Denzel Hayes Washington Jr. (born December 28, 1954) is an American actor, director, and producer. He has received two Golden Globe awards, one Tony Award, and two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for the historical war drama film Glory (1989) and Best Actor for his role as corrupt detective Alonzo Harris in the crime thriller Training Day (2001).
Washington has received much critical acclaim for his film work since the 1980s, including his portrayals of real-life figures, such as South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987), Muslim minister and human rights activist Malcolm X in Malcolm X (1992), boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in The Hurricane (1999), football coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans (2000), poet and educator Melvin B. Tolson in The Great Debaters (2007), and drug kingpin Frank Lucas in American Gangster (2007). He has been a featured actor in films produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and has been a frequent collaborator of directors Spike Lee, Antoine Fuqua, and Tony Scott. In 2016, he received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the 73rd Golden Globe Awards.
Denzel Washington is an amazing actor. More than that, Denzel is an amazing husband, father, Christian, and leader. Today, Denzel Washington will lead us all by telling us a story that he has told before. But today it is extremely important for what we are watching in our nation.
So here’s what we’ll do: we’ll shut up and step out of the way. Watch this video: “If I fall, I’ll fall forward.” It’s in Denzel Washington’s own words.
I owned the arena football team in New Orleans for some time. My Head Coach — Pat O’Hara — liked for me to say a word to the 35 football players that showed up for the first day of training camp each year. (That was the ONLY time Coach O’Hara wanted me in front of his team!) I did so, and it was the same every season:
I asked a player to stand and tell us who he was. Invariably, they would stand and say, “I’m so-and-so from Wherever and I’m a Running Back,” or “I’m a Defensive Lineman,” etc. I’d call on 2 or 3 more guys who invariably said the same things. When I had called on a few of those guys, I’d stop that segment and would tell them all this:
“Each of you told us that who you are is a Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, and so on. I didn’t ask what position you play — I asked you tell us who you are. Most people in the U.S. would have responded the exact same way.
We live in a society today that has taught us all that our identity lies in what our jobs are. We set values for ourselves and for others based on exactly that. And the problem in doing so is that when we lose our role as a football player, we have been conditioned to believe that we are no longer who we thought we were — we’ve been conditioned to fail.”
I finished that conversation by saying this to all those players and our coaches: “Don’t let where you are in your life today determine who you are. Today you’re playing football. There will be only 21 players here the last day of training camp. Those 21 will comprise our active player squad. What happens to the others? Some will find other teams, some will leave football and work in some other field. It is a certainty that every player in this room will someday NOT be a football player. When that happens, you better know who you are, not just what you did.”
“You’re a football player today, but that’s not who you are — it’s what you do. When you stop playing you’ll still be who you are. You’re a man!”
I left them all with a similar thought as did Denzel’s instructions to those University of Pennsylvania graduates. I told my guys this: (and it’s a good thought for you too)
Don’t let where you are in your life today determine who you are. Where you are today is only one stop on the path to where you’re going.
Denzel is right: we’re all gonna fall at some point. But when that happens, we’re still the same people — UNLESS we allow our chosen roles to determine our identity and when we fall, we fall forward.