The CW's 'All American' Was Inspired by a True All-American

Jacqueline Gualtieri - Author

Feb. 16 2021, Updated 3:08 p.m. ET

Spencer Paysinger
Source: GETTY

The story of All American, CW's hit series, is one that is truly American. It's the story of a young football player who works hard for his team —so hard that another coach notices and recruits him for his own team. But the move would mean going from where he grew up to a place where no one looks like him or grew up like him. Despite his skill, he's an outcast because of his background and he has to work ten times harder to prove himself. 

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It's a story about overcoming adversity that takes a deep, hard look at privilege, racism, and the wealth gap. It takes a look at a reality that exists for many Americans. So just who is the show All American inspired by?

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Source: THE CW
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Who is the show All American inspired by?

Spencer James doesn't really exist. But he is based off of a real person. Like Spencer James, Spencer Paysinger grew up in South Central and played for a South Central high school football team. A coach from Beverly Hills saw him play and recruited him for his own team. And like All American's Spencer, he didn't want to go. 

Spencer told ESPN, "I did not want to go to Beverly Hills. I wanted to be with my closest friends. But my parents were not having it." Ultimately, his parents got the deciding vote and Spencer was sent to play for Beverly Hills. 

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Spencer recalls that when he walked into Beverly Hills High School, it was "absolutely a culture shock." While it took some time for him to adjust, he eventually started to look at it as an opportunity and wanted to take advantage of it. But, back home, his transition to Beverly Hills was causing a strain on his friendships.

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"In South Central, it definitely affected friendships," he said, but the strain wasn't only back home. Beverly Hills came with "their own set of stereotypes." 

Spencer credits football as being the reason he was able to adjust. Playing for the Beverly Hills team helped him "assimilate himself and build up friendships."

Source: GETTY
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When asked about what he felt his story and All American are about, Spencer said, "it's about a kid diving into a whole new world, while still feeling an obligation to show respect to the world he comes from." 

After Spencer left Beverly Hills High School, he went to play for the Oregon Ducks at the University of Oregon. He then got drafted to play professional football as a linebacker for the New York GiantsMiami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Carolina Panthers until he retired in 2017.

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Source: GETTY

What's Spencer Paysinger doing today?

Spencer actually helped bring the show to air and has remained a big part of the production. In an interview with the Paley Center for Media, executive produce April Blair said that she knew from the get-go that it was important for Spencer to be a part of telling his story for the CW.

"He's the heart of the show," April said. 

Spencer is listed as an executive consultant throughout the show, as well as a co-producer for three episodes at the end of Season 1. He is also currently involved in the production of the 2020 football documentary, Concussed: The American Dream, which will dig deep into head trauma and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in sports. 

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