Chad Kackert won't be the only new face looking to prove himself when the Toronto Argonauts meet the Calgary Stampeders Saturday (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN). Another lesser-known name getting an opportunity is new starting left tackle Tony Washington, but he'll also have a critical role to play. Washington's insertion means the Argos no longer have an all-Canadian offensive line, and he'll have to play very well against his former team to prove that the ratio juggling required to get him in the lineup was worth it. He has a crucial job, too, protecting the blind side of quarterback Ricky Ray; that's not an easy role to step into. Washington's been called "the ultimate second-chancer" for good reason, though, and he's already overcome incredible odds to get to this point. Don't bet against him showing what he can do on the field Saturday.
As stories like those of Taj Smith and Victor Anderson demonstrate, plenty of players have gone from rough upbringings to CFL success. However, Washington's story is even more unusual, and one of the largest reasons he's been overlooked by the NFL is because he's a registered sex offender, something that made it difficult for him to even get into Canada. That record isn't necessarily what you think, as Allison Glock explored in a 2010 ESPN piece:
Like 716,750 other Americans, Tony Washington is a registered sex offender. You can find his picture online, a simple head shot; he is dressed in a black jacket, eyes low, resigned. He takes a new photo every year. It's a requirement, one of the easier ones to endure. The registry lists his address and provides a map to it. His height, weight, skin color, shoe size, employer and photos from previous years are all there too. The charge is at the bottom: prohibited sexual conduct.
On May 9, 2003, Washington pleaded guilty to having consensual sex with his biological sister, Caylen. He was 16, she was 15.
"Incest," he says, looking straight ahead.
He says he didn't plan to do it. He was a teenager. Unstrung. Unsupervised. His world was at war. He was scared. Isolated. Except she was there, the two of them best friends, close as book pages. They loved each other, trusted each other. And one day that tipped into something more. Something neither one felt was wrong in the moment. "We were just sitting there, and it was like, 'Do you want to?'" he says. There was no discussion. "We did it. And it was like, 'OK, what's next?' We never talked about it after that."
Both say it happened only once more. The two never kissed. Never shared true intimacy. Just spontaneous, ill-conceived connections. Needs met when few others were.
A few months after they first had sex, Washington's sister went out one night to meet somebody. Her boyfriend, she says. Johns, the police suspected. Soon after, Washington's phone rang. His sister had been picked up by the cops. He needed to come get her, and he needed to come right away. "All I knew was my sister was in trouble," he says. "So when I showed up, and they asked me about the two of us, I said yes. I didn't know it was illegal."
That admission led to Washington being put in an adult jail as a 15-year-old, and it's led to further restrictions on him ever since. There's good reason to think it derailed his NFL dreams; many had him ranked as high as a potential second-round pick in 2010 thanks to his rare blend of size (he's listed at 6'7'', 295 pounds) and agility, but he wasn't selected and didn't receive any interest as an undrafted free agent. After a stint in the Arena Football League, though, the Stampeders gave him a chance, and he played five games for them in 2011. Following a brief stint with the Indoor Football League's Allen Wranglers (which Terrell Owens was infamously cut from), Washington landed with the Argonauts in July, and now he has a chance against his old team to prove that he's a capable on-field player.
The CFL's long been famed for giving players second chances, and Washington might just be a perfect example of that. That doesn't extend to every offence imaginable; for example, guys like Adam Braidwood, Yonus Davis and Josh Boden aren't likely to ever find work in this league again. There's a place here for people like Washington, Jordan Matechuk and others who have made mistakes and moved on from them, though, and the key question is if they can contribute on the field. Off-field issues may have kept Washington from getting an NFL shot, but they haven't kept him out of the CFL. Now, "the ultimate second-chancer" has the opportunity to show he's worthy of this particular chance.