“The most disappointing thing to me was that I was painted as the bad guy, because I value the way I carry myself,” Strahan, 44, says in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “I don’t want people to see me as ‘Oh, he just ran out, just left them there.’ That’s just not true.”
In April, Strahan announced – rather suddenly – that he’d be leaving Live for the GMA position. Ripa called out of work the next day, and news quickly broke that she hadn’t been given a heads-up about the decision.
A week later, Ripa returned to the long-running show, explaining that after 26 years with ABC she “earned the right” to take some time off to “gather [her] thoughts.”
Strahan’s exit was moved up to May 13, with a source telling PEOPLE at the time that executives apologized to the former NFL star for putting him in a tough position with Ripa, 45.
• Watch full episodes of People Cover Story: Michael Strahan now at People/Entertainment Weekly Network. It’s free! Available on connected and mobile devices or just download the PEN app on your iOS or Android. Watch now at people.com/PEN.Just last week, Disney/ABC Chief Ben Sherwood publicly admitted to The Hollywood Reporter that the network “made some mistakes” in the handling of Strahan’s exit.
Nevertheless, Strahan and Ripa’s relationship was irreparably damaged: “I wasn’t surprised by her reaction at all, but I can’t control somebody else’s actions. I was there four years, and it’s about more than just being in front of the camera.”
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He tells PEOPLE: “At one point I think we were friends. I don’t know what happened at the end. I learned a lot from her, though.”
Strahan was a surprise pick when he replaced Regis Philbin on the show in 2012. During his four-year tenure, he and Ripa won the Daytime Emmy for outstanding entertainment talk show host twice – including in 2016.
“Toward the end of it all, we didn’t really communicate that much,” Strahan says. “I kinda looked at it like, ‘It was what it was.’ I come from a business where you have to collaborate. The show was going well? We’re all winning. That’s all that matters to me.”
• For much more from Michael Strahan – including his family and amazing life story – pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
He adds, further, “On air, all I could do was control myself. In football, New York is the toughest place to play. One day you’re the greatest player they’ve ever seen, then the next game you’re the worst.”
But, with age and experience, Strahan says he learned to brush it off.
“I said, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter what their opinion is. All I know is I’m doing my best, and I’m giving it everything I have,’ ” he shares. “I’ve been in stadiums with 80,000 people calling me all different kinds of things.”
• With LINDSAY KIMBLE