John David Washington, Denzel's Son, Making Name for Himself in UFL
"Just so you know, he usually likes to keep the questions about football."
John David Washington doesn't like to talk about his dad; the communications folks with the United Football League made that perfectly clear.
He's his own man. He's doing his own thing. He's a professional football player, rushing for the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions.John David has two first names – but the last name always remains the focus. Washington – as in the son of famed Hollywood actor, Denzel Washington.
"I have always been motivated to make my own name," John David said. "I never wanted to be just, 'Denzel's son.' That always seems to happen. That's part of the motivation."
As a nine-year-old, John David made a cameo as a student in a Harlem classroom in "Malcolm X," a film starring his father. John David laughed about the experience, saying he didn't remember much more than yelling when Spike Lee told the group to yell.
But as a boy, he wasn't interested in playing any role other than football player. His idol was Randall Cunningham, and sports took precedent over anything else.
His identity would be found through football.
"My whole life, people already have this predetermined notion of who I am," John David said. "They think I am a celebrity's kid who wants fame off his dad and to mooch off his father.
"God has blessed me with the avenue of football to be my own man, make my own living. Out there, it's all about your play on the field. They are going to think what they think. When I am on the field, every play is an opportunity to know who I am."
The 26-year-old running back has had plenty of success already, earning a place with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent out of Div. II Morehouse College in Georgia.
Now, he's making his name rushing for the Sacramento Mountain Lions, while his Dad stands on the sidelines for each game. While he's not the featured running back for the team, he has scored touchdowns in each of Sacramento's last two games.
But even as Washington seeks his own identity, there's no denying that his talents will receive unique attention. UFL Touchdowns aren't often highlighted on national TV, but a recent clip of Washington's touchdown scampers found its way on to network television.
Denzel appeared as a guest on The Late Show with David Letterman on Nov. 9, and, along with a video clip of the play, the actor told the tale of how his wife was knocked down as she ran along the sideline of one of her son's touchdown play.
"She loves her son so much, she didn't see this guy coming, all she saw was her baby," Denzel told Letterman.
Watch the play here:
"I had no idea she fell," John David said. "When I scored, I pointed to the sky for my grandparents, celebrated with teammates and then was looking for her – I didn't know she was on the ground. I was looking for her to flip her the ball, but I couldn't find her so I flipped it to my Dad. The video was hard to watch but she popped up no problem."
Washington says his mom has always been involved, traveling to nearly all of his games. She even worked the film camera during his middle school games – though she was fired for getting too intense after he scored touchdowns.
Although Washington tries to separate himself from the shadow of his famed father, he appreciates that he was given a normal childhood and was raised by "humble, hard-working parents." The oldest of four children, he said he never lived the Hollywood lifestyle.
"Listen, it's a blessing," Washington said. "My father is very successful and he is very talented. The guy can act. It's nothing but a blessing. If people respect what he does, I'm all for it."
He shows off his humor, joking that his pops can't act like a ballplayer though and that his dad wouldn't have won as the coach in "Remember the Titans" if it weren't written in the script.
Currently, Washington hopes the script plays out well for his Mountain Lions. The team is awaiting the results of a Friday night game between the Omaha Nighthawks and the Florida Tuskers. If Omaha wins, the Mountain Lions earn a place in the Championship Game in Omaha against the Las Vegas Locomotives.
After that, Washington says he just wants to keep playing – whether it's by resigning with the UFL or opportunities in the NFL.
"I will work for food," Washington said with a laugh. "Whoever wants me to give me an opportunity, I want to play for."
Jimmy Spencer can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jimmypspencer