Yes, His Dad’s Famous But John David Washington Does Things His Way

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Written by Ann Brown

His dad, Denzel, has received three Golden Globes, a Tony and two Academy awards. Needless to say, the actor is a force unto himself. So imagine growing up in his shadow? It would be hard to overcome his successes. This is what Denzel’s son, John David Washington, found.

But he also found a way to outshine his dad on a different front. Washington, who is the star of HBO’s “Ballers” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” is a former Morehouse star running back and NFL player who does things his own way.

“Washington’s master plan was not football. Football was the escape. He fell in love with acting when he was 5 years old. He was watching his father pace as he was running through lines from ‘Richard III’ for a Shakespeare in the Park performance,” Undefeated reported. It was then that the younger Washington, now 34, knew he too wanted to act. But football intervened along the way.

Washington, who is the oldest of Denzel and Pauletta Washington’s four children, found football–and it was a way not to be “Denzel’s son.”

“Football was a move away from his famous lineage. No one would compare him to his father on the football field. Denzel Washington’s stint as a college athlete is rarely talked about — the Oscar-winning actor played two years for Fordham’s basketball team before deciding that he was a player and not, well, a player. But his son was a baller. At Morehouse. And good at it. And on the field, no one would be able to say he got there because of nepotism,” Undefeated reported.

John David Washington
** FILE ** St. Louis Rams running back John David Washington heads to practice at summer training camp in St. Louis, in this Thursday, July 27, 2006 file photo. Washington, the son of actor Denzel Washington, is scheduled to play for Hamburg Sea Devils in this seasons NFL Europe campaign. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

Washington lettered in football, basketball, and track while in high school. Then, at Morehouse, he set a school record his senior year with 1,198 yards, for an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns.

“He went undrafted in the 2006 NFL draft but signed with the St. Louis Rams as an undrafted free agent, and, after being released four months later, he re-signed with their practice squad,” Undefeated reported. Still, Washington could not get away from his dad’s fame.

“But … even when I made it with the Rams, it was ‘Denzel’s son makes the Rams!’ I knew then that this was going to follow me the rest of my days. I might as well get into the business.” But he was fearful of transition. “I didn’t know how,” he said. “I just kept making excuses.” But he hung in there with the sport and excelled.

Hollywood came knocking. When Washington decided to make a real go at this Hollywood thing, he slid in under the radar. “All intentional, of course. He wanted people to see him and not his famous, highly decorated lineage. He wanted people to see the 5-year-old version of himself, all grown up with some life lessons behind him, walking in his own purpose and holding his own alongside tested actors,”  Undefeated reported.

John David Washington
Actor John David Washington, from left, director Spike Lee, and Adam Driver pose for photographers during a photo call for the film ‘BlacKkKlansman’ at the 71st international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP)

After a friend encouraged him to audition, Washington landed on HBO’s “Ballers” with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a former NFL star-turned-financial manager for NFL athletes.

Now, he’s starring in Jordan Peele’s and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.”

“To be able to work and collaborate with the great Spike Lee and Jordan Peele? Those are squad goals right there,” Washington said. “I couldn’t believe it happened. … I know my culture’s history. I went to a historically black college. I learned a lot of things … but this one, for some reason I never heard of until now, this role frightened me. And that’s a good thing.”