Editor’s Note: We are excited to present a Let the People Speak interview with pro baller and pro blogger Wayne Washington. Washington has had a very full basketball life, donning jerseys for junior colleges, D-III programs, and semi-professional teams all across the United States. He’s also become one of the game’s most respected muses, having spun words for a number of websites including FreeDarko and his own website, Wayne Washington Hoops. Wayne’s been in the news since Grantland and ESPN’s Bill Simmons made insensitive comments about Wayne’s dreadlocks, and Wayne took him to task on his blog. This interview is intended to give a better idea about Wayne’s past, motivations as a baller and blogger, and larger goals moving forward.
Share a bit about your basketball journey. How long have you been playing? Where have you played?
I was raised in Woodbridge, VA. I was what you’d call a late bloomer physically considering I grew from 5’1″ to 6′ in a span of 3 years during high school. I was never able to get involved with AAU and only played in some rec leagues growing up. I didn’t play Varsity until Junior year in high school and wasn’t really recruited, so I went to Junior College at Frederick Community College and played in the competitive Maryland JUCO conference. There I played both guard spots and continued to improve my game daily.
Afterwards I transferred to Shenandoah University for my last two years. I was a starter at the shooting guard position and continued to improve my skills without real guidance. I had some great games but for several reasons I wasn’t able to “shine”.
As soon as college was over I knew if I wanted to become a professional I would have to be a point guard. The transition was easy with a lil hard work considering I played point in high school and at Frederick. I’ve played with two local semi-pro teams in the EBA and ACPBL. One team wasn’t a good fit and another team folded. I was able to blog about those experiences for FreeDarko.
Later in the summer of 2011 I even made my animated debut in a comic strip.
Last summer 2012, I was one of the Sprite Slam Dunk Winners at the Washington D.C. stop.
Over the last year I have attended training camps and summer free agent camps in an effort to earn a contract or meet a decent agent. I was in talks with a club in Germany last season but that deal fell through.
Pretty much I’m attempting to do whatever it takes to achieve my goals.
Which players do you emulate? How do you think you set yourself apart?
Growing up in Virginia I was always an Allen Iverson fan. As a began to learn the game more and improve my skillset I emulated Kobe and Gilbert Arenas. I was drawn to their love for the game, their competitive drive and overall approach to improving.
I mainly try to pick-up different moves or shots from different players and add them to my game. I’d say I’m more like Mega Man than anybody else.
What sets me apart from the crowd is my work ethic and hunger. Put most guys in my shoes and they would’ve quit by now. How far I’ve got with such limited resources is an accomplishment in itself. I believe in myself and I’ve improved every season. I’m willing to play in any country, on any team, and give 100% effort to improve myself and the team on a daily basis.
Another way I’ve set myself apart is I’m a tech-savvy person with a knack for networking. I’ve used both these qualities to open doors some players would never be able to. Creating my website and using social media are tools I’ve taken advantage of.
When did you start growing your dreads? (they’re nice, by the way)
I first went to get my hair twisted in the fall of 2007 and sadly I decided to cut them in July of this year. They were almost 6 years old. Rest In Peace.
Why do you think Simmons said what he said about your hair?
That’s a difficult question because I don’t know Bill Simmons the man. We only know what we see on ESPN and Grantland. I would be in the wrong if I tried to pinpoint what exactly was going through his head or what ‘s in his heart.
I think he wanted to be “funny” but I also believe there’s part of him that believes dreadlocks in general are “stinky”. Even if his only intent was humor, why was he willing to compromise another person or style different from his for the sake of a cheap laugh. To whom much is given, much is required. If Bill wants to be the head of his own network and have over 2 million followers on twitter then he should be more careful.
How did you feel when you had to cut them off? (I cried when I cut mine off in 2005.)
I felt as though America forced my hand. I realized I wasn’t in a position of power to employ myself and look however I choose without consequence. It began to really bother me that I could be well-groomed, dressed in a nice suit, but my dreadlocks were still a problem for some people. People in power set the rules of the game and it’s simple as that. Do I agree with the rules? No. Will I continue to push for change ? Yes I will. But as much as I loved my dreads I wasn’t willing to limit my opportunities in life because of a hairstyle.
P.S. I loved my dreads and I actually still have them in a bag.
Who has the role of checking Simmons? Jalen Rose? His producers? Nike?
Bill Simmons is the head of his own sports/entertainment network. Who’s going to check him at Grantland? During the video Jalen attempted to check him several times.
ESPN has put him in time-out a couple times but they love him. I believe we the audience have that role. With the power of social media and influence of blogs our voices can be heard. If you can tweet about Breaking Bad all day then you can voice your opinions on important issues also.
If you stand up for what you believe then who will? I do wonder how many people seen this video before it was uploaded and either felt the comments were ok or failed to speak up.
When did you know you had to write the letter?
I first came across the video around 1:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. After getting over the initial shock of being featured on the video, I watched the video a few more times. Then as I shared the video with some friends and family they brought up his comments each time. I wasn’t angry or embarrassed. I was just disappointed in Bill and felt the need to speak out.
Also, I knew there were probably plenty of other people who probably felt the same way I did.
I will admit I strategically waited until Monday to post because weekend news doesn’t last. Can you blame me?
Had you made the final 16, do you think you still would have written the piece?
Great question. After writing the letter, I figured some readers would simply think I was salty or bitter about not being selected. I wasn’t at all. I am under the impression that the selection committee was Nike, Kevin Durant, and James Harden. I could be wrong but I doubt Simmons or Rose had any input.
My answer is Yes. Yeah I would have still wrote the letter. I meant what I said and those feelings were genuine. I honestly believe it needed to be addressed.
Do you have fears that speaking out — both in this particular case, and on your blog in general — will affect your playing career?
To be honest I don’t care at this point. I started from nothing and I’m going to tell my story. I know what I should and shouldn’t post online because certain things are better kept to myself.
At the end of the day, I believe my blog would open far more doors than close. If a person has an issue with me expressing myself and connecting with the world in a professional, respectful manner then that’s on them.
My initial goal was to raise awareness and acceptance of natural hairstyles like dreads. I feel like we as minorities especially black people are forced to conform beyond reasonable limits to be successful. Dreads are not a pink Mohawk. Dreads are not face tattoos. Dreads are not extreme piercings. Sadly I’ve seen some comments that actually compared dreadlocks to these unnatural styles of expression.
I wanted to debunk any myths or stereotypes that have been associated with dreadlocks. Our hair doesn’t stink. Our hair is different. Our hair should be accepted in any setting and the person should be judged on their character.
Hopefully a hiring manager or individual who runs their own business will read my letter and realize that dreads shouldn’t be a death sentence at an interview. Especially well-groomed ones like I had.
Second, I would actually like a response from Bill Simmons. I didn’t write about him. I wrote to him. The ball is in his court to make things right.
Lastly, with all the attention the letter has garnered, I would like to remind people to continue to root for the underdog. Actually don’t just root, support the underdog. Every successful person was given a chance at some point. There are talented people that come from unconventional situations who fell through the cracks. There’s an attitude in modern day America that all the talent has been found. That thought process is slowly creating a caste system where talented individuals are never given a chance because of where they come from.
Maybe this situation has opened a door for me. It could be a basketball opportunity or a gig writing. Who knows? If anybody reading is interested in reaching out I’m a free agent!