Marquette King's on-field antics and eccentric social media game might raise eyebrows, but the Raiders punter is unapologetically living his life his way
By Ali Bhanpuri | Published June 22, 2017
Illustration by Albert Lee
Marquette King surveys a slew of items sitting in a patch of dry park grass. With a wily smile, he takes stock of the burgers, donuts, piñatas, beach balls and roses that have been collected as part of a video shoot for NFL.com, knowing that within minutes, all will feel the full force of his right foot. But when his eyes lock in on a multi-colored birthday cake, they narrow, exposing a rare moment for the league's most extemporaneous player. He's got a plan.
It's Derek Carr's birthday, you see, and what better way for the Oakland Raiders punter to celebrate his Pro Bowl quarterback than to crush a frosting-covered baked good as far as he can? With perfect form, pointed toe and all, King connects with the cake, sending a resounding thud throughout the open field. There's cake everywhere: on his shoes, his shirt, even in his hair.
But before bits of cake have a chance to bake into the arid Arizona landscape, King's focus abruptly shifts toward a group of middle-school kids playing soccer at the opposite end of the park. He hollers to get their attention, then unleashes an NFL-caliber punt toward them. Arms flailing, they hurry to track the ball. As it hurls toward the earth, self-preservation kicks in, sending the kids scurrying like ants in rain. King hustles over to them and strikes up a conversation.
The viral birthday wish has been viewed more than one million times on social media and on TV since that late-March afternoon, building on the existing narrative that Marquette King is an off-the-wall oddball -- a narrative he doesn't actively push, but one he doesn't challenge, either. While the interaction with the kids, which ends with a group picture and an autographed football (his personal ball, which he'd broken in and practiced with), is of the type that's common in King's everyday life, it's also one people probably won't find on Instagram and Twitter.
"If I'm making choices, I don't look too far ahead. I just make decisions based off of that time," King says. "Sometimes I'll work a couple days ahead. But, I mean, tomorrow's not promised. Why would you take it too serious? Life ain't meant to be serious all the time."
The 28-year-old from Macon, Georgia, operates as if he doesn't have a care in the world. And when you break it down, why would he? He's in the second year of a five-year, $16.5 million extension, which has already paid him about $8 million. He's one of the best in the world at his profession. He owns a multi-bedroom home atop a hill in Arizona, with an unobstructed balcony view of downtown Phoenix, because he likes the area's "vibe" and because "nobody would've expected me to be out here." And when he's not driving his year-old Cadillac Escalade, he can walk anonymously down the street without fear of being mobbed by fans.
"The funny thing about it, I forget that I even got money," says King, who owns numerous superhero outfits but barely any furniture. "I mean, I look at it like, as long as I've got enough to get food and to cover my head, I'm chilling."
But while he tries to live his life care-free, he doesn't go about things carelessly. When presented with a chocolate milkshake as the next prop to launch during the punting shoot, the normally joyous and down-for-anything King tightens up, concerned that a dog playing in the park later that day could get sick from accidentally consuming the chocolate residue.
These brief moments of normalcy and charity rarely appear on his Twitter or Instagram handles. King says he prefers to keep the altruistic things he does "low key" (last year, for example, he spent a Monday bundling groceries together and distributing them to homeless people in Oakland) because he feels like good deeds don't require special recognition. Instead, King opts to share pictures of himself dressed as the Green Power Ranger or as the protagonist from "Assassin's Creed."
"I've always had friends that were real good at creating an environment, and I kind of learned from watching them," King says. "There was one homeboy that I had, everywhere he went, if you got around him, you felt like it was going to be a party. And I was like -- I was kind of shy when I was back in college -- I kinda like how he is. I need that. When people come around me, I want people to feel like there's finna be a party somewhere."
I'm like a free-range chicken -- I just do whatever. Marquette King
At a time when the likes of Facebook and Twitter have granted fans unparalleled access to the lives of their favorite athletes, creating the need for well-vetted posts and finely crafted messaging, King's social media presence doesn't involve much coordination or planning -- unless it's during the NFL season, when he says he consciously stops posting "silly stuff" by Thursdays. So, sometimes he wants to play the piano at a Vegas hotel. Other times, he wants to take a step-back fadeaway in a parking lot.
He says he doesn't care if his eccentricities negatively affect possible sponsorship and marketing opportunities.
"I'm like a free-range chicken -- I just do whatever," says King, who launched his Kick Squad clothing brand (which is described on its website as a "unique fraternity" and "lifestyle") in May. … I remember some people like at my school (Fort Valley State), [saying], 'Man, I'm trying to get to this league, I gotta get to the league. I'm doing this and this so I can make it to the league. ...'
"I ain't really worried about trying to press so hard about getting this or that done. I'm just living within my boundaries and just minding my own business."
Although most of King's social media posts depict harmless random moments in his daily life, some have thrust him into tricky situations and have had unintended consequences, with opponents, teammates and even reality TV stars. His 270,000 followers on Instagram (which is about 100,000 more than Brad Wing, the next-closest active NFL punter) are comprised of people who cherish his uniqueness and those who think his bizarre behavior is unbecoming of a football player -- particularly a punter. King understands that his personality isn't for everyone, but he refuses to restrain himself just to meet other people's expectations of who he should be.
"I figured this out a little bit earlier in my career: People are going to think what they're going to think. And you can't change it. Even when somebody says something that doesn't make sense. Especially on social media."
While some of the negativity directed toward King is merely the result of clashing personalities, some of the vitriol he receives from fans may be because of his race. As the only black punter in the NFL, King says he's learned to ignore people who want to judge him because of the color of his skin.
"It ain't like I could've came out the womb choosing what color I am," he says. "I mean, you just are what you are. ... Honestly, I think a little bit before [the 2016] season started, I got to the mindset where I don't even care anymore."
"As long as I'm doing positive stuff, I ain't hurting nobody, I ain't beating up nobody, I ain't killing nobody, [then] I'm just living right, man."
King often acts on a whim, but there's nothing arbitrary to his approach to life. Whether he's striking up casual conversations with shoppers at a supermarket or breaking out into a dance in the middle of the street, the costume-wearing punter's whimsical nature is fueled by an it could all be gone tomorrow outlook.
"Why should I not let my personality show? Why should I hold back who I am? That's why I do the stuff that I do. That's what I've been doing. So, why should I hold that back? It's just part of who I am."
His choice to reject a polished off-field persona differs from many of his professional peers, as does his approach to how he plays on the field. The eclectic punter has become notorious for his in-game antics -- dancing after successful punts or jokingly spiking an official's yellow flag -- which, at times, have drawn 15-yard penalties and the consternation of coach Jack Del Rio. His lean, muscular build looks more aptly suited for someone running routes across the middle than someone paid to punt the ball into small spaces. And unlike most specialists, who rely on repetition and routine to keep their kicks consistent, King balks at the idea of following the same rituals each time.
"Everybody's older, a lot of people got families -- wife, kids. I don't have a wife or kids. I got a chihuahua. You feel me? Marquette King
"I try not to get in a routine, because you get into the same routine too much, then maybe when you do something that's a little off, you're off," King says. "Especially if you're a punter or kicker. Punters and kickers can get real superstitious."
But the reality for King is that while he's uncompromising in how he chooses to live (both on and off the field), he isn't immune to the external forces -- mainly people who want to be around him or associate with him because of his NFL status -- that could wreak havoc on his career, despite being, as he puts it, "just a punter."
"It's funny, because I've been in situations where nobody knows who I am, and the way they talk to me is just kinda different. And then, all of a sudden, somebody who's with me or that knows me, they're like, 'Oh, bro -- you don't know who you're talking to, that's so-and-so from the Raiders, the punter.' 'Oh, bro -- I'm sorry, man. Come on in -- you're good.' I'm like, all right, let me remember this face right here.
"It's awesome -- you get a chance to see who people really are sometimes. It's funny how people put some people on a pedestal. Nobody should be put on a pedestal. Just because you might do something that I don't do. You might do something, say, job-wise, that's big time. But that doesn't mean I put you any higher or any lower than what I am. Just treat people the same."
The difficulty in identifying who to trust is one of the reasons he keeps a tight inner circle, consisting mainly of family members. He says he has some Raiders teammates who he's "pretty cool with," but admits differences in age and life stages serve as a bit of a barrier when it comes to forming real lasting friendships.
"Everybody's older, a lot of people got families -- wife, kids. I don't have a wife or kids. I got a Chihuahua. You feel me?"
The key for King at this moment in his life is to remove distractions and to keep things simple. He says his sole priorities right now are to be the best punter he can be and to do what he can to help the Raiders win -- clichés you fully expect to hear from a player. But touring his house, it was evident that he's created an environment for himself that complements his ambitions. The empty dining room and unfurnished bedrooms fit the minimalist mindset that affords him the luxury to be himself -- free of unnecessary attachments or responsibilities that could clutter his focus. He can't be bothered with dining room tables any more than he can people who try to bring negativity into his life.
"You know what, this is how I look at it," King says, "the people that choose to rock with me, they're gonna rock with me. If they don't, I can just move on. It's that easy. ... They ain't gotta respond, they ain't gotta give a comment or an opinion. If you choose to rock with me, rock with me. If you don't, then go about your business."