On this episode of Jon’s PostLife Crisis, I interview Maya Washington: creator, producer, director, and person extraordinaire who made the film “Through The Banks Of the Red Cedar,” which will be shown on the Big Ten Network on November 10th at 7:00 PM central.
The film is about her father, Gene Washington, who played for the Michigan State Spartans from 1964-1966, and then was drafted into the NFL by the Minnesota Vikings.
Gene Washington was born and raised in a small town, La Porte, Texas, near Houston. His high school was segregated. He could not even attend a college in Texas or in the South because of racism.
Michigan State’s coach, Duffy Daugherty, had a recruiting network for black athletes across the South. He contacted Bubba Smith, who recommended he grab Gene Washington. Smith, Washington, George Webster, and Clinton Jones were all drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft with Smith going #1, Jones #2, Webster #5, and Washington #8.
Why is this important?
It’s relevant to NOW as our nation deals with racial inequality. It’s important to know where we came from and where we’re going. And it’s kind of a shame that Duffy Daugherty doesn’t get much credit, as he should, for the racial integration of college football.
Maya and I talk about:
- Her father’s culture shock in moving to East Lansing, Michigan, from Texas.
- The famous 1966 Spartan team that tied Notre Dame 10-10
- How Duffy Daugherty is largely forgotten as a coach, despite that he had 20 black players on his roster YEARS BEFORE PAUL BEAR BRYANT AT ALABAMA so stop giving so much credit to the 1970 USC-Alabama game
- The revisionist history myth that Bryant sent players to Daugherty (if you want to read more about this, read Forty four Underground Railroad legacy facts by Tom Shanahan, whose book “Raye of Light” is mentioned in the interview)
- Why it took her a decade to make the film
- What it was like doing a film with her father
- Her reflections on name, image, likeness, and that she had to license footage of her father but her father will never see a dime of that money
WATCH THE FILM ON BTN
Big Ten Network on November 10th at 7:00 PM central.
There will be a quiz! (Not really, but it could be fun..... )
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About the Transcript
Keep in mind that the following is a transcript. I use a service that automates the first draft. As much as “artificial intelligence” is included in the description of every bit of technology these days, it’s clear that computers understanding human speech is more artificial than intelligent. The transcript has been edited to take out human speech bites, you know, um, okay, uh, but it’s not been edited to be an “article”.
Jon Johnston: Welcome to Jon’s PostLife Crisis. I am your host, Jon Johnston, founder, manager of CornNation.com, your Nebraska Cornhuskers site of massive anticipation as we get ready to play North-Western. There is something else massive going on today, not going to bring that up right now.
Jon Johnston: We are talking with filmmaker Maya Washington. Maya’s film “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar” will be showing on Big Ten Network on November 10th, 2020 at 7 p.m. Central since we’re working in God’s time. The film is about her father, Gene Washington, who played wide receiver for the Spartans from 1964 to 1966. He was drafted eighth in the 1967 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings and went on to play from 67-72 for the Vikings and then his final year in the league in 73 for the Denver Broncos. Is that a fair introduction to through the banks of the Red Cedar or I really have kind of missed the point of the film and you need to tell us about that.
Maya Washington: Sure. Well thank you. Thank you for having me. You did pretty good with the bio. I mean that’s impressive. You did your homework. But the film’s premise really is, we go back into history and learn about how my dad was recruited from the segregated South to play for Duffy Daugherty in 1963. At the time we know our country was very different, maybe not quite as different as we think it was when we compare it to kind of the issues we’re dealing with now. But in that time, my dad could not attend any of the public universities in the South that were only for white people.
Maya Washington: So a lot of those Southern conferences that dominate the national cycle at the end of the season every year, those were not in play in the same way because there were no African-American players allowed at those institutions.
Maya Washington: So my dad had an opportunity to go to Michigan State under Duffy Daugherty, alongside a handful of other very talented African-American men from the South, as well as different parts of the US to play for Duffy Daugherty, they won back to back Big Ten titles. They were named national champions two years in a row. And as you mentioned, my dad was drafted to the NFL alongside three other African-Americans from Michigan State. So a lot of really important history happened during that time. I was not born. I wasn’t alive during my dad’s football career.
Maya Washington: He also had a pretty stellar track career. And all of those things happened before I was born. And so in 2011, when Bubba Smith passed away, I first heard about this unique history of Duffy Daugherty and what is referred to now as the Underground Railroad of college football that my dad was recruited in a really unique, important social experiment that ultimately led to the demographics that we see out on the field today. So through the film, I kind of go back in his history. It’s a father daughter story. So we strengthened our bond as I get to know more about him and his history.
Maya Washington: But that, in a nutshell, is the very complex, layered trajectory of Through The Banks Of The Red Cedar.
Jon Johnston: So let’s start with - your father was born near Houston, Texas, correct?
Maya Washington: Correct. Yeah, a really small town called La Porte, Texas, just outside of Houston. Very rural Gulf, adjacent town, right on the water.
Jon Johnston: How did he get from there to East Lansing, Michigan, and my understanding is he got actually recruited on a track scholarship first and then played football, also describe how that even happened.
Maya Washington: So in La Porte at the time, as I said, it was completely segregated, so he went to an all black high school. He actually had to be bussed because he wasn’t permitted to go to the high school in his own neighborhood. That was just blocks away from his house because he was black. So he was bussed to a school where he met my mom.
Maya Washington: So his big, cheeky joke is, hey, something came out of segregation and that was my mom and him. And I guess I have to agree, because I wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t met each other as ninth graders who were bussed to the same school.
Maya Washington: But at that time, the black schools could only play high school athletics with other black schools. So one hundred miles away, there was this really amazing big kid whose dad was a coach at Charlton Pollard High School in Beaumont, Texas. And that big kid was Bubba Smith, who people who were around in the 60s and 70s remember him as this powerhouse. 230 pounds. I’m going to exaggerate.
Maya Washington: So he was like seven feet tall. He wasn’t.
Maya Washington: But this giant of a guy who was from a football family and his dad was the football coach in Beaumont, Texas, and his name was Willie Ray Smith. And so Willie Ray Smith had been part of Duffy’s effort to get to know black coaches in the South in hopes that he could help them develop players that might be a good fit for Michigan State and refer them. So my dad and Bubba Smith were actually opponents in baseball, basketball, and football. And when the time came that Duffy and his scouts were saying, hey, are there any other players down here to actually look at. The Smith family kindly said, you know, there’s a young man named Eugene Washington over there in La Porte, Texas. I think you should talk to him, and the Smiths, Bubba, and Coach Smith said to my dad, we’re going to put a good word in for you because Bubba was being heavily recruited. Everybody wanted Bubba. And fortunately for my dad, they made good on that, put in a good word. And Duffy Daugherty recruited him sight unseen. Really, they didn’t have the the reels and tape and, and things that kind of people start putting together with their five year olds. Now, he had to just go on Bubba Smith’s word and coach Willie Ray Smith’s word. And luckily, they made room for my dad on the track team for a track scholarship, but they had no idea that he would become an NCAA champion and that he would end up holding records to this day in the Big Ten and the NCAA and do that while he was playing football at the same time. So. I was inspired to make the film really because to hear that story about the Smith family and to learn it in 2011 when Bubba Smith passed away, it was too late. It was there wasn’t an opportunity for me to thank him for the impact that he had on my dad’s life and ultimately my own life.
Maya Washington: So I pretty much spent the last forever of my life saying thank you to Bubba Smith through this film.
Maya Washington: And it’s been a real beautiful journey.
Jon Johnston: So going from way south in Texas to East Lansing. I want you to talk about the culture shock, but I live in Minnesota and I know that, I’ve lived in Texas. And this the weather shock by itself is enough to knock you over on your keister. But your father had to tell you some stories about the culture shock of moving to East Lansing. Could you share a couple of those?
Maya Washington: Yeah, well, my dad grew up in a completely segregated environment. So going into the front door of a retail establishment, eating in a restaurant, going to a hotel, let alone having your academic life be in an environment where you have white teachers and white classmates. I can’t even imagine when you say culture shock, what that would have been like for him to go from one extreme to what must have felt like another extreme, even though now I’m a Midwesterner, too.
Maya Washington: So I grew up in Minnesota and ended up at USC for college. But for my dad, I mean, everything was the first. The first time he got on an airplane, the first time he arrives in East Lansing and a white coach picks him up and drives him in a car, sits in a restaurant with coaches. Orders from a menu for the first time. He’d never seen a menu before.
Maya Washington: All of these things that we take for granted now in 2020 as every day occurrences to just go about your life and be able to purchase the things that you need to purchase when you do your grocery shopping or to go on vacations or just all of those things that we take for granted today were not available to my dad and other black citizens in much of America.
Maya Washington: And when he got to Michigan State, he really kind of had to find his sea legs and navigate the space and learn the new rules, but do it while achieving academically and killing it in track and field and killing it in football.
Maya Washington: And really as a freshman trying to make sure they understood they made the right choice on him and the others. And so for a lot of the black players, there was only one option and it was winning, being noticed and working their tails off to make sure they made that varsity squad, that they would become starters and that they would ultimately make the contributions on the field that they did make. But everything was new for them and really hard to navigate. Ernie Pasteur talks about the first time it snowed.
Maya Washington: A lot of the brothers were like, I don’t know about this. Like, this is a really hard time. All this all this way away from my family.
Maya Washington: It’s cold. It’s completely different culturally.
Maya Washington: But they really band together and would give each other pep talks. So if someone was feeling down or out of sorts, that the others would come and be like, you got this, you can do this, we’re going to, we’re going to help you. And they really did help each other academically, help each other emotionally, as well as obviously in supporting each other on the field. But they have a pretty incredible bond. All of these men, the ones who have passed away, like Bubba Smith, George Webster, Charlie Thornhill, Maurice Haynes, a number of them have passed away. But those who are still with us, they continue to this day to have really beautiful, strong bonds with one another. And that extends to their white teammates, as well as the Pacific Islanders who were also recruited out of Hawaii, which was something that definitely Daugherty was doing at the time. So they really did face a lot of adversity adjusting to a new reality, but they had a great support system and one another.
Jon Johnston: Duffy Daugherty is important to Nebraskans listening to this because he was the guy that recommended Bob Devaney as Nebraska’s next head football coach and as Husker fans, we all know where that goes. We’re going to not go into Nebraska football because this isn’t about Nebraska football. This is about this great story that Maya is telling us and her film. Duffy Daugherty, let’s talk about him for a bit. He is the only coach and put it in context of the times. He is the only coach that had a recruiting network in the South for black players. He is the only coach that if I remember correctly, his roster had 20 black players.
Jon Johnston: There were black players on other rosters, but they never were more than four or five at a time. Tell us a bit what you learned about Duffy Daughtery. What kind of person he was and why did he do this? What was his motivation? He just wanted to win. He was a winner, right?
Maya Washington: Yeah. Yes, that emphatically.
Maya Washington: Yes. I think he saw a window of opportunity that other coaches in the South and even others in the Big Ten just really weren’t taking advantage of. So the climate, though, to sort of explain how and why he was able to do this, his son, Dave Dougherty, who has now passed away, but it appears in the film, expressed that his dad really believed in what Martin Luther King was preaching. That the values of their family as an Irish Catholic family who had had their own experiences of discrimination in America, who just really had connections to other black people in his formative years when he was coming of age, that that was a true value that he had. He also had in a university president, John Hannah, who happened to be on the Civil Rights Commission for the United States of America while he was president at Michigan State. So you’ve got a university president who is up to his ears in understanding the civil rights reality around the country because he was tasked with overseeing a lot of the investigation that was going on that led to major civil rights legislation, a lot of their findings and things that they published in 1963 and later about the state of civil rights in the nation and the experience of African-Americans in the nation really had an impact on on the laws that eventually changed.
Maya Washington: But to have that be like your boss, you have a big human athletic director, and then you have the president of the university who has these values.
Maya Washington: And uniquely for Duffy Daugherty is he had started the coach of the year clinics. So it was this network of coaches all over the country, even professional coaches. When I talked to Bud Grant a few years ago, he shared with me that he had gone to one of these clinics. Bud Grant, my dad’s Vikings coach, had actually gone to a Duffy Daugherty clinic. And and like I feel like he said it was like in Fargo, Minnesota, or somewhere up north. And because Duffy Daugherty sort of had this network and relationships with other college coaches, high school coaches, he sort of had a foothold on ways to get into places and spaces because of those relationships.
Maya Washington: So because of those coaching clinics in the South, if there were black football coaches, they couldn’t be taught or be given clinics in the same room as the white coaches.
Maya Washington: So Duffy Daugherty would go out of his way to create these sort of separate experiences that black coaches could participate in, and also went so far as to bring some of them up to Michigan State to spend some time with him and the team and to get pointers on how to condition players and and how to actually cultivate the kind of talent that he wanted.
Maya Washington: So it’s a kind of a complex answer, because I think, of course, if you aren’t someone who wants to be on the right side of history or you’re not someone who believes in racial equality, you’re not likely to go out of your way, even if you think it might give you an edge. If you fundamentally believe that African-Americans are inferior, you’re not going to bother to recruit in the South. So clearly, he believed that these players deserved an equal opportunity.
Maya Washington: He believed that not only were they equal to white players, but in fact, in some ways in the athletic world, they might actually have an edge if he were to recruit the best of that talent in the south. So that’s kind of my take on it, that it was the right thing to do. But it sure didn’t hurt that it brought Michigan State quite a bit of public attention and really put them on top for a significant period of time.
Jon Johnston: What impact do you think Duffey Daugherty had on sports and I want to put this in context with the 1970 USC - Alabama game in which USC came in and beat Alabama, and it’s largely credited with starting the integration of college sports.
Jon Johnston: And Duffy Daugherty is kind of off over here. I would say 90 percent of college football fans don’t know who he is. In fact, I read an article or a book and there was a quote in it that said that the 1970 USC-Alabama game did more for the integration of college sports than Martin Luther King, which I thought, what the hell like. You know, the Alabama people, they try to consume everything. They try to take credit for everything. There was even a thing about the fact that Paul Bear Bryant sent players to Duffy Doherty and all of that is just B.S. Hit the Alabama people. Were you okay? Maybe not, but you know what I mean. Tell me about what do you think the impact was?
Maya Washington: I mean, you know, and what’s so funny about it, just so you know that I’m not biased.
Maya Washington: I’m a Trojan, okay? I went to USC and so this Sam Bam Cunningham story is my, you know, is my shared history as a as a Trojan as well.
Maya Washington: But you’re absolutely correct. Bear Bryant and a lot of his homies in the South were late, like very, very late to the party.
Maya Washington: Brown versus the Board of Education ruling decades late to the party.
Maya Washington: And so, you know, I was surprised, though, to be fair, that I didn’t hear about these stories or this history until 2011 when Bubba Smith passed away from my dad and his teammates. And I think even Duffey Daugherty, they were just living their lives. So it was one of those things that they were a part of connected to in some way, shape, or form.
Maya Washington: But I don’t think any of them thought 50 years from now we’re going to tell everybody what we did because we’re amazing and we’re going to do more for the sport and the African-Americans than Martin Luther King ever did.
Maya Washington: I don’t think that was their mindset or how how they were thinking about what they were doing. I think they just took for granted that they were doing something historical. And so you’re absolutely right. I mean, Duffey Daugherty had been and Michigan State had seen African-American players making significant contributions as early as the mid to late, late forties. And throughout the sixties, there were incredible black men who preceded my dad and his team. Their team is just sort of the one that gets a lot of shine because they went to the Rose Bowl and they were a part of that historic 10-10 tie, the infamous 10-10 tie with Notre Dame. These games were televised, but certainly Alabama and other institutions in the South were just dragging their feet. Integration had been the law of the land federally for a significant amount of time. Southern schools put black students, not even just athletes, through hell, just to enroll, just to enroll in classes. They, they were taunted, riots broke out. Those types of things happen at schools like Ole Miss. So it is really exciting to be able to put that sort of Alabama game, USC game in context, it’s still significant, it’s still relevant and important and okay, you know, like it’s a good thing that Alabama eventually integrated. But I think if you’re a true sports historian or a true sort of buff and you love to kind of know these facts and this information is just an important designation to make, to understand that a lot of institutions were making great strides and Alabama was really one of one of the last to get there. If you think about it, in 1970, my dad was playing in the NFL at that time. So that tells you our country was still segregated in 1970 when my dad was playing on an integrated Minnesota Vikings team.
Maya Washington: Another myth that you kind of brought out is that Bear Bryant is recommending players, one that has been debunked in a book called Raye of Light by Tom Shanahan that he wrote with Jimmy Raye, who was starting quarterback at Michigan State, very significant contribution that there was this myth that Charlie Thornhill, who’s from Roanoke, Virginia. At Michigan State, they called him Maddog Charlie. That he was somehow recommended by Bear Bryant in exchange for Joe Namath, that Duffy said Joe Namath couldn’t get into Michigan State academically, so they did some kind of swap or had some kind of conversation. And it’s really fascinating if you check out this book, Raye of Light by Tom Shanahan, that kind of he did his homework and he found the reporter in Roanoke who actually recommended Charlie Thornhill to Vince Care a lot at Michigan State. Bear Bryant. Yes, crossed paths with Charlie Thornhill, but was just a speaker at an awards ceremony where Charlie Thornhill got an award. He had already committed to Michigan State by that time. So it is really exciting to finally give some credit where credit is due, but also to kind of put these fun stories that we have about people’s heroes from the South just in their proper context. It doesn’t take anything away from Sam Cunningham or that game or the fact that Alabama got it together and they are in a very different place now in terms of a black player numbers. But I’m just really excited that people are hearing these stories for the first time. And I hope it doesn’t take another 50 years for people to become better versed in the reality of the desegregation of college football.
Jon Johnston: Should we talk for a bit about the 1966 team, or should we veer off into you making a film?
Maya Washington: I’m just excited to be here, so I’m happy to talk about whichever of those things that you’d like to talk about.
Jon Johnston: The 1966 Michigan State Spartan team is the team that’s famous for playing Notre Dame to a 10-10 tie and Ara Parseghian was the coach at Notre Dame and was forever held in poor light because he played for a tie. Notre Dame ended up national champions by the AP and coaches polls. Michigan State with a record of 9-0-1, that one tie ended up number two. And then, of course, Alabama claims that year as one of their national titles, because that’s what they do. We’ll stay away from them. That 1966 team had Bubba Smith, Clint Jones, Jean Washington, and your father George Webster on it, correct?
Maya Washington: Correct.
Jon Johnston: That those four players went in the top eight players in the NFL draft. That’s never been accomplished since. Tell us anything you can fill in there that I didn’t just spew.
Maya Washington: That 66 season was profoundly important because it was my dad’s senior year. In January of 1966, they lost to UCLA by two points in the Rose Bowl after also having a great undefeated season. Just really had also kind of beat up on UCLA or at least showed up earlier that season. So when they went to the Rose Bowl and lost by like two yards, just yards short of the goal line, they were on a mission. So going into that ‘66 season, they knew they had everything to prove. They knew that they needed to defend their being named national champions the year prior. And so they were hard core, serious that this is it. This is our final season as Spartan football players from my dad and others who are seniors that year. And you’ve got in that game of the century that 10-10 tie against Notre Dame.
Maya Washington: You have this being televised and the numbers that that game put up, sort of rivaled maybe the Super Bowl at that time. There were people all over the country watching this. It also was broadcast in naval bases and different military bases around the country.
Maya Washington: It was seen in places like Hawaii. And so these are some big, big stakes.
Jon Johnston: We take for granted now.
Maya Washington: Yeah. And so my grandfather was able to come up for the game, which is a big deal. Community members in La Porte, Texas, pooled their money together so that he could come and see my dad play college football for the first time. You have a starting quarterback in Jimmy Raye who is out there on the field, you have all of these black starters on the field.
Maya Washington: And so for people around the country, you just haven’t seen anything like this. And that game was televised in color. So you see, if you ever Google that game because there’s clips and stuff like that online that you can find. You see their brown skin is poking through. You know, you can see that on an actual television.
Maya Washington: So to have those numbers on Michigan State’s team and Notre Dame, of course, had Alan Page, who eventually was at the Vikings with my dad, is a really beautiful and amazing human being and a good long time family friend. But he’s one black player on the Notre Dame team. And then you’ve got Michigan State with so many black players, you’ve got a black quarterback. And they were hardcore, serious. And so that game really defined their senior year and to this day lives in history because one of my dad’s teammates, Pat Gallinagh, always jokes like, who was the 1970 national champion, who was the 1985. Most people, unless you’re like very, very serious and sincere like you. So you might be one of those people who can answer all of those questions. But when people are asked who were national champions in 1966 people will remember, oh it was Michigan State and Notre Dame because of that game. So they went out on a tie. So it wasn’t a loss. And Alan Page said, you know, they were tired, they were beat up, but they were disappointed. They didn’t win, but they were glad they didn’t lose. And the Spartans felt the same way. The way the Spartans tell it was very frustrating because they felt at the start of the final minutes of the game that Ara Parseghian chose to run out the clock and not really sort of duke it out to the end. So the players were frustrated.
Maya Washington: Duffy has said some colorful things about it, but I won’t recall because it’s one of those things that doesn’t hold up to 2020. But it was OK, I guess, for him to say at that time his remarks and sort of how it felt to have a tie, you know, to not get the win.
Maya Washington: But I think that was just a really powerful and important turning point for the program at Michigan State. Obviously, it it launched my dad and George Webster and Clinton Jones and Bubba Smith into their next phase of life as professional football players and really served as the space that really changed everything for my dad and sort of put him on a really great path for life.
Jon Johnston: So let’s go back to the film. This took you a decade to make. Why so long?
Maya Washington: Well, people weren’t as enthusiastic about talking about race and sports in 2012 as they are now, and I don’t know how enthusiastic people are now, but our country has really changed and people’s willingness to face reality, to face the truth of our history and things are shifting now, but at the time, so Bubba Smith passed away in 2011, I started the process of researching and really taking it seriously and thinking, you know, I’m going to develop a film around this.
Maya Washington: So 2012, I got my first grant. 2013, we kind of officially went into production and I sort of launched a major crowdfunding campaign. At that time, I had approached sports networks. I had approached the university. I had approached the Vikings organization. And anyone who would listen to me and applied for I don’t know how many filmmaker grants and it was a slow, slow, slow process of getting the resources together to tell the story, to get the moral support, which thank goodness I did sort of glean from Michigan State University, from the Vikings organization. But ultimately, it took that long because I am a small, brown woman who dared to make a football movie.
Maya Washington: And frankly, this is my take on it. I can’t speak for the people I encountered in 2012, 13, 14, 15, 16 who are in a position to make a phone call or to do something but didn’t. But what did happen is we connected with thousands of people all over the United States and not just Spartan’s, people from sort of every walk of life, if you will.
Maya Washington: Every team represented by people who said this story needs to be told this is important or people who lived through it and remembered it and who were frustrated with the conversations that were happening in America in 2016, 2017, about racial justice, inclusion, the state of of education and making sure that diversity is still of value in the US. So this film took forever because no one got on board when they could have. But human beings who are on the right side of history who said, I love Gene Washington. I loved the Vikings, I love Michigan State. I really think this is an important story. I believe in that little brown girl telling the football movie. So I’m going to go and send my five dollars, my ten dollars. Some people sent five thousand dollars and I worked my tail off.
Maya Washington: And a lot of people who contributed to this film as fellow filmmakers, right down to editors, people who did color correction, the music composition, so many people said, you know what, I’m going to I’m going to get in here. This is important. I’m going to help with this.
Maya Washington: And so for us to finally get to a major sports network like the Big Ten Network this fall, we’re going to be on November 10, people are finally able to see this film. So it came out in 2018 at the Detroit Free Press Film Festival.
Maya Washington: And after that, we toured a variety of film festivals, have been at colleges and universities throughout the country. So imagine Iowa State welcomed us with open arms. Arizona State University, USC, a number of institutions outside of the Big Ten were like, come here, come share this film with us. We want to see this film. We want to talk about these issues. We want to build panels and discussions around these issues. So it was very clear to me that while the entertainment platforms weren’t quite on board or weren’t maybe ready for a story like this, or they saw it as too much of a risk or a gamble or had other priorities, our grassroots community is why this film has been as successful as it has been. And ultimately, I believe part of the reason it’s going to be on Big Ten Network next week, it’s the people have spoken. And if you would have told me in 2011, then I’m going to spend nearly nine years of my life getting this film to a television platform. I never would have believed you. I don’t even know what I would have done or thought, which is good, because I didn’t know it was going to take this long.
Maya Washington: I really naively thought that other people agreed with me that this was a film that needed to be seen and that making it would be a worthwhile endeavor. But I’m so glad that it took the route that it took because I have been in and very impressed, very humbled by the outpouring of support that I’ve received over the years from people who really care, who really care about justice, who really care about celebrating history and not being afraid of it and learning from it. So, yeah, it would have been nice if it had been a normal kind of three or four year journey, and that would have been long enough. But nine years.
Maya Washington: Bubba Smith, I feel his spirit. I feel his support that he gave to my family so long ago by recommending my dad for that opportunity at Michigan State. And I still feel him supporting this process, this project. And I’m so grateful that finally more people will be able to see and experience this film.
Jon Johnston: I remember a comment by Whoopie Goldberg of all people, when she finally became famous people, she said, congratulated her on finally making it and her comment was, I have gotten here sooner if you had taken your foot off my head.
Jon Johnston: So, you’re a persevering person. I would say that you got that from your father. But let’s talk about your father. What was it like making a film with your father?
Maya Washington: So that was, I think, among the very many father daughter lessons in ways that we grew closer because, again, I didn’t expect that I would be funding this whole thing myself. I mean, to have this project completely funded out of my own pocket from crowd funding individual donors, like I said, who gave everything from five dollars to five thousand dollars, foundation grants, state grants. It was really, really difficult. And when I first approached my dad and said, hey, I’m going to make this film, he was sort of like, OK, why? Because he really sees his contribution at Michigan State and the Vikings as a team effort, that any accolade he’s ever received is the direct result of the cohesion of teammates. As a wide receiver, if you don’t have a quarterback that gets the ball to you, if you don’t have a defensive line that can help you get to the end zone. It’s not a sport where it’s about being a superstar or sort of taking all of those accolades for yourself. So he was quite skittish at first. I don’t know if this is a good idea. It’s a team sport. And so he was open to hearing my perspective as someone who never heard this history and felt that way. Yes, you’re amazing, Dad, and you did some amazing things as an athlete, it’s really these issues in your team that are super important. And so he was on board. But I know as a father, it was hard to see me struggle like I did, and to see me, to be worried about me.
Maya Washington: Maya, are you getting enough sleep? Are you what are you doing? But I think as an artist, because I’m also an actor, I grew up dancing, had a career as a musical theater actor. And, you know, he’s always been supportive, but it’s a completely other world for him in the way that football is a complete otherworld for me. So to take on a project that requires us to find a way to actually work together for him to sort of not be forced, because that’s not you know, it’s not like I forced him. But for him to have to sit down with me literally with a camera in his face and tell me about his life. And then for me to learn about him in that manner and then for him to sort of watch me duke it out and and experience challenges as a woman, in this process, in a field that is dominated by men and try to tell a story that people, frankly, were very ignorant about. They didn’t even know the history. And if they did know the history, they didn’t have the imagination or creativity or innovation to understand how it was important. Today, early feedback that I had gotten about the film through us, through an intermediary. So I can’t say that this came directly from the sports network because I wasn’t in the room. But the feedback that I got from the person who had brought the project to the attention of a sports network was that. Yeah, yeah, you know, Duffey Daugherty, he didn’t really get his due, but yeah, we just don’t think people would be interested in something that happened 50 years ago.
Jon Johnston: Wow, that’s kind of. Dismissive, I guess, is the word, isn’t it?
Maya Washington: Yeah, and that’s kind of what I was up against, so making a film with my dad and sort of encountering some of the challenges. Right. Some of that attitude or point of view that felt dismissive while we’re cultivating the parts, are excavating the parts of his life, where he was dismissed, where his talent was overlooked, where he and other black athletes like him were undervalued and under resourced, there are many African-American men who grew up alongside my dad in all kinds of parts of the South who were as talented and there might have even been some who were more talented, who just didn’t have an opportunity.
Maya Washington: And when we see that now, right, because the sport is integrated, so we see all this amazing powerhouse football talent coming out of Texas. Texas is, you know, football heaven for four fans in terms of cultivating talent from a very young age like that. There are a few other states like Texas that kind of put up the the numbers eventually of people who go into the NFL. So, you know, it wasn’t fun.
Maya Washington: Sometimes it was hard, but it makes the victory that much sweeter.
Maya Washington: And being able to connect with other people through this process has allowed my dad and I to have so many rich experiences. Before the pandemic, we were on airplanes traveling to all these different cities across America to go and spend time with people and share this film and talk about these issues and have panel discussions with scholars and sports and race, crime, student athletes. We have really been able to engage in a way that we wouldn’t have had this just been something that was picked up, put out in 2015 or something like that. .
Maya Washington: But the opportunity to really connect with true fans, true historians, people who really, really care about the game for the past two years, since the film came out, has been such a gift to my dad and I because we’re spending so much more time together than we would have at this kind of chapter or stage of our lives, to be with my dad on an airplane, check into hotel.
Jon Johnston: [We had internet issues]
Maya Washington: I think the Internet said it’s unstable, can still hear me.
Jon Johnston: What I want to ask you about is, have you paid attention to name, image and likeness? That subject.
Maya Washington: Name, image and likeness?
Jon Johnston: The ability for college athletes to make money off of themselves, I mean, there’s a... And well, it’s not even an undercurrent. It’s a very prominent attitude that, you know, players are exploited and they’re free labor. And it’s been this way for a long time. And many of today’s athletes, particularly black athletes, are very popular, don’t get to make any money off themselves in college sports. You want to comment on that or should we just go on?
Maya Washington: Yeah, no, I’m happy to comment on that, I think if you look at the history of Michigan State and how Michigan State got into the Big Ten scholarships was a big point of contention because John Hannah, as president of Michigan State, had used an endowment from the Jennison family to create an award for college student athletes so that they could provide basic things for students who at that time and again, you know, he he comes around in the 40s but had worked for the university before then. So it’s like the United States wasn’t that far away from the Great Depression. There were two world wars. You know, the climate at the time in the 40s. It was very innovative and very creative on John Hannah’s part to say we should offer something to help these students, because a lot of them come from humble backgrounds, farm communities, or other places and in Michigan and they kind of need some support. And he also understood that developing an athletic program would sort of help elevate the profile of Michigan State University. And he was very successful in that because it was a land grant institution, an agricultural school. And now when we think of Michigan State, there are people working on coronavirus related innovation and things like that today. So that was sort of at the core belief system at Michigan State for the 11 times it took them to get into the Big Ten conference. And the other schools at the time were like, no, we don’t want you to be giving scholarships and we don’t want anyone to get scholarships because they were very worried about other schools having a leg up and the idea of pay for play was sort of being discussed at that time because as they saw it, all of this sport is supposed to be amateur.
Maya Washington: It’s just supposed to be for fun. And your focus should be on being a student. That was sort of the mindset throughout the 40s and 50s of the Big Ten conference. And not that that has changed. Of course, the conference cares about student athletes and the word student comes before the word athlete. And and there is a lot of effort put into academics. But no one could have foreseen the amount of money that has been pouring into universities over the past 20 to 30 years in support of football programs to sort of make. At least on the surface, college football look like a mini NFL and it would be. Untruthful to say that, you know, that this isn’t a stepping stone, that that those peewee league kids who are five, six, seven years old and and wearing pads and their parents are out there getting them into clinics and doing those things with a goal in mind of getting them into a major football school, hoping that they pick the right school that’s going to develop them and give them the visibility, give them what they’re going to need to catch the eye of NFL scouts and be prepared for the NFL. Like if we pretend that that’s not real, we’re not really dealing in reality that football and football for college students has has changed dramatically.
Maya Washington: And so when I saw the MSU football players who I got a chance to get to know through the process of making the film, there are a handful of guys who were on that 2014 Rosebowl team at Michigan State, like Bennie Fowler and Micajah Reynolds and Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and these guys, I’m making a film while they’re literally living out their senior year and getting prepared for the league.
Maya Washington: And I saw how hard they’re working. So like you see a scene in our film where we’re at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten championship and the Spartans win and they have like finals on Monday and Tuesday after they play that game. And so the reality for student athletes today and when you talk about name, likeness, image, those types of things, they have full on photo shoots there. They appear on promotional materials. These networks have whole sort of packages before the game starts, or at least that’s what we were doing before the pandemic, where they’re sort of posing and doing these things that are helping promote the game itself, helping extend viewership. And because of that framework that has existed since the beginning, at least of the Big Ten conference in many of these college conferences of that sort of issue of how much support can you or can’t you give a student athlete to where it is no longer amateur sport and in sort of ventures off into a professional place? I think it’s sort of murky and clearly, especially with the pandemic right now, has has really raised that issue and that concern of what faith these young men and for women, student athletes in other sports are sort of putting their hands in in the care of their university and in the care of their conferences to keep them safe, to protect them from any kind of long term injury or health effect as a result of their participation.
Maya Washington: So, again, I am an artist. I am not an athlete, but I just know there is something that isn’t quite right. And there is there has to be some way to compensate people or adequately support them so that they’re not going hungry when the cafeteria closes. So that, for example, to make this film, I had to pay money to the NFL, to the Big Ten conference, to the the rights holders for the Rose Bowl to license the footage that you see in the film of gameplay that my dad is in, that his teammates are in, that some of them who are deceased are in. And I don’t believe any of those people received any of the royalties from the fee that I had to pay. Granted, there are people who support these infrastructures, right? You have actual human beings working there, logging tapes, looking for footage. And it’s an actual infrastructure, right, that needs to be supported financially, so some of those license fees go to the salaries of the people who prepare the footage for you, who research and things like that. So I’m not naive to say it should all just be free. But if I’m having to license footage of my own father and I know he doesn’t even see a dime of what I paid to license material that he’s in, there isn’t there’s a problem there. That’s there’s something not right about that, especially when football is a sport that does have physical consequences, that has wear and tear on a student athletes body.
Maya Washington: And by participating in the sport, no matter how prepared the institution you go to is to deal with conditioning and deal with supporting you with trainers and medical professionals who are advising you, you’re still putting yourself at risk. It is a high risk sport, especially for head injuries and. I think it would be great to figure out a way for athletes to be properly compensated or given more support so that not only while their student athletes, but when they graduate, just have some more resources. I know Michigan State and other institutions. I’ve had a chance to tour a lot of athletic facilities of the schools that we visit, which is pretty cool. So I get to see the weight rooms and conditioning rooms of various universities.
Maya Washington: And so obviously the college athletic community nationally, it takes these issues very seriously and they’re doing what’s in their power and in their budgets to take care of the health of student athletes. But it would be it would be nice, I think. And I’m sure there’s some student athletes who would agree. They’re putting in 60, 70 hour weeks as students and athletes.
Jon Johnston: For context for people, one of our guys on my website went to the NFL and asked what it would cost for, like I think five seconds of Scott Frost in an NFL game and it was something like five thousand dollars. It was some astronomical sum for like just a few seconds of footage. So the costs are horrifying.
Jon Johnston: How can people support you and I know we can support you by watching this on Big Ten Network, but this is your chance to tell us how else we can support you. And we will certainly, you know, in the show notes in the article emphasize, yes, you should watch this, if nothing else, so the next time you talk to an Alabama fan, you can give them the business. But how else can they support you, Maya?
Maya Washington: Well, we have a website you can go to RedCedarmovie.com. You could also just Google “Through the banks of the Red Cedar”. We are always fundraising, so we will always be raising money for some effort or outcome and how we bring the film into the community. We are working on creative ways to bring the film to educational institutions. Since the pandemic, obviously we had to put a pause on physically going into communities and screening the film and doing a lot of the work that we really love and that people were really excited about.
Maya Washington: So we are kind of putting our creativity, innovation and our financial resources toward thinking about sort of how can we continue that level of engagement.
Maya Washington: So beyond our broadcast, which we’re very excited about November 10th on the Big Ten Network. So tune in because that’s important.
Maya Washington: We really want to have strong viewership because that demonstrates that, hey, people really care about this film. This is really awesome. People care about these issues. And the Big Ten Network will air it maybe two other times after November 10th. But I don’t know what those dates will be.
But in the meantime, you can join our mailing list again at redcedarmovie.com, or you can Google “Through the banks of the Red Cedar” or my name or my dad’s name and the word film. And you will probably be directed to our website. You can join our mailing list if you’d like to make a donation or send us a message about an idea that you have for how we might be able to bring the film to your community. Those are things that we’re open to and interested in.
Maya Washington: What we have coming down the line is some curriculum and other resources to engage people further so that this isn’t just, again, a film, but really what we’ve created as an educational community around this film, a place where you can have intergenerational conversations about race and sports, which for many people is is still awkward. But what I’m finding is it doesn’t have to be awkward. It can be actually a really powerful thing to have someone who is in their 70s or 80s talk to someone who’s in their 20s or 30s and just talk about what was the world like when you were 18.
Jon Johnston: When you started talking in the beginning of this, I honestly, I completely forgotten about the fact that black kids were segregated when your father was young and that he couldn’t even attend a university in his home state or in any of the states around it.
Jon Johnston: I guess that’s something we just kind of look at and go, what planet was that? Who were those aliens that thought that way and did things that way? Is there anything else that you want to add to this that I haven’t asked?
Maya Washington: You know, I’m just so grateful that you are sharing this time with me and and letting your viewers know about our film. And one of my dad’s best friends is a Nebraska fan.
Jon Johnston: Everybody should have a best friend who is a Nebraska fan.
Maya Washington: So I’m going to win points with him for sure. So I look forward to sharing, sharing the link with his friend Edgar.
Jon Johnston: We’ll try to get it up on the Michigan State side, too, so we’ll try to spread it around. Strong arm some people, I’m guessing the Alabama guys won’t...
Maya Washington: You know, I want them too. They need to know their history as well. So maybe someone from Alabama will watch our film and say, wow, I’m going to make a film about Bear Bryant and really get in there and maybe tell some of the untold stories there. I welcome everybody because we there are so many stories in the US that have not been told and we need to tell them and we need to take the time to really learn about history.
Jon Johnston: All right, but I think we’re going to end there and that’s it.
Jon Johnston: This has been Jon’s post life crisis. Thanks for listening. Go Big Red and thank you to Maya for joining us and sharing your story. I always end these, like driving off a cliff. It’s one thing I need to get better at. But, yeah, I will say earlier you said something about your your dad telling you stories. If my children sat down with a camera in front of me, I would never give one straight answer ever. I would lie to them. And they know this. Maybe your dad’s not like that. I don’t know. I was supposed to end.
Maya Washington: It helped that I was able to tell him how much the camera and the people and the other the crew and the lighting, how much it all cost, and suddenly someone will start finding words to share.
Jon Johnston: He wouldn’t be such a liar like I would?
Maya Washington: Yeah, I don’t even know if the lights were so bright. I don’t know if we even had time to think about lying or are not telling the full truth.
Jon Johnston: Ok, we’re actually going in there. This is the end. This is the real end. Thank you for listening. Go Big Red. OK, that was really the end.