One man's vote for commissioner: Reggie Williams
Reggie Williams is being considered for the commissioner's position in the NFL. While I know that he is an out-of-the-box choice, I have known Reggie since the 1980s and hope that he is chosen to succeed Paul Tagliabue. I consider him to be an out-of-the-box candidate because he is not currently an NFL insider, and there has never been an African-American commissioner in any major pro sport.Reggie has been an out-of-the-box person his entire life, battling and overcoming any obstacles in his path. I have no doubt that he can tackle the challenge of taking on the top job in the NFL with the same success. Right now, he's battling his damaged knees. All that time as a player on the football field led him to his ninth knee surgery on July 3, and recovery from that is not the way he wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July. But nothing seems to be able to stop this man. I know he will be slower, physically, for a while, but the surgery won't slow down his brain or his guts. If the NFL calls him for a second interview, Williams' determination and confidence will be apparent to the people in the room, even if he's on crutches. For more than two decades, I have watched other people be dazzled by that determination and that confidence. Reggie Williams knows he can do the job. He has always faced skeptics. The kids in Flint, Mich., where he grew up, were tough on him. As kids often do, they teased him unmercifully for a profound loss of hearing, suffered at birth, which made communication difficult for him. He withdrew into his studies and developed his athletic gifts, while he worked on his ability to speak through therapy at The Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint. Bo Schembechler, then the football coach at Michigan, was a skeptic, too. Schembechler didn't think he was good enough to play in Ann Arbor, and ended Reggie's dream of playing for the Wolverines. He went on to star in the Ivy League; but near the end of his career at Dartmouth College, some NFL scouts were skeptical he could play pro ball. Chosen in the third round by Cincinnati, Williams played in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. His 23 fumble recoveries are among the most in NFL history, and his 62.5 sacks are well up on the Bengals' career list. Until Williams pushed aside the next set of skeptics and became a member of the Cincinnati City Council, no athlete I know of had ever held public office while he was still an active player. I first met Williams when we both testified before a Senate sub-committee. Sen. Bill Bradley was attempting to get colleges and universities to publish graduation rates. They do it now as a matter of routine; but in the 1980s, grad rates were a murky -- and often scandalous -- secret. Most athletes were afraid to speak out about social issues. Arthur Ashe and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were among the very few famous African-American athletes willing to be heard on the subject of academics and athletics, but Williams stood tall in his push for increased academic standards for student-athletes. It was not a fashionable position to take, but Reggie wanted all young people to be able to reach their full potential. He told the sub-committee that day that if a kid had athletic gifts, he or she needed to be a student first. You could see the admiration in which he was held by the Senators in the chamber. He was an orator, leading people. I thought that day that he could be a Senator himself. Or perhaps a minister leading his flock. I met him again in the late 1980s at the opening of a new athletic complex at Dartmouth. I had been asked to speak at the ceremonies, which included a weekend of events featuring some of Dartmouth's highest rollers. Reggie had no communication problems whatsoever that weekend. I watched him go from table to table to shake the hands of many of Dartmouth's prestigious alums, and I saw the same admiration from them that I'd seen from the Senators. He was not Dartmouth's first African-American student-athlete; but very few Dartmouth grads, black or white, had gone on to play pro ball. And Williams was a city councilman in Cincinnati, where his 14-year career had finally come to an end.