Beverly Hills High School in the show, he was actually enrolled all four years as part of a multicultural program in real life. Other changes included Spencer’s college of choice in the show and a gang-related shooting that almost left him unable to play football, which didn't occur off-screen.

In addition, there has been speculation about which characters in the series are based on real people in Paysinger’s life. He shared that there are a “handful of characters'' who were depicted as “one for one in real life,” while others were an “amalgamation of different people from his past.” However, a particular character was directly inspired by a real figure in his life — Diggs’ character, Billy.

“Billy Baker is loosely based on my uncle Carter Paysinger, who was the head football coach at Beverly Hills High School when I got to Beverly,” Paysinger said. “He was a mentor back then, still to this day, I still look to him for guidance.”

Paysinger said that his uncle, who has been a coach for over three decades, often sent him notes on Diggs’ performance. He explained, “It’s been interesting giving a real life coach’s perspective on Taye Diggs’ coaching.”

Paysinger attributed much of the show's success and the translation of his story to the screen to a “tremendous trust process” with the series’ showrunner, Nkechi Okoro Carroll.

“I talk to her in the writer’s room a lot and give them a trove of stories from my past that I trust for them to go and take and mold them into the stories that you guys see on TV,” he told PIX11 News in March -

2021. “Initially, three years ago, when they were taking those stories and changing them, I was like, ‘Wait, that’s not exactly how it happened.’ But it’s just all part of having that creative license to make a compelling show.”

Paysinger played a role in the creation of All American, and serves as a consulting producer on the series. During an April 2020 interview with the New England Sports Network, he opened up about his passion for film growing up, which inspired him to start writing short stories and ultimately led to the show's inception.

The idea for All American was born in 2015 when Paysinger was introduced to film producer Dane Morck, ESPN reported. At the time, Morck asked Paysinger what it was like growing up in Beverly Hills, to which the NFL player corrected him and shared the story of his life in South L.A. According to Paysinger, he had to deal with violence in his neighborhood while also being surrounded by affluent students at school.

Paysinger eventually got a call from producer Robbie Rogers, who was engaged to TV producer Greg Berlanti at the time. He went on to meet with Warner Bros., and in their second meeting, The CW bought the rights to the show. In 2018, the pilot for All American was shot, and everything changed.

With All American, Paysinger had one main goal: to dispel the stereotypes about the inner city.

"I wanted to tell the story of, 'We're a lot more similar on these different sides of the track than you guys think,' " he explained. "Being from South Central, and knowing how South Central is portrayed in Hollywood as this desolate area with gang violence, drugs, everything — they have to realize that the sun shines there as long as it shines in Beverly Hills.”

He added, “The one thing I want the viewers to see is South Central is also a beautiful place. It's a wonderful place. It's a place that I call home to this day. I think we've been able to do that."

Speaking to CBS News in October 2018 ahead of the show’s premiere, Paysinger shared more details about his involvement with the project.

“I had the luxury of being a consulting producer to go within the writer's room a couple days a week and also to be on set as often as I wanted,” he said. “This is something I've wanted to do since retiring from football so I'm soaking up as much as I can and being there as often as I can.”

In addition to his role as a producer, Paysinger broke out his acting chops and made a cameo in the earlier seasons as an assistant coach to Diggs’ character. He jokingly referred to himself as an “Easter egg in the show” to PIX11 News in March 2021.

“I have fun with it. I’ve had a couple of lines over the last two seasons, but who knows,” he said. “I’m not necessarily getting into acting, now’s been the year of yes for me.”

While Paysinger got a few lines in the show’s second installment, he told the New England News Network in April 2020 that he has been in the background since the first episode of season 1.

“As more people get familiar with it, it’s just been funny being Coach Davis in the background,” he said. “But when we were figuring out who to cast, what to cast, the executive producers, they literally looked to me and my producing partner Dane Morck And said ‘Hey, do you guys want to be the assistant coaches for Taye Diggs at Beverly High?’ ”

Apart from his work on All American, Paysinger has continued his post-NFL life as an entrepreneur, all while helping build and enhance his community.

His bio on The CW shares that he is a co-owner of the cafe Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen, which has several locations around L.A. and he's on the board of the KIPP Public Schools Black and Latinx Leadership Committee. Paysinger also assists with running the investment fund, Afterball LLC, which helps former football players navigate new life ventures after their careers conclude.

As for his personal life, Paysinger married his wife, Blair, in May 2016. The couple are parents to two young children: daughter Cairo and son Madden.

They originally met in high school when Blair was a freshman at Beverly Hills High School, leading some fans to wonder if she inspired Spencer’s love interest on All American.

During a May 2021 appearance on the Black Love aftershow, she mentioned that she didn’t initially remember the moment they first crossed paths, though Paysinger did and said there was a “build up” toward their eventual relationship.

“I was playing on the same football team as her older brother,” he explained. “That summer, everybody was like, ‘Yo, Alex's little sister's coming. She's cute.’ So when I saw her, I was like, ‘That's gotta be Alex's sister.’ And that's why I remember because it was like anticipation of her coming to the school.”

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