Anatomy of an Era: Riley Washington, Part 2
Excerpted from Chapter 99, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Riley Washington, Part 2
RW: Aaron Davis… I was hanging out with him one night during two-a-days and he had a girlfriend here in town. Anyway, we went to her mother’s house and it must have been about 9 or 9:30 in the evening. And we go there and it kind of threw me off, because we’re these black guys going into a white neighborhood and I’m used to thinking, ‘Okay, how are we gonna find our way out of here if we get into something,’ you know?
So anyway, here we are, two black kids who go knocking on someone’s front door at about 9:30 at night, and her mom opens the door and goes, “Aaron! Hi!” and she gives him some big old hug. And I’m going, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here? (laughs) What’s going on here?’ They hugged me, too, and invited me into the house. Aaron and the girl didn’t last but a week or two, but that didn’t matter. (laughs) That was a big shock for me, a very big shock for me.
And then there was the fact that I went to Amigos. Now, I’m from San Diego and if I wanna go to some Aliberto’s or some street corner Mexican food shop I can get a burrito. I’ve been eating burritos since I was knee-high to a grasshopper; that’s what we did. In high school after games or after practices I’d have a carne asada burrito; it’s what we did.
So I get here and I’m like, ‘Man, I haven’t had a carne asada burrito in a while.’ So I go in there -and I’m not being prejudiced, per se, but I had some expectations- and I go to the counter and there’s a white guy and he says, “Welcome to Amigos.” And then I look past him into the back kitchen and I don’t see any Hispanics in the kitchen… anywhere! (laughs) And I look up at the menu and I’m going, ‘I don’t see carne asada burrito, no rolled tacos, no chimichangas.’ I don’t see anything like that and I’m going, ‘Hmmmmmm?’ (perplexed) So I just said, ‘Why don’t you give me a carne asada burrito with guacamole and cheese.’ And they said, “What?” I said, ‘A carne asada burrito with guacamole and cheese,’ and they said, “What’s that?” (laughs) I said, ‘It’s a burrito with carne asada-type steak. And it’s on a grill. And you mix it up with peppers and stuff like that, and guacamole made from avocados, and then some cheese in a tortilla.’ And he said, “We don’t have stuff like that here. We have crisp meat?” (laughs) I said, ‘What is this?!’ Oh man, I was so hurt.
Q: (laughing) When I first arrived out here in San Diego I found out what real Mexican food was, Riley. I can empathize with your frustration. It’s hard to beat a good ol’ carne asada burrito…
RW: Paul, I was hurt. I felt really homesick when I had that experience: ‘This is wrong. I could have stayed in California and went to UCLA and I could have my burritos and I’d be fine.’ (laughs) ‘But no, I’m in Nebraska. In the Midwest.’ But then I recall -in about 2002, 2003- I recall starting to see more Hispanics. And I knew that it was just a matter of time before we had a taco spot pop up, and we have some good ones now: Carne asada burritos like I like them.
Q: Wow, you’ve arrived. (laugh) Patience and perseverance pays, huh?
RW: I’ve survived. (laughs) And I never swam at the beach, so I didn’t miss that. (laughs)
Q: Let me touch on something: You went through what could be termed ‘legal hell’ there for a while, right?
RW: (pause) Yeah, for a while.
Q: Well, the reason I bring it up is, someone told me that one of their great bonding experiences was when the Lincolnites gang followed one of the guys back to the dorms and there was a huge brawl out in the parking lot, where that freshman class literally laid the smack down on this gang. And some of the guys said that even Coach Osborne told them beforehand, “Listen, don’t go here and don’t go there, because you’re bound to get into trouble running into these guys.” Now, the trouble you ran into had to deal with some of those same people, right?
RW: Yeah, it did. It dealt directly with those guys. And when I arrived on campus there I’d heard of times where they had to deal with those knuckleheads, and I’d heard stories of guys in previous classes having to deal with the Lincolnites the first week and getting into fights.
Lincolnites were basically bitch-slapping us around, you know? And our mentality coming in in 1992 was, “We’re gonna be here for four years and this is gonna be our home. So how are you gonna tell us that this is our home when there are places we can and can’t go?” So that was our mentality. We would be wanting to go to a club downtown where they told us not to go and we were like, “Well, that’s where we’re going.” To a house party, to a club? “So what, we’re going.” That was our mentality.
And in the dorms, too. I remember when that happened our freshman year. They followed one of our buddies from the team home, and after knocking on the doors and getting all of our teammates -about 15 or 20 of us out in the parking lot- and before they knew it they were surrounded. ”Well, you know, you messed up now. Okay?”
And you might say right or wrong? To this day I say we were right, now. To this day. Because right there we let them know, “Listen, man, we don’t want no problems. But if you’re going to bring them to our door we’re going to take care of it.”
Q: Amen, Riley. That’s a very honest perspective, drawing a line in the sand…
RW: So once that happened, things escalated on a couple different occasions. But only because they knew that we weren’t going to take that no more: “You can’t come and slap us around. That may have happened with some earlier classes at Nebraska, but that ain’t going to happen with us. We don’t want any problems, but you aren’t going to slap us around.” And that was our mentality with all of that.
Q: Kind of like my dad used to say, “Never start a fight. But if you get into one…finish it”?
RW: Finish it. Right. ”We don’t come to the party with a plan, now, we just came to the party to hang out just like you guys are doing. We don’t step on no toes, we don’t push nobody around, we’re just hanging out.” And then they’d get all upset because the girls are talking to us and you’re thinking it’s because we’re football players. And, ”When you get jealous and you say something crazy, do something crazy…. well, then that’s because of your actions.”
Q: I can understand your line of thinking: You can’t control their thoughts, you can only react to their actions.
RW: A lot of that stuff boiled down to that, even though it never came out like that in the papers. A lot of that stuff was happening because of incidents and stuff like that.
Q: That never got reported?
RW: That’s right. And it was usually something like that where they were there and we were there, and nine times out of ten there was a girl involved. And you had 18 year old, nineteen year old guys with hormones raging and girls are involved. So they’d get upset because girls they knew growing up don’t want to talk to them now. ”It’s not our fault!”
Q: I understand. It came down to jealousy and envy, perhaps?
RW: You know, the main point was: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” You know what I mean? “Don’t be mad at us because the girls don’t like you guys anymore and they want to hang with us and come to our house parties.” So they’d get mad at us. And that made no sense. So they’d come start fights with us. That’s what it boiled down to. Truthfully, that’s what it boiled down to.
Q: Were you a junior when you got into that mess of hot water?
Q: So what was the deal? Somebody shot somebody else outside of a convenience store and then someone said you had something to do with it… but it was a complete fabrication, an all-out lie?
RW: Yeah, one of the guys that was involved with the situation, we had problems in the past… and we had gotten into it earlier that night. But I was moving in with my wife that night.
I was moving in with my wife -coincidentally, it was up the street from my apartment- so I was moving, and it was my birthday. So I’m tired from moving all day long and we were hanging out like kids and partying and drinking and whatever. And so, we go back to the old house to get some more things and then to the store. Well, a fight breaks out, some guy takes off running and I hear shots fired. We all take off running.
And I guess one of these guys said –(a guy) that was there, who I got into it (with) earlier that night- said it was me. And it pretty much went on from there. From that point on I felt like, ‘Had it been anybody else, it wouldn’t have gone on as far as it did.’
Q: Sure, you just happened to be…
RW: Playing football and for Nebraska. And I’m from California, and my previous history. All that stuff, I guess they felt I was the guy they were going to bind and, “Stop these football players from getting away with stuff.” That’s the mentality. So if you go out there and hire a special prosecutor, you know, a special prosecutor? Well, why? A lot of effort to try to put me in jail.
Q: Was that prior to your junior season?
RW: It was August of ’95. I was already here. That was my senior year, because I graduated in August of ’96.
Q: So you didn’t get to play much that ’95 season then?
RW: I missed the first two or three games.
Q: And obviously, coaches are staying in touch with your mom, because she’s probably freaking out…
RW: Oh yeah. You know, the media all twisted it when it came out. And the report, when it got back to my mom, was that I robbed a convenience store and shot the clerk and killed him, so she’s all wondering what’s going on.
And I was -my name wasn’t a big name, but I had a pretty decent-sized name in San Diego- so people knew me. And the media would go to our house and bang on the door and try to get an interview. And it was kind of nightmarish for her because she hadn’t yet talked to me or anyone close to the situation to get an idea of what was going on. She was getting reports that I’d robbed a convenience store. So Mom, going through her head was, ”Why the hell would he do something stupid like that?” And, “Is he okay?”
Q: You eventually were vindicated, right? Cleared of it all?
RW: Yeah, there was a small write-up in the paper about it.
Q: Right. Page four or something like that?
RW: Yeah, page four, bottom right hand corner, next to an ad for Alpo dog food or something. Something real small.
Q: So as a result of that, what effect has that had on you? Has that strengthened your will, your resolve? Has it beaten you down somehow? How has it affected you?
RW: Well, it gave me a lot of insight, a lot of insight about people: things like human nature, character, people you can trust and people you can’t trust, how people would change from one day to the next. It changed my outlook as a whole, because people I thought I could trust, I couldn’t.
Q: As a result of that, who were the people you found that you could trust? Who cemented those bonds of friendship?
RW: I would have to say my wife. Again, as a kid I didn’t really realize and reflect and think about it until later years.
Q: Did you feel like any coaches or teammates let you down?
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RW: Yeah. Like the papers. And the biggest person who let me down was Coach Osborne.
Q: Really? Now, that’s funny you say that, because in my recollection he was really backing you. Obviously you were as close to the situation as anybody could ever be and you feel it really wasn’t that way?
RW: Well, the reason I say that is because… you know -to me? looking back?- he was definitely fighting for me. I won’t say that he wasn’t, but the reason why he was fighting for me wasn’t the reason I thought it was. I don’t think he was fighting for me because he was concerned about Riley Washington, (pause) but because he was concerned about the program.
Because -through the players- it was told to me that we would have a press conference when it was all said and done, you know? To let everybody know what was going on.
Q: You were expecting some kind of victory celebration, so to speak?
Q: And it kind of went out with a whimper instead of a bang?
RW: Right. Do you ever recall that happening?
Q: No, I don’t. Such a whimper. All I remember is someone saying, “Hey, Riley was cleared,” you know?
RW: Because there wasn’t (a press conference).
Q: Because at that time I think everybody was just so “Let’s just get this over with. We know this is such B.S.” You know?
RW: Yeah, but it never ended up happening, you know? Imagine no one knowing, because if you didn’t read the paper you don’t know.
And here it is: I’m graduated now, I didn’t play my last year -I had one year to play and I didn’t play- my mind was just in so many different places then. I didn’t have anybody saying, “Come on, man. Hey, let’s sit down and let’s talk about things.” I didn’t have that. No one came to me like that. I think if I would have gotten that, looking back now? I wonder why Coach Brown or somebody didn’t say, “Hey man, let’s go for a ride or talk about this”?
Q: So to this day you feel like you were left hanging?
RW: Yeah. Like I was just booted out. Coach Osborne called me and asked me if I was going to play my last year. And I said, “No.” And that was the conversation. I’d already graduated -because that was my main goal, to graduate- and now I’m looking for a job and can’t even get a job at a gas station, because everybody thought that I was going to jail or was close to going to jail. So no one would hire me.
Q: What was your major, Riley?
Q: What did you envision yourself doing for a career?
RW: I didn’t have a vision at that point. I didn’t even have a vision, I really didn’t. Like I said earlier, I had already planned on going to college but I had no plans for what I’d be doing after it.
Q: Sure. Just whatever happens, happens?
RW: Right. I never had any plans on playing in the NFL. Not one dream. I just never thought about it.
Q: And you ran track, too, didn’t you?
RW: Yeah, I ran track, too. My ultimate goal was to run in the Olympics. That was my dream.
Q: If I recall, it was the Big 8 Indoor track season and you came over to run in a race… and all of a sudden you were the Big 8 Indoor Title holder.
RW: Well, no. They actually tried to recruit me, too. On my football recruiting trip I actually went over to the track office and saw the track program, too. They knew about me and that I ran track and that I was pretty talented in that area. I was kind of interested with indoor season, because football was my main priority, obviously. So we would have winter conditioning, and then I would leave winter conditioning and go over to the Devaney to do starts for track. And then the next day I’d run the track meet.
A lot of those guys really didn’t like me too much at first, because here they’re busting their tails, so to speak, getting ready for the track meet, and this guy comes out here and does a couple starts one day and then he wins the track meet the next. They didn’t know what I was doing for football, though. (laughs)
Q: They didn’t know that you’d likely done the Metabolic Power Circuit the day before!
RW: (laughs) Right! They didn’t do that! They didn’t have to do anything like that. (laughs)
Q: Puke buckets scattered everywhere…
RW: Right. They didn’t understand that part.(laughing)
To be continued….
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