(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.