The short answer to whether or not All American is based on a true story is yes. All American is inspired by and loosely based around the life of real-life NFL linebacker, Spencer Paysinger, who played football at Beverly Hills High as a teen, as part of Beverly Hills’ multicultural program. Paysinger grew up and originally attended school in South Central LA, before being recruited by the Beverly Hills High coach. Paysinger pitched the concept of All American, and it was picked up by The CW in 2017. The show aired in 2018.
The following contains spoilers for All American.Despite being based on a real-life person and athlete, however, the network does change some things about the story, taking some creative liberties with Paysinger’s life and experiences. The most obvious of which is Paysinger’s name which, in the show, he is Spencer James, played by Daniel Ezra.
Most of the bigger changes in the show are for the sake of entertainment and drama; One difference is that Paysinger actually spent the entirety of his high school career at Beverly Hills, rather than going back briefly to his old school as he did in All American, which was added to show the extent of the differences between the two worlds that Spencer now inhabited. Spencer’s position as wide receiver is also not true; In real life, Spencer Paysinger spent his football career as a linebacker.
Paysinger was also never a victim of a gang-related shooting, something that took place in Season 2 of the show, when Spencer was shot during a surprise shooting. He is rushed to the hospital, where other gang members attempt to finish the job.
One of the biggest differences between All American and Spencer Paysinger’s real life, however, is the fate of Spencer’s father. While in real life Paysinger’s father, Douglas, is alive and well, and also a staunch supporter of Paysinger’s career, in All AmericanSpencer James’ father, Corey (Chad L. Coleman), passes away from a lifelong illness; in the show, Corey was a high school football coach, and he and Spencer had been looking forward to when Corey could finally coach his son on the field. His death is so traumatic that it leads Spencer James to walk away from football and, in Season 3, he returns to his old school.
In real life, Paysinger’s father was both the assistant coach for Beverly Hills High, and later the head coach. Paysinger’s uncle was also a head coach of Beverly Hills High football team for multiple years.
Regarding the changes to his life made in the show, Spencer Paysinger spoke to ESPN about his idea for the show, stating, “We’re a lot more similar on these different sides of the track than you guys think,” and commented on the idea that he did not want to tell a story where, “Spencer went to Beverly and everything was great,” because he felt that it was not only inauthentic, but painted his old high school, South Crenshaw, and neighborhood, South Central, in a bad light. He commented on how South Central was portrayed in the media, noting that Hollywood made it out to be “this desolate area with gang violence, drugs, everything.”
Paysinger’s goal with the show was to not only create a show that, at its heart, was about football and the joy he got from playing, but also about the two different worlds he grew up in and the challenges of living in the sort of limbo between them. The exaggeration and fabrication of certain events in the show help to illustrate the persistence of problems through life, regardless of background and lifestyle.
All American portrays a story filled with class drama and differences, as well as various family affairs, young love, tragic loss, and violence, all of which Spencer contends with while trying to pursue his passion – football. It is a commentary not only on the struggles of high school but also the struggles of everyday life for people in all kinds of situations. It is a coming-of-age story that places its main character in the middle of a series of struggles that nearly everyone can relate to in some shape or form. In the show, there is no ‘better side’ to be on; the affluent neighborhood and school that Spencer ends up going to has just as many problems as the low-income neighborhood he grew up in. Paysinger told ESPN, “Beverly actually exposed me to a whole new set of problems – rich kid problems,” and noted that no matter where one goes, there will always be challenges.
The series also has a spin-off series called All-American: Homecoming starring Geffri Maya as Simone Hicks. The series does not involve Spencer, instead it focuses on a character who is attending a historically black college in Atlanta and is pursuing her dreams of being a pro-tennis player.
For Paysinger, his time playing football in high school was just the beginning. After graduating from high school, Spencer Paysinger attended the University of Oregon, playing for the Ducks football team before eventually making it to the NFL. He started playing with the New York Giants in 2011, and also played for the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Carolina Panthers. In 2017, he retired and opened his own coffee shop, Hilltop Coffee, in LA. He also started an investment fund called Afterball LLC, helping NFL players whose careers have suddenly ended.
Paysinger is a consulting producer on All Americanand also has a minor role as an assistant coach at Beverly Hills High.