Things Bigger Than Football: DeAngelo Williams

Charles LeClaire photo: USA Today Sports

Perhaps the title should actually be “People Larger than Life,” because DeAngelo has certainly been making a lot of noise recently. Let me state up front how grateful I am to the Steelers for adding such a solid and yet interesting person to the roster. And that’s before you look at how well he played!

The first “noise” out of DeAngelo started two years ago, while he still played for Carolina. I’m talking, naturally, about off-field noise, because his play on the field speaks for itself, so much so that he was deemed by Pro Football Focus to be the fifth-best free agent signing in the league last season, Some national writers put him higher than that. The noise to which I refer is, of course, his campaign against breast cancer.

Breast cancer is a subject near to Williams’ heart. Pretty much every sentient being who has any interest in the Steelers knows the story, but I’ll recap it, just in case a few readers weren’t sentient last fall, through some unfortunate circumstances.

Breast cancer is a family affair for Williams. As noted in the beautiful MMQB article about Williams and his crusade

During the middle of my third season at the University of Memphis, she received a diagnosis that required the removal of her breasts and lymph nodes. The diagnosis was no surprise to her, or the rest of us. Her father had the mutated breast cancer 1 gene and passed it along to his five daughters. My first aunt diagnosed with breast cancer, Linda Faye, died in 1992, at 32. Mamie Earl was my second aunt to pass away from the disease, in 2004, the same year two of her sisters (Mary Beatrice and my mom) found out they had breast cancer. Mary died in ’05. My youngest aunt, Theresa Gaye, died from it three years ago; then my beautiful mom on May 16, 2014.

His description of his mother makes it clear she was a remarkable women. While going through her own fight for life, she was helping another woman, as Williams found out after his mother’s death:

[S]he told me how my mom had been an inspiration to her, a guiding light in a time of trouble. She explained that she was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago, and that she was introduced to my mom via a group text message. She went on to say that my mom walked her through the process in great detail, and on a regular basis. My mom was an expert by then, having watched four sisters pass away. Even though they’d never met in person, she kept in touch with this woman, texting her scriptures and inspirational messages. She had been for this woman the kind of rock she was for all of us, even though her demise was right around the corner.

That’s the challenge my mother laid down for all of us: Don’t just fight this disease for yourself. Fight it for every woman who comes after you, who will suffer as you suffered. God willing, no woman will feel as though she has to face this disease alone.

Williams did not shy away from the challenge, but I think even he was surprised when something as simple as pink on a uniform made a difference:

Breast cancer, whether I like it or not, is part of my family’s story. That’s why I am so passionate about raising awareness, because I have seen firsthand how it can impact others. One time, a lady came up to me and said she was going to get examined just because she saw me wearing pink cleats during a game. I walked away thinking, Wow, pink is really so much more than just a color. It’s a lifesaver. It’s awareness. If we reach one, we reach millions. If we reach millions, we’re doing our job and getting closer to finding a cure.

Last spring Williams petitioned the NFL for permission to wear pink year-round, and it was rejected. As Profootballtalk wryly noted in October:

Running back DeAngelo Williams had his request to wear pink in recognition of his mother’s battle with breast cancer rejected by the NFL earlier this year and Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Media reports that he has now been fined $5,787 by the league for wearing we will find a cure and a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon on his eye black this month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which the NFL recognizes by putting pink accents on gear worn by players and coaches for all 32 teams around the league. While Williams’s choice of eye black would seem to be in line with that effort, the league obviously felt Williams’s actions weren’t in line with league rules or the larger effort.

The NFL has been unbending in their opposition to any messages sent via uniforms that don’t come pre-approved by the league, so the only surprising part of Williams’s fine is that it comes during a month that the league uses as a way to show how much they care about the fight against breast cancer.

Don’t even get me started. After the League refuse to budge, Williams decided that rather than continue to be fined he would do something positive. First, he carefully researched the rules about players’ hair, and discovered that the NFL has no say over how a player wears it, as long, I suppose, as they can cram it into a regulation helmet. So he had the tips of his hair dyed pink. Next, he donated what you might view as the money he would probably have been fined to continue to be in violation of the uniform policy to fund 53 mammograms for low-income women who might otherwise not be screened.

But breast cancer awareness is not the only focus of Williams’ foundation. Here is the mission statement:

Our mission is to develop and seek initiatives to support the eradication of breast cancer through preventative care and research. Also through philanthropy and community service, The DeAngelo Williams Foundation strives to become an advocate of education with a special focus on literacy

And it looks like he has a new cause as well. In an interview on ESPN’s First Take early this month Williams apologized to a teammate:

Williams–who was asked about domestic violence in light of Greg Hardy’s situation–said that he didn’t realize how domestic violence has become such a prevalent issue in America, an issue that has significantly impacted Gay, who lost his mother to domestic violence as a child.

“There’s a real issue [with domestic violence],” Williams said. “I owe an apology to William Gay. He is an advocate for domestic violence, and I apologize to him for this issue. I’ve been so wrapped up in breast cancer, and that cause, that I’ve never really stepped outside of that to look at other causes. And domestic violence is a real issue in this country.”

While he said that he will continue his work with breast cancer awareness, Williams said he will “absolutely” begin working with domestic violence organizations while helping Gay and other professional athletes address what has become a real issue in society today.

I’m looking for purple and pink hair tips for next season…

Williams is a frequent Twitter user—and by “frequent” I mean “don’t try to look for anything further back than a couple of days” kind of frequent. He famously was reprimanded by Mike Tomlin for disparaging comments made about Peyton Manning, but something tells me this won’t discourage him from speaking his mind. He’s definitely a WYSIWYG sort of a guy, as evidenced by this video he put up. Be sure and watch it if you want advice on love, marriage, and dating from random people in a thrift store.

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Then there are his “Dad-Do” commercials for Pantene. His girls are as adorable as he is:

This one is worth it just to hear his 3-year old sing “Here We Go Steelers”:

One gets the sense Williams has a great sense of humor from these videos, and the following video from last December displays it well. It reminds me strongly of the awesome “Training Camp Larry” videos with Ryan Clark:

But perhaps his goofiness is best expressed by this recent video Williams made with former Panthers’ teammate and friend Gary Barnidge:

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Nor has he neglected to think about the future. As he told ESPN recently, he’s thought about when would be the time to retire:
“I wanna play until my production drops,” Williams said. “I don’t wanna play until my body gives out of me. I gotta leave some fuel in the tank because I have three kids, and they always wanna play, and they’re high energy. My mom and my dad always told me, ‘Hey, when you have kids, you’ll see [that] those energy levels change.’ I completely understand what they mean by that, and I just wanna have enough energy for them, and I don’t want have to use a walking device just to be able to play with my kids.”
All this makes me think that Williams is a guy who would be seriously fun to hang out with. Caring dad, loving son, great advocate, and a little bit crazy—who could ask for anything more? Except, of course, great on-field production, and Williams delivered that last season in spades. I’m very happy he’s a Steeler!

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