Don’t be fooled by director Barry Jenkins’s 5-foot-8-inch frame and nerdy, bespectacled appearance. Once upon a time, the Oscar winning-director of the new and already critically acclaimed If Beale Street Could Talk was a pretty good football player — he had skills. And he competed with and against some of the best in the state of Florida. Guys who made it to the NFL.
Before Jenkins collected his gold trophy in 2017 for his coming-of-age story Moonlight, he was putting in work at Miami’s famed Miami Northwestern Senior High School as a running back. The school and its surrounding neighborhood, Liberty City, produce more NFL talent than anywhere else: wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Amari Cooper, linebackers Marvin Jones and Khalil Jones, and so many more. There’s even a LeBron James co-produced (with Luther Campbell and Maverick Carter) docuseries, Starz’s Warriors of Liberty City, that debuted Sept. 16. It’s focused on the Miami neighborhood — and on football. Jenkins has fond memories of his hometown, and his high school, where he ran track besides playing football.
“I played with people who were really, really, really good,” said Jenkins. “I was decent, but I was not as talented as those cats. There were three running backs on my team at Northwestern, and two of them made it to the NFL — the other one is me.”
But don’t cry for Jenkins. He’s done quite well by his life choices. At the age of 39, he’s earned an impressive list of nominations and wins for 2008’s Medicine for Melancholy and, of course, 2016’s Oscar-winning Moonlight, which also picked up wins from the Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, a Writers Guild of America award and a New York Film Critics Circle award. And surely there are more wins on the way.
For Jenkins, football beyond high school was nonexistent. His grades were excellent and he earned an academic scholarship to football powerhouse Florida State University, where he saw former schoolmates suit up for games. Jenkins knew he made the right choice. “When you go to FSU, you see what actual athletes look like,” he said, deadpan, “and it’s like … Yeah. OK. Cool.” The Florida State Seminoles won one of their three national championships in 1999. Jenkins’s high school has won at least five Class 6A state championships.
Track wasn’t the wave either. “I was a good hurdler, but the hurdles get higher in college and I’m like 5-8, so there’s no way. And it was just one of those things that was fated, because there just happened to be a film school at Florida State, and I kinda stumbled into it.”
That stumble proved fruitful, but Jenkins didn’t abandon sports altogether. It’s clear the writer and director has a love affair with athletics; sports somehow show up in nuanced and overt ways in his work. In Beale Street, which was adapted from James Baldwin’s novel and is already a front-runner for the coming awards season, there’s a line whispering of Muhammad Ali’s greatness. But it’s Jenkins’s background as an athlete that he works through when he’s creating his art.
“When you demystify the process of making films, when you’re actually on a film set, it is a very immersive physical endeavor,” said Jenkins. “And it is like the director or producers are like football coaches or GMs [general managers], in a certain way. Because I’m not the one who’s setting up the lights. I’m not the one giving the performance, doing the acting. I’m just calling the plays and, hopefully, helping people bring out the best in themselves.”
He said that when he got into film school, his only experience in a similar collaborative environment was in athletics. “It always just seemed like the two things were related in a certain way,” he said. “The most concrete examples of nurturing, of tutelage, especially as far as black men were concerned, was in my athletic endeavors, to be honest. Even though I didn’t pursue a life in athletics, I think so much of what I do now, whether it’s the operation of a company or the operation of my film sets, is dictated by the things I learned while an athlete.”
Much of that is evident in Beale Street. In it, he coaches new film actor KiKi Layne (this is her first film role) into what is already an award-worthy performance. So far, she’s earned a nomination for breakthrough actor at the Gotham Independent Film Awards, which were held Monday night in New York.
Beale Street is a story of white supremacy and blackness in 1970s Harlem — and, eerily enough, the same type of story that dominates today’s headlines. It’s narrated via the voice of Layne’s character. She’s facing an uphill battle against an unfriendly system.
This is how Jenkins’s art works: as activism. In Moonlight, he delivered a black, gay, coming-of-age story unlike anything audiences had ever seen. In Beale Street, a relatable lack of social justice, presented through the experiences of a black woman.
“I’m just trying to tell these stories in the way they demand to be told,” said Jenkins. “It’s really important for me to use my … visual voice … to do things with the work that takes it and extends it to a whole place beyond. … So now, visually, artistically, what is it about this image? Is it about the way these actors’ skin looks? Skin tones? What is it about the way two black men can sit in silence and sit with this trauma that they were doing to each other? What is it about that? And the themes that Mr. Baldwin is working at, they take [the cinematic characters] to a new place.”
The film is visually stunning. Perhaps even overriding the trauma laid out in the story is simply how beautiful the characters look on film. Embedded in the horror of black skin being criminalized for being black is a magnificently shot story of young, black love. It’s reminiscent of the way Jenkins received acclaim for how gorgeous his shots were in Moonlight while bathing his characters in pain and hurt.
Looking past this film — and all that’s sure to come with it, considering the early hoopla and cheers for it — Jenkins may be bringing this same brilliant aesthetic to a sports story. At some point.
“The first script I ever wrote was a high school football movie,” he said. “I’d seen the feature film Friday Night Lights, the  one by Peter Berg, and it bothered me how, after the big game at the end, the big, black school … how they didn’t show respect to the small, prairie-town school. As an athlete, I was like, ‘That don’t make no sense!’ ”
It left a bitter taste in his mouth.
“I was like, ‘No, I wanna tell the story of Friday Night Lights from the perspective of that team.’ And that was what the script was,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to make a film about high school football at some point that really challenged what high school football is like in a place like Miami. When you see stories of athletics, they’re always small-town Texas. And it’s like, well, yeah, the city with the highest per capita players in the NFL is Miami, Florida.”
And specifically Liberty City?
Jenkins laughs before speaking again, clearly beaming with pride as he said: “Specifically Liberty City! Exactly!”
Willie Taggart is a “see something, say something” kind of guy, and his good deed for 200 football campers this week is a testament to that.
The Florida State University head coach, who was hired last December, happened to come upon Florida State’s Junior Noles football camp that was held Monday to Wednesday of this week. The camp for students entering first through eighth grade cost $230 and included an FSU football camp T-shirt, but it didn’t include lunch, according to the Miami Herald.
Taggart, a Palmetto, Florida, native who himself played at Manatee High in Bradenton, wasn’t having that. According to a tweet from Palm Beach Nole, Taggart approached a man running the camp, which ran from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and inquired about lunch for the kids. When told that lunch was not included, Taggart jumped into coach mode, telling the man: “That’s not happening. Get on the phone and order some food for these kids.”
Pizza arrived soon afterward, the tweet says, and on Tuesday Jimmy John’s and ice cream were on the menu — all courtesy of Taggart.
“I believe Willie himself paid for lunch for three days for over 200 kids out of his own pocket,” Palm Beach Nole’s tweet said. “Real talk. He didn’t have to do it, no parents expected it, but this is the way he is, just a genuine, really good human. I couldn’t be more proud that he represents FSU.”
Taggart, the 11th overall and first African-American head coach in the program’s history, takes the reins previously held for eight seasons by Jimbo Fisher, now the head coach at Texas A&M. Since being hired, Taggart, 41, has made an immediate impact. His program has one of the youngest coaching staffs in Division I football; eight of Taggart’s coaches have an average age of 44.4, signaling a new era. Also noteworthy: Seven of the eight assistants are African-American, creating a pipeline for minority head-coaching candidates down the road.
His move was noticed, and applauded, by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an affinity group dedicated to creating opportunities for minority candidates, scouts and front-office personnel.
“You have to be committed. That’s why Willie Taggart is a very, very admirable person,” said John Wooten, chairman of the FPA, which was formed in 2003 and named after Pollard, the first African-American coach in NFL history. “The minorities that get the opportunities as head coaches or athletic directors have to take it upon themselves and have to be committed to going out and finding the young minorities who are in various positions around the country in order to build those kinds of pipelines.”
With his good deed, Taggart, widely known as an ace recruiter, not only filled bellies but also may have solidified the program’s recruiting class for the next decade or longer. Palm Beach Nole (tweeting from @Jroc1738) is sold: “Wow!! That’s my coach!! @CoachTaggart you did a wonderful thing! #DidSomething”
A month before commissioner Roger Goodell called his name on the opening night of 2018 NFL draft, Derwin James already had lofty praise to live up to. When cameras were rolling at Florida State University’s pro day on March 20, Jacksonville Jaguars All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey delivered the ultimate co-sign of his former college teammate. “Top player in the draft this year,” Ramsey told the NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. “Should go No. 1 overall, but you know how things go in the draft. You never know … top 5, top 10, top 15.”
In their final mock drafts, ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both projected James to be taken by Tampa Bay with the seventh pick. But the first 15 NFL teams to draft — the Buccaneers included — passed on the 6-foot-1 ¾-inch, 215-pound freak-of-athlete safety. That was until No. 17, when James fell into the laps of the San Diego Chargers. Despite dropping on the draft board, James is still oozing with confidence and swag. The Undefeated recently caught up with San Diego’s newly minted defensive back about his brand partnership with New Era Cap, his relationship with Ramsey, and why he changes his hairstyle so much.
How does it feel to finally be in the NFL?
It’s been an emotional roller coaster, but I’m excited. I’m happy that I got the opportunity to finally live out my dream.
Heading into the draft, what team did you think would take you?
Tampa or San Francisco. After it went past them, I said, ‘OK, maybe I could be going to Green Bay.’ After Green Bay traded back, I thought, ‘I’m going to the Chargers.’
Was it nerve-racking, waiting?
It was crazy. I obviously thought I’d go earlier, but once I put on that New Era hat — that Chargers hat. It was an amazing feeling.
You partnered with New Era ahead of the draft. Have you always been a hat guy?
Growing up, I was a fitted hat guy. Then they came out with the snapbacks, so I converted. But I loveddddd fitteds, because my head was so big as a kid. It would look weird sometimes when my mom would put other caps on me. We couldn’t ever find the right one to fit my head.
The draft cap is a big part of the experience — where will you keep yours?
My hat and my jersey, both of those I’m hanging on my wall. They’re gonna be in a case. Nobody can get to them.
How did you choose your draft outfit?
My favorite colors are red and black. And I went to Florida State, where our color is garnet. So I thought I’d do something along the garnet and red line. I wanted to be a little flashy. I talked to my suit man, and said, ‘Gimme something nice.’
You grew up in Florida, went to Florida State and will now be playing in San Diego — but what’s the coldest place you’ve ever been?
When I was in Green Bay on my visit, it was like 3 degrees. I was like, ‘Oh, s—!’ They told me it was a nice day — that sometimes it’s below zero. Say what!
Do you have any game day traditions or superstitions?
I’ve got my wristbands that I’ve been wearing since high school, and then I got some in college that I have to have on every game. But, for the most part, I just go with the flow.
You always post your ever-changing hairstyles on social media — how do you pick them?
I get a lot of feedback from my teammates on that. They say I have more hairstyles than women do. But I just like being different, being my own self. I don’t really try to copy anybody, or be anybody that I’m not. Being diverse and versatile is just the person I am.
Who’s the most famous person following you on social media?
Probably OBJ [Odell Beckham Jr.].
Take us back to the first time you met Jalen Ramsey — and how has your relationship with him grown over the years?
I met him when I was in high school. I’d already committed to Florida State in 2012, and I think he was just getting there. I built a relationship with him on visits, and he told me he … was going to take me under his wing. And then when I got there, he stuck to his word. Our relationship grew over the years, and he’s like my brother.
Where were you heard Jalen call you the best player in this year’s draft — and how did it make you feel?
I was out in Cali training. When he said that, I wasn’t really surprised, but that was a big compliment coming from a guy like him.
Your dreams corps of defensive backs — who would they be?
My dream scenario would be me, Casey Hayward, Jalen Ramsey, Landon Collins and Earl Thomas. Nobody could complete a pass.
Which quarterbacks are you most looking forward to facing this season?
S—, I wanna face all of them. I mean, I haven’t seen a quarterback damn near since October, November. The suit and tie — all of that is out the way. It’s time to put on the pads. I’m ready to go.
You wore No. 3 at FSU. Why No. 33 in San Diego?
Three is my favorite number, so I was thinking for the Chargers, I was just gonna supercharge it! Add another 3. Now it’s 33, so you get Derwin James 2.0. Supercharged.
What’s your favorite tattoo?
My Florida State tattoo … it’s on my left soldier. I got it in 10th grade, and it’s the most meaningful tattoo I have, besides my mom’s name.
Outside of football, who is your favorite athlete?
Have you ever met him?
A couple times. He’s a great guy. The media tries to judge him, but he’s really down-to-earth. He’s a winner, he’s a competitor, and he comes from the struggle. One of my favorite people.
In the next five years, what can we expect from Derwin James?
I’m not gonna come in and promise no Super Bowls, but you’ll see a guy that’s gonna work his butt off. I just feel like I’m in a great situation and a great system around a lot of great coaches. The team was already great before I got here. I’m just tryna come in, do my job and hopefully we pull out some ball games together.
Any message to the teams that passed on you?
See you soon.
From actresses Gabrielle Union and Queen Latifah to rapper 2 Chainz, singers, actors and rappers have often bragged about their athletic accomplishments. #ShowMeTheReceipts, a recurring feature at The Undefeated, will authenticate those declarations. In this installment, we verify actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s receipts.
The four-second scene easily could have been missed if one was not paying exceptionally close attention during Furious 7.
Dwayne Johnson’s character, Luke Hobbs, is sitting in his hospital bed recovering from his litany of injures as the world is going to hell in a handbasket outside his hospital room. His daughter is entertaining herself in the corner, as Hobbs’ attention is on his TV.
Viewers realize he’s watching a football game when they hear the announcer say, “Back to throw. Here comes the blitz! No. 94 sacks …” But just before the game is interrupted by a breaking news segment, the director and editors of Furious 7 drop a quick hint for any vigilant audience members. The Florida State logo is the last thing people see prior to the news transition. (In the clip below, start at 2:10.)
Before Johnson, aka The Rock, made a name for himself as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time or a big-time actor 17 years ago, he was a 6-foot-5, 267-pound defensive lineman for the University of Miami. And that play he and viewers were watching on the TV was of him sacking former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward in the No. 3 Hurricanes’ matchup against the No. 1 Seminoles on Oct. 9, 1993.
“I was on Twitter a while back saying that my penetration helped clear the way for him to get that sack,” North Carolina State defensive line coach and Johnson’s former Miami teammate Kevin Patrick joked. “He’s a good friend of mine; I love him dearly. I’ve watched almost all of his movies. I think that’s one of the few ones I haven’t seen yet, so I might have to catch that one. That Rampage movie [Johnson’s latest effort, released April 13], my kids have been begging me to see that, but we just haven’t had a chance yet.”
The former World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment star was the second-highest paid actor in 2017, the sexiest man alive in 2016 and on a bit of a rampage in movies and balling in his TV appearances this year. Originally, though, he put his efforts into a football career.
A year after finishing his senior season with Miami, Johnson was cut by the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders two months into the 1995 season. He had all of $7 in his pocket. But that experience appears to be one of the few things in which Johnson didn’t find immediate success.
He was the WWF/WWE’s first third-generation wrestler — following his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, Peter Maivia — and has more than a dozen championships from the WWF/WWE, World Championship Wrestling, WWF Intercontinental, WWF Tag Team and Royal Rumble. When he graced the big screen in Scorpion King, he earned a Guinness World Record in 2002 for highest paycheck earned by an actor receiving top billing for the first time.
And in 1991, as a freshman on Dennis Erickson’s Miami team, he was a member of the 12-0 national championship squad that obliterated Nebraska, 22-0, in the Orange Bowl. Johnson compiled 77 tackles and 4.25 sacks in one start and 39 appearances as a Hurricane.
1993 UM D-Line – my guys pic.twitter.com/VZNTGAQv8M
— Kevin Patrick (@DLineKP) June 23, 2014
Patrick frequently pointed out that Dewey, as he was called by his Miami teammates, in addition to being a fantastic singer, lover of country music and all-around hardworking person, didn’t lack for talent. He just happened to play on star-studded teams throughout his tenure with the program. Johnson never backed down, though, and it showed when the Hurricanes’ lone sack from that game in 1993 came from him tracking down the ever-elusive Ward.
“It makes the hair on my neck stand up even to this day when you look back on those moments and you’re playing with great players and you’re playing against great players, some of the greatest of all time in college football,” Patrick said. “I can go through a laundry list of names of guys that I’ve played. … Dwayne was a hell of a football player. It’s noticed because of who he is now, but he was probably as good as anyone in the country at the time. He just had probably the greatest 3-technique in all of college football and pro football in Warren Sapp playing at the same spot. Just to be out there at that time speaks volumes of what kind of ability he had.”
— Kevin Patrick (@DLineKP) August 9, 2013
With 1:51 left in the half, Florida State was on Miami’s 39-yard line with a fresh set of downs and looking to end a second consecutive drive with a touchdown. In the previous series, Ward escaped from the pocket and scampered untouched to the right pylon to give the Seminoles a 21-7 lead over their rivals.
Don’t get it twisted, the record crowd of 72,589 at Doak Campbell Stadium didn’t want Florida State to take its foot off Miami’s neck, with fresh memories of Wide Right I and II still haunting them. And since 1987, two of Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden’s three losses at home had been to the Hurricanes.
Flanked by two Seminoles in the backfield, Ward lined up in the shotgun. Johnson was stationed at the right defensive tackle slot, while Patrick took right end. Miami ran an X in which Patrick would penetrate toward the left tackle and Johnson would fake as if he was going to bull-rush the guard.
Johnson stutter-stepped and looped around Patrick, who was engaged with the tackle and being chipped by the running back simultaneously. The guard, realizing what Johnson was about to do, lunged at him but got caught in traffic at the line. Johnson lowered his left shoulder to absorb less contact, barreled around the corner and found an unsuspecting Ward waiting for him.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and star basketball player at Florida State turned to avoid the pressure — directly into Johnson’s waiting arms. Ward covered up the ball just before impact, and Johnson drove him all the way back to the Hurricanes’ 47. (Start at 46:42 to see the play.)
Said Patrick: “You have a penetrator and then you have a looper. … The penetrator has the ability to see the upfield rush and take it into the B gap between the guard and tackle to pick the guard. It’s really a great play when you’re on man-on-man side and shortens that turn for the looper, where Dewey can have some success.
“I will tell these young bulls, and they’ll say to me, ‘You can’t catch me.’ And I say, ‘Listen, I caught Charlie Ward at least four times in my career.’ Some of them will know who he is, some of them won’t, and I’ll say look him up. He paved the road for a lot of quarterbacks that have come since then.”
Unbeknownst to Johnson, he would eventually return the favor to Patrick. About two decades ago, Patrick broke up with his girlfriend, Rachel, and realized he had made a mistake.
He begged her to get back with him. Patrick called Rachel and persuaded her to see him. She said she wouldn’t get back with him, so Patrick decided a trip to the mall was in order. Rachel told Patrick to take her home and that she wasn’t changing her mind.
All of a sudden, someone yelled, “KP!” as they were walking through the mall. Patrick brushed it off since, you know, it was a busy mall. Then the same bellowing voice again said, “KP!” So Rachel grabbed Patrick by the hand and he said to her, “Who is it?” She said, “It’s The Rock.”
Dewey came running up, and Patrick introduced Rachel to Johnson. She just stared at him, and Johnson said, “Hey, I’m wrestling tonight in a WWF match, do you want to come? I’ll give you front-row tickets.” Of course Patrick wanted to come, so Johnson turned to Rachel and asked if she wanted to come too. What was she going to say, no?
Two kids later, Patrick said he and his family have seen most of Johnson’s films, with Jumanji being the hands-down favorite among the group.
“If it weren’t for Dwayne, I would not be married to my wife, and he does not know this,” said the 46-year-old Patrick. “Ever since then, my wife has been by my side. Sometimes my wife and I joke about, ‘What if we didn’t see The Rock that day? Would she still have left?’ So I don’t think he knows that, but Dewey, thanks for helping me get my wife back.”
Our conclusion? He’s legit, and an A-1 wingman. Johnson’s receipts get a passing grade from us.
What up, gang? Tuesday was a TV day again, so do check out Around The Horn at 5 p.m. on ESPN.
— Lil Rel Howery (@LilRel4) December 5, 2017
Rep. John Conyers is going to retire. The Democratic congressman from Michigan, who is facing multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, said his exit is effective immediately, but he is endorsing his son to fill his seat. It sort of feels like there should be rules against that kind of thing, but, alas, that’s what’s happening. Elsewhere in politics, the GOP is now back to supporting Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, who is accused of having relationships with underage girls over the years. Guess that presidential endorsement was worth something.
If you smoke weed and live in New Jersey, good news! The Garden State is planning on legalizing recreational marijuana, thanks to huge wins by the Dems across the ballot last month. The state is no stranger to tourism, so this could end up being a huge boon for a place that’s suffered all kinds of issues over the years after natural disasters. It’s not going to be easy to get off the ground, but when it does, you can bet this is going to be an extremely popular thing to do.
LaVar Ball continues to be a legend. Look, whether you agree with his decision to pull his son LiAngelo out of UCLA, his public appearances continue to be epic. This morning, he appeared on CNN with Chris Cuomo again, this time with a roaring fireplace behind him at 6 in the morning, looking like he was about to belt out a holiday tune, which he then kind of did. Anyway, Ball wants his son to at least be able to develop as a ballplayer, which UCLA wasn’t letting Gelo do because of his indefinite suspension.
Looks like Florida State is going to have a black head coach. After Jimbo Fisher took off for Texas A&M, leaving that program in a bit of a lurch, they found a guy who’d once coached in Florida before. His name is Willie Taggart, and he’s coming from Oregon. Thing is, so many guys have changed jobs over the past month that who knows what’s a good gig anymore in college football? Basically, everyone is chasing Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban, and it doesn’t appear that anyone else is really in the running.
Coffee Break: Have you seen the latest viral online challenge? Most of these are pretty ridiculously boring, but the invisible box challenge is excellent. You know you’ve got a good one when the failures are as good as the people who do it right.
Snack Time: When I was a kid, Mega Man was a great game. But there hasn’t been a version of the Capcom game to come out in eight years. Now they’ve got a new one on deck, and it looks AWESOME.
Dessert: If I’m still breaking it down like this when I’m this old, I’ll have done something right.
He started out as a YouTuber but catapulted into the fame lane on Vine. His name is Andrew Bachelor and, yes, he has the Guinness World Record to prove it.
Now, Bachelor, filmmaker and actor, is making a splash in the film industry.
He’s starring in Lionsgate’s comedy feature film Where’s The Money opposite Kat Graham, Terry Crews, Mike Epps and Method Man. He plays a quick-witted young man from the streets of South Central Los Angeles who must rush a lily-white USC fraternity to recover a stash of stolen money. The 29-year-old not only stars in the film, he is also an executive producer on the project.
“I love not only to be in front of the camera, but behind the camera as well,” said Bachelor, known on social media as King Bach. “That’s why I really get involved with every project that I’m a part of.”
Bachelor has evolved into an in-demand actor, producer and content creator, working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. As his visibility grew, he caught the attention of casting directors who booked him acting gigs on shows such as House of Lies and The Mindy Project, as well as films such as Meet the Blacks and a spoof of the horror series The Purge.
Later this year, Bachelor will also be featured in the Netflix horror film The Babysitter, opposite Bella Thorne, and the comedy film When We First Met. Forbes named him as one of 2017’s top influencers in entertainment.
Creating content has always been one of Bachelor’s biggest passions. The sketches on his YouTube channel, Pad TV, quickly gained more than 3 million subscribers. The sketches were expensive to produce, so Bachelor searched for alternative ways to share content, which led to his discovery of Vine. In a few short years, he rose to be one of the most followed people on Vine, with 15 million subscribers and more than 5 billion views. His other social media channels also flourished, with millions of people following his content.
“The key for me has been to not lose focus of my ultimate goal,” Bachelor said. “A lot of people come to Los Angeles and leave because they stop believing in themselves and change their dream. You can’t lose focus, even if that means writing down your goal and reading it every day as a reminder.”
Bachelor spoke with The Undefeated on how he went from internet star to Hollywood star and the lessons he’s learned — and is still learning — along the way.
What’s the difference between you and your alter ego King Bach?
King Bach is funny, energetic, charming, handsome and every woman’s dream. I’m just calm and boring … but still handsome, let’s not get sidetracked from that.
What’s the first thing you did when Forbes named you as one of the top influencers in entertainment for 2017?
I told my mom, ‘I made it. I can move out of the house now.’
What is your ultimate goal?
It’s to create an empire. I get my blueprint from Tyler Perry, who’s created plays, TV shows and movies. I had asked myself, ‘Why can’t I do the same?’ And my answer was, ‘I can do the same. And I will!’
When did you realize you were famous?
When my mom told me that people [outside family and friends] knew who I was.
What did you learn from some of the actors on Where’s the Money?
It was great working with those legends. Mike Epps taught me the art of improv. Terry Crews showed me how to be humble and respect everyone on and off camera. And I learned how to really get into character and become involved with my role from Method Man.
Have you ever been starstruck?
Yes, when I met Mario Lopez at an airport.
How do you come up with the creatives behind your videos and films?
A lot of the situations happen to me in real life, and I just figure out a way to turn it into an exciting story.
How did you nurture your desire to perform?
I joined an acting club and comedy troupe. We’d do 30 skits in 60 minutes. It drew me more to acting and wanting to perfect the craft.
You’re a Phi Beta Sigma member. What drew you to the fraternity?
Going to FSU [Florida State University], where everything and everyone is new, I needed a group [that kept me grounded]. Phi Beta Sigma always showed me love [and furthermore] brotherhood, scholarship and service. That’s what we stand for.
What will you always be a champion of?
Learning. [I’ve learned] not to be afraid to fail. The only way to learn is by failing, and once you accept that, you’re golden.
What’s your favorite social media outlet?
Twitter and Instagram.
Carmen Williams did all she could to hold back tears as she watched her mother, Carla Williams, introduced as the new athletic director at the University of Virginia. “It’s emotional because she’s always been a champion for me and now I get to see her achieve her dreams.”
Former athletic director Craig Littlepage did all he could to fight back tears when asked about seeing control of the athletic program being turned over to an African-American woman. “I’m proud to say,” Littlepage said, pausing for a full 20 seconds as his mouth quivered, “if there’s a place, this is the place because this community has been through a lot.”
As for Williams, just moments after displaying a composed self-confidence during her news conference, she also got a little emotional when asked about how she thinks she’ll be perceived by young African-American women as the first African-American female athletic director at a Power 5 school.
“You want to make an impact,” she said, brushing away a tear that formed in the corner of her right eye. “You want to be an influence, a positive influence. And this is my way of doing that.”
UVA introduced Williams on Monday, two days after she arrived on campus with her husband, Brian, and children Carmen, Camryn (both students at the University of Georgia) and Joshua. She’s just the 10th athletic director in UVA’s history, replacing Littlepage, who announced his retirement last month after overseeing the most successful athletic era in school history (including seven NCAA team titles and 53 Atlantic Coast Conference championships during the 10-year period between 2002 and 2012).
UVA won 13 national championships during Littlepage’s 16-year tenure in Charlottesville.
Which all means the shoes that Williams has to fill are huge, replacing a man who was the first African-American athletic director in ACC history. But Williams’ impressive qualifications have assured the school administration that the program is in good hands. The former All-SEC basketball player at Georgia spent the past 13 years in athletics administration at her alma mater, most recently as the school’s deputy athletic director, a role in which she managed the daily operations of a department with a $127 million budget.
“At UVA we believe in uncompromised excellence, and that means that our coaches and our student-athletes pursue excellence in competition and in a classroom with equal levels of energy and commitment,” said Teresa Sullivan, the president of UVA. “Carla Williams shares our commitment to these principles, and that’s why I’m thrilled to introduce Carla as UVA’s new director of athletics.”
Williams grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, a city of just over 30,000 people that’s about an hour’s drive southwest of Atlanta. Her interest in sports emerged when she was a young girl playing basketball and football against boys (in those rugged sandlot football games, she played quarterback and running back).
“From a young age I learned some valuable lessons,” Williams said. “ I learned how to compete against people who were seemingly bigger, stronger and faster than me.”
What drove her competing against boys? “Don’t be intimidated, always be prepared,” she said. “I learned humility is strength.”
As she gained strength, Williams learned how to win. As Carla Green, she led LaGrange High School to two Class AAAA state titles. That led to a scholarship from Georgia, where she was a three-year starter as a 5-foot-9 guard (she played with five-time Olympian Teresa Edwards and two-time Olympian Katrina McClain) and was among the top 10 scoring leaders in school history when she graduated in 1989.
Williams returned to Athens for grad school, and after receiving her master’s degree in public administration in 1991 she was hired as an assistant women’s basketball coach. She was on the sidelines when Georgia went to consecutive Final Fours in 1995 and 1996.
But even before Georgia lost to Tennessee in the 1996 championship game, Williams knew she wanted to leave coaching to become an administrator. From 1996-97, she served as the school’s assistant director of compliance, beginning an administrative journey that included stops at Florida State (where she received her doctorate) and Vanderbilt (where she was an assistant athletic director) before returning to Georgia.
“When you looked at what she’s done, she checked all the boxes,” said Marcus Martin, a vice president and chief diversity officer at Virginia who was on the search committee formed after Littlepage announced his retirement. “Carla’s had the opportunity to go to other schools as an athletic director, and she could have risen to that level at Georgia. But she decided to come here, and this is an outstanding opportunity for not only her but for us.”
Phoebe Willis, the student representative on the search committee, expressed pride in having a woman in the school’s top athletic position.
“I’m an openly gay woman, and to see any type of minority be a first person in a significant place of power is exciting,” said Willis, a former field hockey player at Virginia. “But I’ll say with Carla Williams, what stood out with her was that she was the best qualified for this job first, and then it’s just an exciting thing that she’s the first African-American female to have this job in a Power 5 conference.”
Former Virginia basketball great Ralph Sampson attended the news conference to support the new hire.
“With [football coach] Bronco Mendenhall and [men’s basketball coach] Tony Bennett coming from outside, I think it’s good to bring some new flavor and spice to the school,” said Sampson, who was the National Player of the Year in three of his four years at Virginia. “She was the most qualified for this job. She’ll have no problem learning the culture here.”
Williams likely won’t immediately move to Charlottesville because her husband, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at UGA, has to finish the semester in Athens. Her family likely will relocate in December or January to a city, Charlottesville, that made international headlines after a violent white nationalist rally in August.
“I watched it all play out on television, and I felt bad for the university and bad for Charlottesville,” Williams said. “What happened was not a reflection on UVA and the Charlottesville community. I was hurt for what this community went through.”
As Monday’s news conference came to a close, Williams spent some time meeting her new co-workers, taking photos and meeting the local media. As she answered questions, her 21-year-old daughter, Carmen, stood nearby beaming as she watched her mother handle the spotlight with poise.
“To see someone achieve those things you never thought were possible makes all African-American women think, ‘I can do this too,’ ” Carmen Williams said. “I saw a tweet from one of my friends who said, ‘I want to be just like Carla Williams.’
“I’m happy everyone is going to get a chance to see the type of incredible woman that I’m exposed to every day,” she added. “It’s her time.”
There’s a scene in season one of Last Chance U, the popular Netflix series that aired last year, that’s incredibly unsettling. The junior college football powerhouse that the show follows, East Mississippi Community College, gets sucked into a massive brawl that’s as brutal as any team fight you’ve ever witnessed.
After the fight, Buddy Stephens, the white coach at EMCC, dresses down his predominantly African-American players for their involvement in what he calls “thug bulls—.”
The scene made you cringe. Stephens was so affected by what he saw in himself over the course of the six episodes of season one that he was embarrassed by his behavior and reluctant to attend a Denver film series to promote the series.
After exposing the rawness of juco football in season one, EMCC has invited the cameras back to document the 2016 football season, which is the subject of season two of Last Chance U, which begins streaming on Netflix on Friday.
The director of Last Chance U, Greg Whiteley, was thrilled to spend a second season in Scooba, Mississippi, a tiny rural town of 700 people who few had heard of before the series. That’s changed since that first season, when EMCC opened all its doors and allowed Whiteley and his crew to document the lives of players who see the school as their last chance at football stardom.
“It wasn’t unusual while we were shooting to have someone show up from Scotland or Australia,” Whiteley said. “People had seen the series and enjoyed it so much that they decided on their next trip to the States that they would stop by Scooba to check out the school. We allowed the town’s new fame to be a part of the narrative.”
What was thought to be a huge challenge in a second season: getting the players to remain authentic in a day and age where everyone’s holding camera phones to their face in a cry for attention and Instagram likes. The true reality of reality TV: The more drama in your life, the better your chance of fame and airtime. But Whiteley didn’t see that as a problem.
“People just assume that with the participants being more conscious of the camera and more conscious of their prospect of being famous, the result would be less authentic,” Whiteley said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m confident in our ability to navigate to maintain the authenticity that is sort of our brand.”
If you followed season one you know that EMCC is a juco football powerhouse that was in pursuit of its third straight National Junior College Athletic Association championship when the cameras began following the team in 2015. That fight would eventually derail the team’s quest to three-peat. And, in an attempt to avoid spoilers, the carryover from the brawl has serious implications for EMCC in Last Chance U’s second season.
Focusing on juco football is brilliant. At that level you will always be able to find players with Division I talent who wind up playing at the juco level because they are their own worst enemies.
Season two of Last Chance U documents the redemptive journeys of quarterback De’Andre Johnson (who was caught on video punching a woman while he was at Florida State), defensive lineman Chauncey Rivers (who was dismissed from Georgia after his third arrest on marijuana charges) and linebacker Dakota Allen (who was released from Texas Tech after his arrest for burglary).
Besides Stephens’ attempt to rehabilitate his image in season two (after he often appeared completely unhinged in season one), Brittany Wagner returns to her prominent role as the academic adviser striving to keep the players on the field. The relationship between Stephens and Wagner in season two is best described in one word: tense.
Sequels are always challenging, but Whiteley is able to pull it off mainly because of the turnover of talent of the juco players who open up and lay bare their often troubled lives. Just like you rooted for the bad guys in The Wire, you pull for these players, who often need little more than someone steering them in the right direction. The second season is even more thorough in developing the personal struggles of some of the key players, including the challenging journey of running back Isaiah Wright.
With seasons one and two under his belt, Whiteley was asked whether he’ll spend another fall in Scooba.
“I don’t think we’re finished documenting the life in Scooba, but I’m not sure it would be for a season three,” Whiteley said. “If we do get permission to do a third season, we might want to go somewhere else.”
DEAFinitely Dope founder Matt Maxey never expected his everyday communication skills to be viewed as extraordinary. And he definitely never expected to catch the eye of Grammy-winning artist Chance the Rapper, who hired Maxey’s team of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for the remainder of his Be Encouraged Tour, which runs through October.
Yet, the 29-year-old Atlanta native and social media sensation has given the deaf and hard-of-hearing community an opportunity to share a full music experience at concerts around the country.
“The deaf community has dealt with so much ignorance and all they’ve ever wanted was inclusion and to be accepted and treated equally while being able to enjoy life on an equal level as their hearing peers,” Maxey said via email.
Maxey, who is hard of hearing, gravitated toward interpreting hip-hop and R&B because of its rhythmic beats and the often powerful stories in the songs’ lyrics.
“Hip-hop has long been a favorite for the deaf community because of the beats, bass, and being hip, but they’ve never seen anybody truly emulate how the hearing world acts, talks, and expresses themselves and it’s understandable in sign language,” he wrote. “[Chance the Rapper] bringing on DEAFinitely Dope and being the first rapper to have his own personal interpreters, just makes me extremely happy because I personally feel like our mission has been to break barriers in the community, in society, in perspectives and stereotypes. To have an artist with the same beliefs, working with a deaf and hearing-impaired reflective of what he strives for, it’s truly a beautiful movement and social change to be a part of.”
— Pigeons & Planes (@PigsAndPlans) June 17, 2017
Although the lines can be complex, there is a method Maxey uses to make interpreting fun and easier for the deaf community to follow along to their favorite tunes. For starters, Maxey studies the lyrics to ensure he understands the messages being relayed by artists. The lyrics, he said, are then portrayed in a way that people who know sign language will see how the stories are interpreted and connect it to their own life experiences.
“Hip-hop is purely visual with all the metaphors, wordplay and different moods that tracks may depict, so I must learn the words first, then I understand the song,” Maxey said. “I start signing the English words to the song to get my hands used to the song speed and mood, and lastly I picture it from the perspective of the artists and add the ASL twist to it by showing what the artist is talking about so that the message becomes clearer.”
That is exactly what Maxey did last month at the 2017 Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee — the first big-stage festival he’s interpreted for. Maxey signed two songs he knew by heart while using the crowd’s positive vibes and energy to get him through the set. Unbeknownst to Maxey, Chance the Rapper had been watching him work the entire time.
“The next day, my friend Freddie casually walked up to me and said, ‘Chance the Rapper wants to meet you. He called and asked specifically for you, so we are setting up the meeting before his set tonight,’ ” Maxey explained. “I just couldn’t believe it. We didn’t get to meet until after his set, but while backstage, I was talking with my fellow interpreters that I had brought with me and all of a sudden, he just popped up. All I could think was wow, we’ve really come this far to get to this point. Nothing is impossible.”
— DEAFinitely Dope (@deaf_dope) June 14, 2017
Life hasn’t always been filled with success for Maxey, who founded DEAFinitely Dope in 2014 to “unite the hearing and deaf community through music and sign language.” Early on, his struggle to fit in with both the hearing and deaf communities made him question his place in society.
“I always felt like I was too deaf for the hearing world, yet too hearing for the deaf world,” Maxey said. “I think my situation is especially different with growing up in a hearing world, yet always working 10 times harder to hear with hearing aids and trying to lip-read what everyone is saying, knowing I can’t hear everything yet pretending that I could. If it was a group environment, forget about it.”
Maxey, who grew up in Atlanta before relocating to Houston, used hearing aids and was always surrounded by friends and family members to help him when necessary.
“My mother and my family never let me feel like I was a lesser person because of my disability and never lowered the standard for me,” Maxey said. “I was always slapped with the label of being gifted in the classroom, a pleasure to be around, and so many positive labels despite my disability that I never felt like I couldn’t do anything. The real question was, would I be accepted by everybody?”
After enrolling at Gallaudet University, a private institution for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C., then Florida State College at Jacksonville, Maxey’s journey to fit in became arduous. Maxey had no formal ASL training until taking classes at Gallaudet, and he struggled to find his footing among his deaf peers. Unable to fully conform, he took on odd, unfulfilling jobs to make ends meet. In the process, he relied heavily on drinking and partying as coping mechanisms for his “destroyed feeling of self-worth.”
Maxey soon realized the lifestyle he was leading was neither productive nor conducive to a viable career. Instead, he distracted himself by beginning a YouTube channel where he uploaded videos signing rap lyrics. Immediately, Maxey noticed the skyrocketing number of views his videos began receiving and how invested the audience was in the rare sight of a black man using sign language to rap lyrics.
From there, Maxey began sharing his videos on other social media platforms before getting involved in #4BarFriday, an Instagram freestyle competition created by Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard to allow users to share their rap battles. Maxey’s first entry was completely in sign language, with written lyrics posted in the description.
“I’ve been taking speech therapy for 18 years, [people] made fun of for my speech my whole life, and [I’m] extremely self-conscious of how I talked, which was why I found so much comfort in taking on the voice of an artist through sign language,” Maxey said. “The positive feedback was overwhelming from the community with the majority of the people commenting that they’ve never seen a deaf person rap before. I posted another one seven weeks later using my voice, and Damian Lillard posted it on his Instagram. The support, praise and inspiration was tremendous.”
His viral videos and accounts, which have amassed more than 45,000 combined followers, prompted Maxey to want to do more for the deaf and hard of hearing. In 2014, DEAFinitely Dope was born. As it gains steam, Maxey often reflects on the beginning of his journey while encouraging others to find what makes them happy in life.
“Find your passion, find your purpose, and fulfill it by any means necessary,” Maxey said. “I’ve truly lived life in a way to where nothing and nobody could come between my music and I, and with so many people witnessing the journey from 100 likes to 25K likes on Facebook, I just hope they feel inspired to the point that no, your deafness does not prevent you from being an inspiration to do more and do better. With spreading nothing but positivity, I hope people leave feeling better about themselves, encouraged, hopeful, ambitious. We need more of that instead of tearing each other down, negativity, and being content with being stagnant in life. Life is what you make it, so make it where the generation after you will enjoy and learn from the life you have lived.”