The Courage, Resolve and Responsibility of Reggie Williams

(Photo: NY Times)

Rehab has become a never ending theme in Reggie Williams’ life

Imagine overcoming a severe hearing disability just to become a “regular” kid. Imagine growing up in Flint and dreaming of playing for the University of Michigan to no avail because you are labeled too small by its Hall of Fame head coach. Imagine being told by your high school counselor, shortly after Bo Schembechler turns you away, you aren’t intelligent enough to attend Dartmouth.

Imagine going to Dartmouth anyway and after the obvious culture shock and position change, you have a stellar college career and become an All-American. Imagine still doubting yourself as you sat in an airport praying for a sign and Muhammad Ali appears. Imagine playing 14 standout seasons on turf only to endure numerous knee replacements. Imagine at 53, you now sit in a hospital awaiting surgery number 19.

What would go through your head? Would you give up? Would you kill yourself? Would you fight? Would you feel sorry for yourself? Would the coward who lives in all of us come to the fore? Would you dream of better days even though the pain is the worse experience ever and there is never a painless moment? Would you tell the doctors to chop your leg off because it looks like this:

(Courtesy of Reggie Williams)

Despite constant pain and suffering, you have to stomach athletes not speaking out for the betterment of themselves, their communities and to a broader extent, mankind.

Gene Upshaw dies…

You know you have to be there and even though the pain smacks your face with 5,000 pound weights, you ride the train from New York to Washington, DC to pay your respects to a fallen friend and colleague.

And yet you are disappointed inside the obvious sadness…

“I didn’t see anyone on crutches.” Reggie tells me the next day. “I thought there would be more representation of guys like me there.”

Oh, there’s more…

While Reggie played in the NFL and held a City Council seat simultaneously, he developed a sense of political understanding with 1960’s realism. He wonders if the stark truth of the Civil Rights Movement is altogether lost in what has become the anonymous melting pot of today’s society. Reggie knows that Obama understands what it takes for all of us to ascend to the next level and that Barack has to play the game simply to get elected. He’s like many citizens–Black, White or otherwise–who finally see a Harvard educated visionary poised to become President of the United States and a Vietnam war hero who doesn’t go through what he goes through every day stands in Barack’s way?

Reggie would never use his injuries as a crutch the way Republicans and their fans have done with McCain.

Injuries don’t quantify your position; a sense of total respect for humanity (as well as knowledge and experience obviously) does.

Does it make the Republican candidate for President more qualified because he was a P.O.W. even as many Americans suffer a lot more mentally and physically every day than John McCain could ever dream of?

McCain and Palin can speak to Wisconsin without scrutiny but Barack is labeled a community organizer?

The question must be asked: Where’s the universal inclusion for all Americans in the Republican party?

Williams wants to stump in the battleground state of Ohio for Obama but sleeps on a first floor mattress and can barely get around.

Trust that he’ll find a way.

One more pic to put it all in perspective:

(Courtesy of Reggie Williams)

Are you understanding yet?

It’s called courage and resolve. Reggie knows he has a higher purpose. He prays his story will help those who’ve gone through hell and back–mentally and physically.

What…how…why is this happening to me? I’m in the College Hall of Fame. I had a successful career, you say to yourself. I was NFL Man of the Year. I was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year because of my charity efforts. I played in two Super Bowls. I was a monster on the field but never voted to the Pro Bowl. I was asked to be considered and had support for NFL Commissioner after Paul Tagliabue stepped down. I oversaw the creation of Disney’s sports complex in Orlando and helped it become the immensely successful amateur athletic development program it is today.

I…I…damn the pain…it’s…

DAMN! I just wanna SCREAM!

But….I still have this knee. I’m not giving up. They will not take it. I just won’t have it. This is my body and the Lord gives me strength. I will fight for Him and all of those who need me.

Hold the pain sacred, Reggie. It keeps you sane and because of it, we all have something amazing to gain.

The knee spouts blood in the air; Reggie’s white blood cell count is at dangerous levels. His immune system is breaking down; it might not be strong enough to stave off infection, disease and constant setbacks.

The drugs, the anger, the images, the loneliness, the constant struggle.

In that struggle, there is resolve.

Today there will be resolve…

Shawne Merriman, in making a decision to go on the IR–thus ending his 2008 season–is about to go through it. Tom Brady, as accomplished as he is, will go through it as well.

Will they have the courage to fight on remains to be seen.

Reggie wants so much for his fellow man. He’s not a paper activist, he’s the real deal, but he’s not out there thumping and screaming and yelling and name-selling. He leads by example. He knows he’s been fortunate despite the knee.

Or should I say knees for both have been replaced.

There’s much more to Reggie Williams. He’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever spoken to. I could sense Reggie sizing up my intelligence during a phone call. He challenges you. If he can do it, then damn right you can.

There are no buts. No excuses. Resuscitate those lost dreams that died as you cry.

You can do it.

You have to do it.

Do you care about your life…if you live or die?

Reggie is Super Man in life’s clothing. Even after he took off that Cincinnati Bengal uniform for the last time in 1989, he knew there was much more to come.

Last night I get a text from Reggie saying he is in New York Presbyterian awaiting his 19th surgery–his eighth since April.

I am sick to my stomach. I just want to shake the man’s hand. This is in no way diminishing what John McCain went through, but I don’t have to go all the way to the Hanoi Hilton to find a hero because my hero is just a phone call away.

58 Responses to “The Courage, Resolve and Responsibility of Reggie Williams”

  1. michelle says:


  2. michelle says:

    What a amazing life story. When is the movie coming out? I’m inspired today by what I just read. Keep your head up Mr Williams and I hope your surgery is a success.

  3. Big Man says:

    Those pictures are beyond disturbing. Wow. His injuries are one of the reasons I am so torn about following the NFL. These cats are slowly killing themselves for my enjoyment.

  4. michelle says:

    Big Man,

    I wish fans would understand what atletes go through. When your favorite player struggles in a game and the fans give him hell only to find out later that he was playing injured. I appreciate them. I’m sure the life of a pro athlete with all it’s glitz and glamour can be very lonely at times. Feeling like they let down and entire city. It’s not fair. We judge them entirely too harshly.

  5. Miranda says:

    Well said Michelle.

  6. Co Co says:

    This is unfortunate and those pictures were just unbearable! 🙁

  7. Mizzo says:

    I pull no punches. The pics are a reality fans don’t get.

  8. ronglover says:

    For people that raise the question as to why athletes are overpaid here’s your answer. Forget about the physical pain for a moment if you can, imagine what he’s going through psychologically.

  9. michelle says:



  10. michelle says:

    That’s athletes. LOL!

  11. Eric Daniels says:

    That’s why I have always said that NFL contracts should be guarnteed because they take the most risk to life and limb on every play. Reggie Williams I hope you stay strong and may the creator brings you through these trying moments, I saw Jim Otto and he has no knees whatsoever they look like grotesque masses of flesh like in “Night of the Living dead”. Football players from little league to the pro ranks take their lives in their hands for the game they love.

  12. KevDog says:

    Damn, that’s some serious shit Brotha Miz. I would never encourage my child to play football. It’s just a damn shame. Thanks for the email.

  13. Mizzo says:

    Missed you around these parts Brotha KevDog.

    Crazy thing is I have a son who is a sophomore quarterback with some serious talent.

  14. DavidMac says:

    Nothing brave or courageous about battering your money for a check. Sorry. We wouldn’t say any of the guys from Jackass or Steve Irwin are heroes, so why put that praise to Reggie.

    Sucks that he is on crutches and its even sadder that be believes in the crap Obama spits.

  15. Yeah I agree with KevDog, no child of mine is playing football. I used to love the sport until I myself was injured, but nothing of this sort. Wow, Mr. Williams has the strength of 20 men!

  16. MODI says:

    Let me say that this was a great article which I will forget all its contents in a couple of minutes as I can’t get those pictures out of my head. Even still, I’m glad you posted them.

    I definitely cosign Eric’s post on guaranteed contracts. I can’t imagine the amount of painkillers Reggie is on, and hope that his will makes out for just one speech for Obama before election. Not for Obama, but for him.

    I’d offer more thoughts… but that picture…

  17. TADOne says:

    Mizzo: Thanks for this. I did not know that Reggie was from Flint and that Bo turned him down to play at UM. This is a truly inspirational story. But damn, those pics……….

  18. michelle says:

    WOW! Say it isn’t so, Kev Dog I missed talking to you after The Wire ended.

    David Mac,

    I see your still an ass.

    Mr Williams story is full of courage and determination. You don’t have to be in a war to inspire someone else or be a hero. Americans all over the country do that every day.

  19. KevDog says:

    Glad to be back

    Omar going out like he did hurt my soul. That They portended how utterly alone he was in that one shot, from above, showing him on the corner, raging and not able to find Marlo, just before he was gunned down was brilliant.

    I disliked the serial killer storyline but otherwise, the final season was as brilliant and and true to the game as I expected. Still, IMO, far and away, the greatest dramatic TV series of all time and one of the greatest artistic achievements in human history.

    David Mac IS still an ass. I agree.

  20. michelle says:

    Kev Dog,

    I agree with your Wire analysis.

    Welcome back! Now I have to go to work. Talk to ya soon.

  21. Temple3 says:

    That’s one of your best pieces Mr. Tillery. Does Reggie have visitors at the hospital or a circle of associates here in New York? He’s a long way from Michigan and Ohio.

  22. Temple3 says:

    By the way…your boy DavidMac is a straight up bitch. He’s the guy that you kick down a flight of stairs just for asking directions.

  23. Mizzo says:

    Thanks for the words T3. Passionate subjects are easy to write–especially when I have a young quarterback on the come up…

    Yes, he has his sons who visit. I’m heading up there after he recovers from surgery Friday. Temporarily, NY is his home. He actually resides in Florida and will head south when he’s deemed healthy enough.

    LOL on DMac.

  24. Okori says:

    Dude this was a great read. But can I ask one small favor.

    Next time you do something like this put a warning at the beginning so people know. Please?

  25. Mizzo says:

    Appreciate the compliment but…

    Nah shock value was needed in this instance. People need to see exactly what happens to the bodies of football players over time.

    I apologize to anyone who lost their lunch but you’ll live to get another one.

    Besides replacements…Reggie won’t be able to do the same in regards to his knee. You all will be alright. Trust when I was sent the pics initially, I cringed myself.

  26. TRiles says:

    Dartmouth educated? Well he was pretty stupid to keep playing in the league where they play…FOR PAY! Remember, that McCain was a prisoner of war so your comparison is repugnant. Williams? A prisoner of his own greed, ego, whatever. He always seemed like a wonderful man and a great role model. Still is. But he could have walked away from the game at any time but chose not to leave. I wish him the best and hope medical science can help ease his pain but remember that it was all his choice. And whether McCain or Obama wins, regretfully, Williams won’t see any difference. That’s the real shame.

  27. 19082008 says:

    I haven’t lost my lunch. It’s too early out here. But it’s a gripping story. I remember Reggie as a player; hard-charging and conducted himself with total class. Thank you for posting.

  28. michelle says:



  29. DavidMac says:

    I’m not disrescpecting Reggie Williams or any of his accomplishments, but what is heroic about playing in the NFL and ignoring your body so much, through drugs, that you can no longer properly function in old age?

    A soldier going in the service for his country is noble, a soldier dying for his country and fellow soldier is heroic. I think you all use the world too much and as a result the importance is lost.

    McCain is not a war hero, he did nothing heroic, but neither is Reggie Williams, for being stupid. He is no different that the idiot Shawn Merriman, who went out and played on a bum knee he should have already had surgery on, knowing that further activity could damage it beyond all repair.

    If Shawn is not able to repair his knee, will we see an article detailing his bravery and labeling him a hero for his actions?

  30. michelle says:


    Define hero.

  31. Mizzo says:

    Exactly Michelle.

    This is not about comparing football player to P.O.W.

    Reggie Williams is so much more than that for the record.

    Yes, it is very noble for anyone in any country to become a soldier.

    But when a P.O.W. panders to the electorate by constantly telling us what he went through just to win an election, I call bullshit.

    I wonder what other prisoners of war think about the candidate.

  32. michelle says:


    What is your definition? I think many people can be defined as heroes. With all due respect to our armed forces. Many service people enlist out of opportunity not because of this overwhelming need to serve our country. If I’m not mistaken, McCain had a lot of pressure from his family to join the navy. Many of his decisions regarding his career were based on family pressure. Mr Williams story is amazing. He over came odds and disappointments to accomplish things he was told he could never do. That makes him a hero. His ability to get back up after he had been knocked down so many times. His service to others through his charity work is noble.

    McCain voted against raising the min. wage. He voted against the Martin Luther King holiday. He voted for the Iraq war.

    Being a nurse myself and seeing the hardships people go through every day. I do not in any way consider McCain a hero. He just wants to enhance the riches of the wealthy. Just look at how he treated his first wife. When she needed him most he left her for the bimbo he’s currently married to. He’s using the same slime balls who slandered him with lies during the primaries when he was running against Bush to lie and slander Obama.

    Heroes care about those in need!

  33. michelle says:

    Obama has the support of our troops not Mccain, so what does that tell you?

  34. DavidMac says:


    What is a hero, a person who sacrifices their own well-being, present and future, for the sake of others, with no regard for reward or praise.


    I agree McCain is not a war hero, but McCain doesn’t use his being a P.O.W. as justification for why he should be President. As for other P.O.W.s seems like half of them hate his guts with all their heart and another group praise him as one of their own who has moved on and put it behind him.


    My definition of hero doesn’t apply to those who simply join the military, although, regardless of their motives, they are joining a noble profession, this goes with anyone who takes up public service jobs, keyword: JOB.

    As for McCain and his faimly, so what if he was pressured to join the Navy. My parents pressured my siblings and me to join the Air Force, what is your point?

    Williams’ story really isn’t different than any pro-athlete. All professional athletes who are great battle adversity and overcome to get to where they are. I don’t understand how that makes them heroes. Maybe role models or interesting people, hell even admirable, but heroes, no way in hell.

    McCain voted against raising the minimum wage, I agree with him, as a matter of fact there shouldn’t be a minimum wage; but what is your point in bringing it up? McCain voted again MLK holiday, the man later said he made a mistake and was sorry, that doesn’t matter though right? Hell it not like he said he didn’t support it because he was black, the man’s reasoning was that there was too many federal holidays, he was actually saving people money. Still I don’t see your point in even bringing it up, it is irrelevant.

    Being a nurse really means nothing with regards to your opinion, it is also irrelevant. Ok, you do not consider McCain a hero, neither do I. He wants to enchance the riches of the wealthy? How, by allowing them to keep more of the money they actually earn? How is that evil? About the way he treated his first wife, he admitted he was wrong, and she said they are still friends. Again though, what is the point of bringing up his 1st wife, that is irrelevant. As for Cindy, why is she a bimbo, because she is blonde? I guess that would make you a hoochie momma because you are black. See how that name calling and prejudice works, its disgusting no matter what race you are and it serves to lessen your credibility; it shows what hate you have. He is using the same slime balls who slandered him with lies, what are you talking about michelle, who are these people? What lies is he spreading about Obama, be specific and show the slander, if you can’t, I guess we will have to assume you are just spouting Obama’s company line for when people bring up his own words against him.

    Caring people care about those in need, you don’t have to be a hero to do so.

  35. michelle says:


    Are you kidding me? All they talked about during the republican convention was his time as a POW. If you believe his explanation for why he voted against the King holiday then you are a fool.

    I can’t imagine his suffering as a POW. However, he has sold his soul to the devil for the sake of getting elected.

    If you give your time and money to help others then you are a hero.

    When did I say being a nurse was relevant to this conversation? I guess I should have been more clear. I see people suffer because they don’t have medical insurance. It’s sad that people work every day and still can’t make ends meet because their wages are too low. I want the man elected that will help those people.

    Putting out an ad stating that Obama wanted to teach young children about sex ed was a lie. Saying he’s going to raise taxes on the middle class and below is a lie. His cronies saying Obama is a muslim (not that being a muslim id a bad thing) is a lie.

    Cyndi Mccain is an addict and a theif who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. So why did she end up abusing drugs? She had the money for therapy to help her with any problem she might of had. I am neither. She also dated a married man and then later took him away from his children and injured wife. Who said anything about her being a blonde?

    WOW! A kind, caring woman behaves that way.

    Don’t compare me to that trick!

  36. michelle says:

    David Mac,

    Why don’t you go see the wizard for some courage and a heart!

  37. Eric Daniels says:

    I wouldn’t talk to the troll whether he’s white or Uncle Rukus typ black person. He always ranting like a little pussy everytime a black person says something that does not reflect his neo-con worldview and call us racists when we have legitmate problems with white Americans. My advice is he could take his white racist defending ass on toThomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Ken Hamberlin or Fox News or racist sites Stromfront where he will feel right at home amongst his “peeps” and fellow conservative travelers, at least I won’t have to hear dumb shit from this prick.

    I could debate reasonable black and white conservatives on issues of sports and politics but this troll is here for nothing else but degrade Black Ballplayers and Black Americans who aren’t “good nigras” like Jesse Lee Peterson. I wouldn’t mind listening to a Micheal Steele, Shannon Reaves or Condi Rice conservatives who are actually senstive to black issues, but this David Mac troll is neither intelligent or reasonable and loves to use fake stats to butress his arguments. What’s next troll the black crime and birth stats.

  38. DavidMac says:


    No all they talked about at the convention was not just his P.O.W. years. That is a measurable, it is not even up for debate, anyone who looked at CSPAN, MSNBC, FOX, or CNN could see most of the convention. Most of his speech wasn’t even about his P.O.W. years, when they did the breakdown of his paragraphs. So lets use some facts. As for why he voted against MLK day, why did he “really” vote against it michelle? Thats right, you don’t know, you are just projecting your feelings and assumptions on him, instead of looking at what is actually there. You are better than that.

    He sold his soul to get elected? You aren’t even being rational anymore michelle.

    I give time and money to helping others, do you think I’m a hero? I give money to my local police charities and every two weeks I help at a food bank. Do I qualify?

    Ok you see people who make bad choices in their life so that they end up working all the time and because of bills and other issues, do not have money to pay for their own insurance or medical bills; but that isn’t their fault, it is the rich and well off peoples’ fault for not forking over the money they earn to help them. That is basically what you are saying right?

    The ad about Obama wanting to teach sex ed to kids before they could read was not a lie it is true and it has come out of his mouth. So evidently you need to start reading and start looking at the man you want to vote for. As for taxes on the middle class, you are right, Obama isn’t raising taxes on the middle class, or at least not the whole, just those in upper middle class, which is 100K+ through 1M. McCain has never said Obama was a muslim and no one in his campaign has said that either. Show proof.

    Cyndi McCain was hooked on persciption drugs and she did steal them. Her parents staged an intervention and she went through treatment. She also was punished by the DEA. So what is the problem? She battled addiction and came through the otherside, sort of similar to some people you guys praise, but I guess if she is a Republican or white they get no love from you all right? LOL. She was born rich, so what? I guess she doesn’t deserve to enjoy what her parents worked hard to attain, damn her, living life off what her parents earned. Yes michelle, it is ridiculous no matter how you say it. Cindy said she did not know he was married when they first started dating because John did not tell her. Like I said that whole situation is complex, but all parties involved now say they have a good relationship. I guess you know more about the situation than McCain, Cindy, and John’s first wife though, please tell us, what this situation did in your life? I don’t see where the bimbo comes from anything you brought up michelle. You should try to frame your arguments in a better manner.

    Good for you, you care. Do you want a cookie?

    Why don’t you want to be compared to Cindy McCain? You don’t like success?

    @Eric Daniels

    whine, whine, whine. Grow a pair and man up. Your parents should have taught you that not everyone is going to agree with you all the time, if they haven’t though, it is time you figure that out.

  39. mcbias says:

    Sorry I didn’t get here earlier, Mizzo. Big Man above nailed my feelings on the topic. I’m seriously considering going AWOL on football because I hate the physical toll it’s taking on players. I’m not against contact sports. I play lots of basketball in my free time, but the worst injury I ever got was bad knees, and that went away once I stopped playing quite as often and was more careful of my body. But football’s effects are so brutal and immediate in comparison! I just don’t know…

  40. michelle says:

    ‘Your are a fool. Cyndi is an addict. She stole drugs from her own foundation. She stole drugs from children who needed them. I wondered if she’s even able to vote for her husband. Didn’t she commit a felony? Funny, you don’t have any sympathy for those who come from a poor back ground and have problems but then make excuses for someone who has everything handed to her and fucks up. Why? As for Obama, the legislation was to teach children about pedophiles and how to protect themselves ass! The ad was cheap and misleading. Much like yourself!

  41. doesn’t this web site has other languages support??

  42. DavidMac says:


    Cyndi McCain WAS an addict and she has admitted this and has gotten treatment. Its been almost 20 years since the situation came to a head, so really I don’t see the point you are trying to make.

    At the end of the day you can moan and whine all you want, but you are not making any points and you are definitely not using any logical arguments with regard to Mrs. McCain.

    As for the poor, they will not go to jail if they are a drug addict who uses and chooses to stop using and go to rehab. The authorities never caught Mrs. McCain stealing drugs and by the time the information came out it, a great amount of time had passed since the actual incident. No person would go to jail if their situation played out like hers. Also I don’t see Mrs.McCain making excuses for her actions, she owned up to her addiction.

    Obama worked for and publicly has stated he wants sex education for Kindergarteners, its not even up for debate. If you don’t like his stance maybe you should reevaluate your position, but don’t cry about people slandering him when they are only reporting the truth.

  43. Xpect Gr8tr says:

    I see this type of pain all the time in my occupation. I sit with athletes as the cry because they dream has been plagued with injury associated pain as an athletic trainer. I have seen young men unable to hold their children because they cannot move their shoulders from multiple sports related trauma. I am thankful for this very personal story and i pray this is the 19th and final surgery. Mr. Williams I pray for a painfree recovery.

  44. Bukmacher says:

    Ciekawy post, dodalem twoj blog do ulubionych, bede tu teraz wpadal czesciej, pozdrawiam

  45. thebrotherreport says: just did something on Reggie Williams last week regarding this.

    Glad you beat them to the punch.

  46. alreggie says:

    Hope all is well with his surgery. Man, that knee looks rough. I know he doesn’t want it amputated but sometimes that’s the only way to get rid of the mess. My aunt dealt with something like that for years and eventually had an amputation and was fine after that. Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

  47. Hi Reggie,

    I just read about your unfortunate injuries you have suffered. I dont know if I would be as courageous as you…but you were always positive and conquered whatever the problem. The time spent with you training at Dartmouth always stayed with me. I remember you introduced me as a friend or partner to people on the campus. f you don’t remember I met you in college thru my best friend Larry Cubas who has past on . I hope and pray(BOOM) everything works out for you spiritually and physically.

    Tony Bellamy Wagner College 77