Ronnie Green – all-American sprinter, Marine Corps officer, multimillion-dollar salesman and professional fisherman – is using his hit TV show to address racial inequality.
Usually, fish stories are seen as too outlandish to be real. But fishing and stories are two of the most real things on Earth to Ronnie Green.
Fishing is a skill he's maintained from childhood through elite collegiate athletics, the U.S. Marine Corps, the corporate world and now a career as a professional angler.
And stories? His life has provided him a wealth of pretty peculiar tales to tell.
A family affair
Green grew up in San Antonio in an exceptionally close, and unusually large, family. In addition to his two brothers and two sisters, he had a dozen aunts and uncles, just on his mother's side, so he was the second-oldest of 54 grandchildren.
To hear him tell it, Green enjoyed something of an idyllic childhood, waking up early to fish and chase rabbits with his siblings, enjoying the freedom to do as they pleased so long as they were home before the street lights came on.
When Green was 5 years old, his father, pastor Ralph Green Sr., began taking him fishing as a way for them to spend time together.
"Fishing wasn't his deal, he wasn't an incredible fisherman, so to speak, but the quality time, you could never erase," Green said. "He gave me enough skill sets to graduate to fish with my great-grandmother, and, yes, I did say graduate, because you had to have the right skill sets to fish with my great-grandmother.
"She was an old-school, very spiritual, religious woman. She would have a dress on, and it would be below her knees. She was stoic in normal environments around the family, but when you got her out fishing, you heard stories. All families have some deep dark secrets that nobody wants to talk about, and she would tell me all those kinds of things when we were out on the water. So, 'A Fishing Story' was born right there, with me sitting next to my great-grandmother, fishing."
On the right track
Fishing wasn't the only athletic activity Green enjoyed. He started college at Eastern New Mexico University on a football scholarship, intending to play wide receiver and slot back and run track.
"I wanted to be the dual-sport person because track was a big deal to me, but football was as well," Green explained. "Football was my first love; I'd played it since I was little."
But when Eastern New Mexico University suddenly canceled its track program so soon after his arrival that he hadn't even used any of his eligibility, Green wasn't sure what to do. In his spare time, he was volunteering to coach youth athletes in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). As it so happened, the AAU had a track meet soon with an open division, and the kids Green coached encouraged him to go for it.
"I decided I was going to enter," he said. "I thought, 'I'm not in shape, I'll just give it a shot. It's 100 meters, what can I lose?' I ended up beating some of the top sprinters for Texas Tech."
After the race, Texas Tech's assistant track coach Abe Brown approached him and asked if he would be interested in switching schools.
"I accepted an opportunity with Texas Tech, and the rest is history," Green laughed.
A race against time
He arrived and began competing for Texas Tech in 1987. Primarily a 100- and 200-meter sprinter, Green was an all-American on the university's 1,600-meter relay team in 1989. He even qualified for the Olympic trials.
There was only one thing Green enjoyed more than track.
"I'll never forget, when I was in Eugene, Oregon, at the NCAA championships," Green recalled, "I found a creek and then I found a fly-fishing rod from a friend. After I ran my preliminary race – I still had on my warm-up gear – I went over to that creek and did some fly-fishing. I kept an eye on my watch, and I made it back an hour before my next race to make sure I could warm up adequately. I smelled like fish, but that's how much I love it."
Corky Oglesby, the late track and field coach, said he'd been looking for Green and asked where he'd been.
"'Oh, I was warming up, just getting ready for the day,'" Green recalled telling him. "So I had a secret fishing addiction that nobody knew about."
Having a fishing addiction might sound like a problem, particularly in West Texas, but Green made it work.
"There's not a lot of water a lot of places, but a lot of city parks had water," he said. "West Texas is known for a lot of dirt and flat land, but it does have some water, and if there's water to be found, even if it's in a bathtub, I'll probably find it."
A change of plans
Green was studying physical education and planning to become a teacher, influenced by the role a few particular teachers had in his life.
"I feel like, in my DNA, I'm organically a teacher; I love to instruct and inspire," Green said. "It's one thing to be a teacher, but another thing to inspire people – I think that's the best teaching you can do, because people can see you and then they want to emulate what you do, and I feel like that's a part of leadership."
But life had other plans. Green's parents divorced; he got married. In 1989, his son, Ryan, was born at Lubbock General Hospital – what is today known as University Medical Center.
Facing graduation, with a family to support, Green decided on a different path. During the summer of 1990, he spent 13 weeks going through boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. The following year, he was a reservist and, upon graduating with his bachelor's degree in physical education in May 1991, he instead headed for Officer Candidate School.
"You can't just sign up as an officer in the Marine Corps," he said. "You have to go through a very rigorous process to be there, so I was one of the elite who made it through."
In 1992, Green's second child, Joshua, was born. But because Green was stationed halfway across the country, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, he didn't get to meet his new son for six months.
That same year, Green's brother, Rogerick, was drafted to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He made the drive from Florida to North Carolina to visit Green, and they did the natural thing.
"We went fishing," Green said. "We went to this private lake in Onslow County, and, lo and behold, this guy catches the biggest fish in Onslow County, like a 13- or 14-pound bass, and it was on topwater. I was like, 'Really? You're going to come here and do that, and then leave?' But it was incredible, and it kept me and my brother's relationship so solid."
Green advanced to the rank of lieutenant, but in 1995, he was ready for a change. He left the Marine Corps and became a medical device salesman for Abbott Diagnostics, living and working in Oklahoma. That's where his daughter, Lauren – his "princess" – was born in 1999.
He was quite a successful salesman, and in 2001, he began as a sales manager for Quest Diagnostics. But he was working more and more, and his marriage began to suffer. In 2006, he filed for divorce.
He moved to Florida for a job in sales for Baxter Healthcare and was responsible for multimillion-dollar accounts. Then perspective stepped in, in the form of his mother, Juanita Green, whose health had begun to deteriorate.
"On her deathbed, she told me she felt like I was killing myself," Green said. "She said, 'I know what your real passion is. You need to do what you love. Your kids are growing up and going to college and doing their thing, and you've worked hard to give them the opportunities they have. Now it's time for you.'"
Hit with the dissolution of his marriage, his mother's death and a major move all at the same time, Green said he reached a point of questioning how much he could handle.
"I was told God wouldn't put any more on you than you can bear, and apparently I must be a pretty strong person, because He put it all on me," Green said. "I would literally fish every day to deal with the grief of losing my mother unexpectedly, 10- to 12-hour days, even in the middle of the summer, on some of the hottest days, not worrying about my hydration, just thinking."
He finally came to a revelation.
"You can go one of two ways," Green said. "You can go north and use the grief as fuel for your passions and what you want to do in life, or you can go really far south. I chose to do what my mother and father taught me: to find a way to make lemonade out of the lemons you experience in life.
"I'm a firm believer in my faith, and what my faith tells me is that we all have an appointment with death. Whether it's by a car accident, cancer, lightning, whatever the case may be, at the end of the day, that date was decided before you even got here. We all have a day, so you've got to live your best life and put everything on the table, because you just don't know when that day is."
'A Fishing Story'
With that in mind, Green decided to follow his mother's advice.
He went back to school and earned his master's degree in business administration. He fell in love and married his second wife, Yvette. And he stepped out of the sales world, back into his first love: fishing.
With his business knowledge, he became a professional fisherman and launched his own TV show, based on his childhood experiences with his great-grandmother. In October 2015, "A Fishing Story with Ronnie Green" premiered on the World Fishing Network.
"I had an incredible relationship with my mother and my great-grandmother, and that relationship is in the DNA of my show," Green said. "I have just as many women on my show as I do men. That is one way of paying back all the contributions of my upbringing, because when we'd watch fishing shows, my great-grandmother would always say, 'I really wish they would have women on these shows; we fish.'
"My great-grandmother fished for food. Going back even further, her great-grandmother was a slave, and she fished for food to survive. So, at the end of the day, that is a powerful connection that I keep close to me."
Although Green's life has provided him with so many stories people could connect to, his goal wasn't to tell his own stories; he wanted to help other people tell theirs. So on his show, he goes fishing with people who've had tremendous experiences. Entertainers, professional athletes, veterans and everyday people alike share their stories with Green and, ultimately, offer enlightening perspectives.
'The Difficult Discussion'
So when, earlier this year, the killing of George Floyd sparked racial unrest across the country, Green found himself in an opportune position.
"I'm in a fishing industry, and in the fishing industry, sometimes, we don't talk about the difficult things going on around the country," Green said. "And quite honestly, I don't blame a lot of folks. We live in a cancel culture; you can say one word wrong and, literally, your life is turned upside down, even though you may have 9,000 different examples of positivity in your life."
As a Black man in the industry, he found himself being called upon to speak for the industry on a wider scale than he was comfortable with.
"I told them, 'I'm not going to do some of the good things you guys may want me to do – I'm going to do what's in my lane, and my lane is the platform that I have," Green said.
In a two-part special called "The Difficult Discussion," Green shared a candid conversation about race with four other professional fishermen: Mark Daniels Jr. and Brian Latimer, who are Black, and Steve Dial and James Watson, who are white.
"The way we talked about the issues, we framed it based on belief systems," Green said. "Everyone has a belief system, so I wanted to get everyone's perspective as the framework. Then we built it up to the next level, which is narratives. We live by narratives, but unfortunately, they're not always accurate because they are infused with a belief system.
"So we talked, and we got into everything from police officers and what we're seeing with African Americans to political things like Colin Kaepernick. We got into, 'Hey, if you are having a disagreement with an African American, then you're considered a racist' – all of those things nobody wants to talk about."
Green said part of the reason the special worked was that the men are all friends and, as such, they were able to have a respectful discussion.
"I felt like, if you can talk and have an educated conversation, you can have a good dialogue, because that's what most people need to be doing in America right now," Green said. "So I said, 'Let's be the example most people are looking for.'"
"A Fishing Story with Ronnie Green" airs at 9 a.m. CT every Monday on CBS Sports. It's also available on Amazon Prime, Pluto TV, World Fishing Network and Discovery Go. "The Difficult Discussion" will be re-broadcast in the fall, but the date has not yet been set.