SI Vault
 
The Way He Was
Leigh Montville
June 20, 1994
Genial Cowboy Nate Newton used to be a big, bad bully
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
June 20, 1994

The Way He Was

Genial Cowboy Nate Newton used to be a big, bad bully

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

What makes a bully? It was hard to figure in his case. He had grown up in Orlando. His father, Nate Sr., ran a filling station that gradually expanded to sell food and detergent and all manner of items. His mother, Margret, is a schoolteacher. He had a sister and three brothers, one of whom, Tim, would play defensive tackle for three NFL teams. Nate played football and basketball, wrestled and put the shot at Jones High and worked in his father's store. He remembers that he mostly was a loner and liked to stay home. He never was a neighborhood gang guy, a hang-around guy, a follower.

The colleges that approached him in his senior year were big-time places. Arizona State, for one, was very hot in its pursuit. Arizona State? The thought of going so far away and working under a coach, Frank Kush, who made players run up and down a mountain, was not appealing. Newton asked his high school coach to contact A&M, which had not called. The predominantly black school 260 miles away expressed an interest in him, and Newton decided to go there as soon as he saw the campus, which was never the same once he arrived.

"One thing I've always liked to do is curse," he says. "I was cursing once when I was a kid, and my father heard me. He told me that when I was big enough and when I was away from home, I could start cursing, not before. I hit FAMU and I said, 'All right. Here I am. I'm big enough, and I'm away from home.' "

Words were his primary weapon. The happy one-liners of today were dipped in chem-lab acid in college and fired in lethal barrages. No one was safe. Especially women. Woe to the A&M woman who dressed in a morning hurry, mismatching the colors of her skirt and blouse. Woe to the poor soul who was having a bad hair day. Newton was walking his beat. Hey, wait a minute. Don't they have a *&%%$# comb in your dormitory? Don't they have a hairbrush ?

He was funny, for sure, but the laughter of those around him always was nervous. First, there was relief that someone else was the target. Second, there was fear that the target might change. Third, if there was going to be a physical confrontation, well, the biggest man on campus was ready for that, too, at any time.

"Here's how bad it got," Hayes says. "Nate would go to dinner. He would sit by the door. No one would leave the dining hall, because they knew they would have to walk past him. Thirty minutes would go by, an hour. It would be eight o'clock at night, and no one would be leaving. Just because they didn't want to go past Nate."

His mistake, Newton thinks now, was that he considered himself funny. Weren't people laughing? For the longest time he wasn't hearing the nervousness. He knew something was wrong—he didn't have many real friends, and he didn't have as many dates as he wanted—but he wasn't sure what it was. He was the fool, and he didn't know it.

"Something happened, though, that got me thinking," he says. "There was this little dude around campus who owed money to this big dude. The big dude told the little dude not to show up at this bar on Saturday night without the money, because he'd hurt him bad. Well, the little dude showed up. Without the money. The big dude came over, and they were talking, and the little dude pulled out a .45. He put the gun under the big dude's chin and blew his brains out. Just like that.

"The whole thing, you see, happened because the little dude was so scared of the big dude. I got thinking about having people afraid of you. It's not a good way to live. I don't care how bad you are, how big you are, there's someone inside who wants to be liked. Nobody wants to be treated like some kind of leper when he comes around."

The change had begun.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4