Alfred Morris on love and heartbreak

June 11, 2013

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

After the Martell Webster interview, I set out to find another athlete willing to step outside his comfort zone and chat with me over the ritual of a pedicure. Because of the relaxing environment, the conversations tend to get more personal than your average interview. Redskins running back Alfred Morris graciously agreed to join me, and so we have another addition to the “Athlete’s Feet” series. 

When Alfred Morris meets me after Redskins practice for our pedicure in Ashburn, he sits down in the chair and slowly pulls off his neon green sneakers, then his socks. The nail technician looks at his feet, and shakes her head disapprovingly. The nails on both of his big toes are black from bruises.

“The right one got stepped on again today,” he explained. “Both toes hurt me all last season. I get stepped on a lot.”

Sarah Kogod/The Washington Post (Sarah Kogod/The Washington Post)

He delivers the explanation with the same matter of fact, laid-back tone that is characteristic of the soft-spoken running back. Nothing seems to bother him much, and he’s certainly not going to let some bruised toes throw him off his game.

He sinks into the chair and admits that it’s only the second pedicure he’s ever experienced. Growing up one of seven boys in Pensacola, Fla., there weren’t many women, aside from his mother, to expose him to such luxuries.

The Morris family grew up particularly close. The boys slept two and three to a room, and went to church as a family every week. With so many siblings and neighborhood friends, there was always someone around to hang out with, so when Morris traveled to Boca Raton to attend Florida Atlantic University, the distance and solitude was difficult for him to handle. He almost didn’t make it through his first semester.

“When I went to college, I was by myself,” he said. “I was so ready to get away from home. I was so ready to be free, but being away I kind of got homesick. I didn’t want to drop out of school, I just wanted home to be closer. My first semester was rough. I didn’t focus much, to be honest with you. I made a 1.97 GPA that semester, and it was the lowest GPA I ever had by far.”

Morris’s mother Yvonne, who didn’t play around when it came to grades, didn’t say anything when she saw his marks. She knew her son, and knew that she didn’t have to.

“A lot of people think athletes are dumb anyway. I’m not dumb,” he said. “When I saw [the GPA], I was like, ‘Woah. Home can wait. I gotta get my grades up.’ I wanted to play ball, and the only way to do that was to make sure I took care of my stuff off the field in the classroom.”

Morris did just that. He turned his grades around and found himself less and less homesick as time went on. But just before his senior year of college, he was introduced to another new experience. After spending years fighting to keep her, the girl he’d been dating since high school broke up with him, leaving him badly heartbroken.

“I thought I had [the one] once upon a time,” he said. “That didn’t work out. The distance was too much. I was fighting a losing battle for a long time.”

The heartbreak left him scarred, and a little lost when it came to finding love.

“Every time I did it my way, I failed,” he said of past relationships. “I’m too nice of a guy. I’ve been cheated on, like, two or three times. The first girl I ever dated cheated on me. And I found out on Valentine’s Day. The second one cheated on me with one of my friends.”

Morris is open to love, but says that being in the NFL has made it tricky. He doesn’t put himself in situations where people can take advantage of him, and largely avoids social media. A few more recent experiences didn’t end well when his dates felt more serious about the relationship than he did.

“I like female companionship,” he says. “When you’re around hundreds of guys all day, every day, sometimes I’ll just hang out with a girl friend just because. But you gotta watch that, because sometimes they take it like, ‘Oh, you like me.’

“Dating is what it is,” he continues. “It’s dating. You’re just trying to find that one. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and that’s okay.”

He counts a relationship with God as a must-have in a potential mate, and has always dreamed of becoming a father to twins. But any woman hoping to catch his eye has to compete for his attention with the woman he calls his “Virginia Grandma.”

He met the elderly woman last summer while staying in a hotel for training camp, and immediately bonded with her. The two have kept in touch ever since and had plans to meet up after our pedicure. Morris, realizing he was going to be a bit late, took a break from chatting to call her.

“She was just such a sweetheart,” he said affectionately when he hung up one of his two phones (the other he keeps for business). “I was just drawn to her for some reason. She’s always telling stories about her life. Just the way she looked at me. She was going through so much, and just the way she looked at me made me think I could give her hope. I was like, ‘This lady. She needs me.’”

Morris says she had been recently widowed when they met, and was in and out of the hospital last year. He tries to visit with her at least once a week, and calls her often to check up on her. He knows that the befriending a random local hotel worker might look a bit strange to some people, and a year ago he would have agreed.

“If you would have told me [before that] I would have done that, I would say no,” he said, shaking his head. “But I guess I would have done it, because I did it.”

It’s another example of how, despite his rookie-year fame, Morris does his best to remain the person he was raised to be. He still goes to church and bible study when his NFL schedule allows and lives with a childhood friend who made the journey to Ashburn with him. He says he doesn’t spend much time going out, mostly to make sure he doesn’t find himself in the path of trouble.

He’s not concerned with the common definition of “cool,” even though that sometimes gives off the impression that he’s a loner. And while he does his best to make good decisions every day, there is one that he wishes he could have back.

“If I could go back, I would save myself for my [future] wife,” he says, without hesitation. “If I could change one thing, it would be that.”

Otherwise, he insists he has no regrets in life.

“Everything up to today, all the choices I made and all the things I went through helped shape who I am today,” he says. “And I’m okay with who I am today.”

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Dan Steinberg · June 11, 2013