Criminal. Thug. Cheater. Liar. Overall bad guy. Those are just some of the less-than-flattering words used to describe Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams in recent months.
This morning, Williams is only 10 days away from returning from a nine-game (combined) suspension for a failed drug test and a DWAI conviction stemming from a November 2010 arrest. Williams, a 2004 first-round pick who’s led the Broncos in tackles in five of his eight seasons coming into 2012, may be considered a success on the field, but his all-too consistent off-field troubles have sparked controversy at best, hatred at worst and down-the-center disappointment for most.
Part of the harsh judgment comes from several questionable actions, but Williams is also notoriously difficult to deal with for the media. Reporters looking for a quote from the now-30-year-old University of Miami product are always turned down, some politely and most rather bluntly. And Williams’ disconnect with the media has unquestionably helped shape a strongly negative perception of the talented-yet-troubled linebacker.
Starting with his first DUI conviction in September 2005, a second DUI arrest in November 2010 (lowered to a DWAI in an August conviction), and wrapping up with two failed drug tests in 2011 and the subsequent nine-game suspension that he’s currently serving, the 17th overall pick in the 2004 draft is in the doghouse of many Broncos fans for a number of transgressions. And his previous media silence only appears to have alienated him further.
But on Thursday night, Williams opened up publicly with the media for the first time in more than two years, talking about his troubled past, his uncertain future and how he’s dealing with the present.
“It’s hard to open up to people that you don’t know,” Williams exclusively told Mile High Sports from his kitchen table, appearing relaxed and speaking far beyond the allotted half-hour scheduled interview. “That’s not me. That’s not my personality. I don’t talk to people I don’t know genuinely.”
Williams spoke candidly on a smorgasbord of topics for nearly a full hour on Thursday, discussing everything from his heavily criticized social media antics to his desire to retire as a Bronco and his “Dyme Lyfe” lifestyle.
On social media – often the source of several of Williams’ headaches over the years – and Dyme Lyfe, which is closely related to his Twitter account (@DJWilliam55), Williams was particularly candid.
If you were to glance at his Twitter account, you’d find frequent references to Dyme Lyfe and retweets, or mentions, from various fans wearing t-shirts and other clothing sporting the two words that have taken on a life of their own. Despite little mention of the exact definition of what exactly it means, the “Dyme Lyfe” has gradually developed a negative connotation among some fans and the media.
Williams helped spearhead the Dyme Lyfe movement two years ago with then-Broncos teammates Ronald Fields and Marcus Thomas as a means to positively get through a difficult 4-12 season in 2010. Holding up a pinky, ring and middle finger and using the same hand’s thumb and index fingers to form a circle, most outsiders might interpret the hand gesture as an “okay” sign. However, many critics have taken it as either a gang symbol or a reference to smoking marijuana, a claim Williams vehemently denies. Instead, he said it was simply a way for the three teammates to stay positive.
“It has nothing to do with anything negative,” Williams said. “It has nothing to do with smoking marijuana. We have a creed. It’s a select few who focus on bonding, and building relationships with each other and indulging in the finer things in life, and never, I repeat, never, press for attention or accept it. That’s what ‘Dyme Lyfe’ means; it’s almost like paying something forward. It’s not treating somebody like you’d treat yourself; it’s far beyond that.”
But Williams’ prolonged silence about the subject helped allow the stories and rumors about the Dyme Lyfe’s true origin to circulate. And like a bad game of telephone, stories tend to get worse over time.
His Twitter-related problems don’t end there, however. When Williams tweeted that he was going out to party after the Broncos lost an October 2010 game to the 49ers in London, he was vilified on Twitter. He took exception to the criticism.
“Fans don’t understand. You’re mad, you had a five-dollar wager on it, you’re probably going to get teased by your friends, your work colleagues,” Williams said with a hint of anger in his voice. “(But) when we lose games, guys lose jobs, livelihoods; guys who are married who have wives and kids. We’re talking about multi-millions (of) dollars being lost. So for someone to think that someone who lost a game is not upset is foolish. Just because their actions after a game are different than some other people is foolish. We have a saying in the locker room, ‘Hold on to this one for the day and get it over with, and get ready for the next one.’ Just because a guy goes straight home after a win or loss doesn’t mean that he cared about something more than me. And I know the perception of it, but guys release and get rid of stress in different ways.”
Williams’ public reputation perhaps reached its all-time low in June, when the Sacramento native tweeted a picture of the Broncos’ playbook on Twitter, igniting a firestorm of criticism from both fans and media, who barked at Williams for revealing preciously-held secrets of the Broncos’ playbook. But Williams – who had just been asked to switch positions for at least the fifth time in his eight-year career – said he was just trying to show fans that he was hard at work.
“My coach tells me, ‘Hey, we’re changing your position; you’ve got to learn a new position over the weekend and you’re basically going to compete against somebody who’s been doing it for two, three months. And you’re fighting for a job,’” Williams said. “So, I woke up on my day off at nine in the morning, because I always like to write things down. I went and I got flash cards. So what I did was I took every defensive call. I wrote the call down. I wrote where I set in the front. I wrote where I (lined up). I wrote what I’m doing. I wrote what everybody else is doing. I wrote every check if they go to empty.
“So I had those cards, I had 50 or 60 cards. I look on the card, the actual card that I put on the thing was (a play call). I would see how many I could get without looking at the back. And so while I was doing that, because it just was after Memorial (Day) weekend (June 8 was the day of the tweet), I went to Vegas and I had a great time, and I took pictures with my friends. Just like hundreds of other NFL players did the same thing. So I was like, ‘I’m going to show people, do something for the fans to connect and show them.’ Because they didn’t know.”
In addition, the tweeted plays (which came on a panel of six cards) were, what Williams described them as, mainstream plays that weren’t, or aren’t, secrets across the NFL.
“Every defense has this call (the one that he tweeted). Every offensive player knows it,” said Williams, who said he received numerous calls of support from teammates after the incident. “It would have been the equivalent of a basketball player posting the pick and roll.
“None of my teammates thought that I did anything wrong. A guy wrote a report talking about treason. Treason? That’s turning on your government. People get killed for treason. You get life in jail for treason. (I posted) one call, of one defense – out of 50 defenses – without our checks, without any of our conversations. So, no team could ever use that. No team could ever use that.”
Poor judgment – and not an underlying desire to conspire against or harm his own team, as many took it – were the real motifs behind Williams’ tweet.
And speaking of blunders, Williams admitted his 2010 DWAI conviction was a mistake.
“I served my punishment – sitting out nine games. You know what I mean? I’m losing $3 million. That’s what people don’t understand. Is that not enough punishment? But like I said, let my coaches, let the Denver Broncos punish me. You’re not in the locker room. You don’t know. Even with all my situations, nobody knows that absolute, deep truth about it. Like I said, wrong is wrong, and I did wrong things – but if they really knew the foundation of them, I think they would look at them in a different light.”
This didn’t – or doesn’t – solve the issue of the linebacker’s harsh public perception, but it’s certainly a start for a shy player who prefers to keep to himself.
It was simply impossible not to walk out of the 52-minute encounter with the troubled linebacker having anything but a distinct feeling that the 30-year-old was misunderstood – partially by his own doing, undoubtedly, but also by a public perception that Williams intentionally chooses not to battle. Williams was genuine – an occasional curse word served as the perfect periodic reminder that he was speaking from the heart – and although he made it clear he plans to work his way back into a more favorable public perception, it won’t come quickly.
“This was a first step; I said I’d take baby steps to see how it goes,” Williams finished, before taking off to a team dinner. “But it’s just difficult because it’s not my natural personality. I don’t need to be taught how to do interviews. I’ve been doing interviews since I was 13 – about me. Anybody you can think of – Sports Illustrated, USA Today – I’ve been doing it my whole life. It’s just that, I just think of myself as a normal person. I think nobody cares about my story.”
But the truth is, people do care. And Williams’ natural personality is appealing. He doesn’t like to talk about his numerous charitable contributions (he donates turkeys every Thanksgiving, pays for uniforms for local sports teams and sponsors kids to take part in sports camps), claiming other (some) athletes do it simply for the attention. Fair enough.
Now the real question is, who will D.J. Williams be? The guy who was open, honest and transparent with me for nearly an hour. Or will he be the player whose silence has allowed imaginations and perceptions to spin violently out of control for nearly a decade, portraying Williams to be the monster he – based on our lengthy conversation – doesn’t appear to be?
The real answer is, it’s up to D.J.