Mile High Sports’ Chris Bianchi sat down with the talented-but-troubled D.J. Williams on Thursday night for his first public interview in two years. For the column accompanying the Q+A, please click here.
Have you talked to your teammates while you’ve been out?
Champ (Bailey) is probably the guy that I’m closest with on the team. We text back and forth after games. He would ask me what it looked like from an outside perspective.
What’s been the toughest part about being gone?
To watch the games, and see your team not being successful, you feel that you could probably help them in certain situations or you blame yourself. There’s always the ‘If I was there, what would have happened.’ That’s not to say the guys there weren’t adequate enough; it’s just that you want to be a part of it. You want to help out.
Have you watched all the games?
The funny thing about it is that every time my eyes were on the TV, we’d play horrible. So during the last two games, I would just turn my back to the TV. When they’d cheer, I would look. That started with the Patriots game, when we started coming back.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about D.J. Williams?
That I’m selfish. I’ve been here nine years. I’ve been here through eight different defensive coordinators, eight different linebackers coaches. I’ve played every linebacker position you can think of and I never complained about it.
Why do you think that might be?
I’m not as open to fans as most people. But at the end of the day, it starts out with your coaching staff and your teammates. Fans can be makeshift – I’m not saying our fans are, but they can be. It’s hard to open up to people you really don’t know. That’s not me. That’s not my personality. I don’t talk to people I really don’t know genuinely. Even elevator talk, sitting at the bus stop, ‘Hey, how’s the weather?’ I’m just not big into conversation with people I don’t know. I’d say it probably started in high school.
Why are you talking to us now? Is this something new?
I just felt like the story, or the way I’ve been portrayed, has gone way too far off the track. And that’s not me. I didn’t have a problem before with people saying, ‘Hey (D.J.) doesn’t like to talk to the media, or this and that. But for media personalities to make up stories about me, or to exaggerate stories, or to make things seem a lot different than what they are, I felt like it was time for me to speak up.
Is there one thing that sticks out, that maybe ticked you off that was said by media or fans that was exaggerated?
A few reporters don’t respect my talent level. They’ve said a few things that are very disrespectful for me and what I’ve done in my career. You know, but like I’ve said, football is that kind of sport where one minute you’re great (and the next minute you aren’t) – look at Michael Vick, two years ago, he signed a $100 million contract, greatest guy in the world, and now they’re talking about benching him. That’s just the nature of the business. That was one thing that stuck out about me, that a guy said that when I come back I should cut the grass or do things like that. I think that’s just a little bit over the top.
But are they talking about your talent or a punishment, or personal stuff?
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.
It would be fair to say that your use of social media (Twitter, etc.) is somewhat polarizing. How do you approach social media and are you considering changing at all?
Not really. I understand. But what fans don’t understand is, yeah, we lose a game. You’re mad, you had a five-dollar wager on it, you’re probably going to get teased by your friends, your work colleagues. (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? It’s 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.
Do you have a regret about anything you’ve done in social media? Perhaps the playbook tweet?
I’m going to tell you about the playbook. We have OTAs; there are 17 practices. We do 15 practices, and that weekend before the next two big minicamps, 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.’ So, I woke up on my day off at nine in the morning, because I always like to write things down – you remember them. I went and I got flash cards. So what I did was I took every defensive call and 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 (the offense) goes to empty. I wrote every check if the back motions out. I wrote every check if the tight end goes in motion. 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. It was just 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. But, because I had been getting backlash about that, I was like, ‘I’m going to show people (that I’m working), do something for the fans to connect and show them.’ Because they didn’t know. It’s crazy how the NFL has advanced since I first got in here. I said, ‘When I first got in here, it was notebooks and flashcards. Now, we’re using iPads.’ If you move (an iPad), if it’s not locked, whatever was on the screen last, that’s what (shows on the screen). So I put it up there, I put my flashcards here, and my iPad like that (Williams shows the position of an actual iPad). So I put it up there and it turned on and I took a picture of it. Whoever saw that had to go to Twitter, take it in, zoom it in and bring it up before you’d even notice. Every defense in the NFL has this call. Every offensive player knows it. It would have been the equivalent of me being a basketball player and posting the pick and roll. But it got blown out of proportion, just because I’ve already had a lot of (negativity) toward me. I called all of my coaches and told them what I did. My position coach said, ‘You know, those social media things can help you, but they can hurt you just as much. If I was you, I would just leave them alone.’ 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. The fact that within 30 minutes, it was around the world and nationally known, I thought was funny, because my agent called me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I was like, ‘I’m in trouble again.’ He said, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘You’ll find out.’ He called me back 10 minutes later, and the report that he got, from a reporter from Ohio, was D.J. Williams posts six pages of the playbook. And when the Broncos told him to take it off, (D.J.) told them ‘Fuck you, I can do whatever the fuck I want to do.’ So that’s where the story went. Nobody knows I woke up on my day off to study. Nobody knows I was posting a picture to show the fans that the technology in the NFL is crazy. Right now, I could look on my iPad and look up any player in the NFL and see every play that they’ve played this year or in the last three years. I was just trying to show them that this is very sophisticated. But, that’s one thing that super backfired. It was funny, because I talk to Chris Kuper all the time, and he came and sat down with me, and he was just like, ‘This just is not going right for you.’ And we like, laughed about it, because he understood everything that I did.
If you were Champ Bailey or Chris Kuper, would it have been the same? Would it have been blown out of proportion?
Not at all. Not at all. It wouldn’t have happened.
Did your coaches say much to you about it?
Yes, but I’d like to keep that between me and my coaches. But like I said, my position coach told me about social media – it can help you but it can hurt you twice as much.
What is Dyme Lyfe?
Dyme Lyfe was originally started with me, Ronald Fields and Marcus Thomas. It was the year we were with (Josh) McDaniels and we went 4-12. When you’re in a city, and you’re successful, people treat you nice; they want to do things for you. When you go out to eat, they pat you on your back. But when you’re losing, it’s the exact opposite. And so that year, we went 4-12. Yes, you lose a game, you’re upset, you feel bad. But if you let that control your life? What do I do? Come home and be angry at my girl all the time? Just because I lost a game? Do I not talk to her? Do I have an attitude with her? Or do I come home and let work be work and let my personal life be my personal life? So, what we started doing was we would have dinner every once in a while – the three of us – basically treating ourselves, just hanging with a group of guys. Yea, we’re 4-12, but we’re in this together. We’d go out and have something to eat. Talk it up, this and that. So that’s how it originally started. And it was kind of like a joke because our teammates started teasing us. Like, ‘You three are always together!’ (Then we started playing it up.) We’d do extra things – like breakfast in the morning. (For example) when Marcus would come in for breakfast, I’d have already told the omelet guy what he liked. We called that ‘Dymin’ somebody up.’ So, it’s almost like paying something forward. It’s not treating somebody like you’d treat yourself; it’s far beyond that. So, that’s how it started out. And as the team jokes started to become funnier, we would just make up exaggerated things that we’d do. Because sometimes when you’re in a bad spot, the only thing you have is your humor to keep you sane. We started doing that, and noticed teammates wanted to be a part of it. We actually had an audition, because we said we ‘Wanted to have one more dyme.’ And that’s where the whole sign came from – there was only three of us. When you go like that (shows Dyme Lyfe sign), you’re throwing up ‘three.’
So that sign is misunderstood?
What do they see this as?
Let me tell you something, this (sign) originated from politics. It was a President who was running for election. It was part of his election poster. He threw this up to let everybody know that if they voted for him, everything would be ‘okay.’ To everybody else (the sign) means ‘okay.’ Nothing about Dyme Lyfe is about smoking.
So the term “dyme” originates from the basketball term, as in an assist?
Yes. It’s something “extra.” What I don’t want people to think is that it has anything to do with money and wealth. No it doesn’t. You can do things that don’t cost anything, that can represent ‘Dyme Lyfe.’ One day, I decided to make shirts. I wore a shirt to a pool party, and people started asking where they could get one. So I made more shirts and started giving them out. I had all my friends wearing them. So then I decided to start selling shirts. It has nothing to do with anything negative. It has nothing to do with smoking marijuana. We have a creed: It’s a select few who focus on bonding, and building relationships between each other, who indulge in the finer things in life, and never, I repeat, never, press for attention, or accept it. That’s the Dyme Lyfe creed. And I’ve posted that numerous times, but that gets no attention. But that’s what Dyme Lyfe really is. People send me pictures sending me photos holding up the sign all the time.
How many do you get a day?
At least five to 10.
If there’s one message you have for the fans, what is it?
I’m the ultimate team player and I’m willing to do whatever to win. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing to me. I love playing football. I’ve been playing football since I was seven. I’ve been playing 23 years. I actually played football two years early because I weighed enough. I’ve never had any job but this job. So for somebody to think that football is not important to me, if it wasn’t important – I’m on my second contract, I have money. If football wasn’t important to me, why would I stop playing now and just go live the ‘Dyme Lyfe?’ I think people try to make ‘Dyme Lyfe’ seem like it has been pulling away from my football career. No, it hasn’t. It actually hasn’t, at all.
What are some off-field interests you have?
I love music. I’m into training, I love to work out. I work out year-round. Each year, I do a different aspect of working out. One year, I got into Pilates a bit. I got into yoga one year. I did kickboxing. This is during our break, when we’re not supposed to do anything. I went to school and I studied exercise science. I got a minor in exercise science. So if football didn’t work out, I was going to get into personal training. So I love that. I’ve just gotten into a bunch of businesses with my best friend, (Saints linebacker) Jon Vilma. And so we’ve been trying to make our money grow.
You have a list of charitable causes, what are they?
I’ve never had a foundation or anything like that because I haven’t had anything that I’ve been that passionate about. But, I’m willing to go to any teammate’s this, this or that in the offseason. A few things that I’ve done is I started this thing called AGU with my mother; it’s about adolescent girls, teaching them about their body and their menstrual cycle. Each year at Thanksgiving, I give away 55 turkeys. At Christmas, I do the same thing. Actually, my mom started this other charitable thing called ‘Home Team,’ and she got the idea from me because I like to buy clothes. I have so many clothes and shoes that at the end of the year, I have so much stuff. I usually go, (and) when I’m here, I give my stuff to a homeless shelters. In Miami, there’s kind of a street where a bunch of homeless people, and I just go drop my stuff off. It’s the craziest thing about it; they don’t fight over stuff. They’re actually sharing and passing it around. So what (my mom) did is start this thing called the Home Team, where athletes and anybody can drop off clothing, shoes, you know, things like that. And they’re going to give them to the needy. So that’s one thing. My mom sees a lot – and the reason I keep bringing her up is because I tell her, ‘If there’s anything that I miss, bring it to my attention.’ A year or two ago, a family’s whole house burnt down. (They) lost everything. We got them a new apartment, gave him three months rent; the father was my size, so I gave him clothes, gave him shoes, things like that. Yeah, I’m not going to a bunch of charities where my picture’s taken or it’s in the paper or things like that. I feel like a lot of guys do that just to show and be seen. And that’s not me. A lot of the things that I do, that’s why I don’t do interviews. I don’t like the attention.
Do you plan on altering your approach now?
No, I don’t want the attention. I just want a good deed to be done. Like, why have the attention? I have a problem with attention. When I was in high school, I was the No. 1 (recruit) in the country. You know what I mean? And it was nerve-wracking to be that person to come home and have 30 coaches call your phone. You had to do interviews. Where are you at in town? People want to talk to you – this, this and that. It was like you didn’t get any time for your self. And, I went to a well-known school, De La Salle (Calif.). All the records, this and that. So it was a media frenzy, and it kind of turned me off from the whole (media) situation. Because when do I have ‘me’ time, when do I have time for myself? Like yeah, I’ll do an interview. I don’t mind doing an interview. But if I’m at dinner with my family, or this and that, and to have a group of people come up and want autographs, but then, if you give them autographs, you’re the greatest. But if you don’t, you’re a jerk. You know what I mean? I just think that a lot of times, fans, they don’t look at it that way. But I understand why, you see a guy. It might be the only chance you have to be able to say ‘hi’ to him. But at the same time, you should take into consideration that person might be busy doing something too.
Did you ever get burned by a reporter?
I never got burned. But (reporters writing bad things) don’t bother me. I just want the story. It’s cool. It doesn’t make me think less of myself, I know who I am. Actually, when you asked what I learned the most, I learned who I really am, and that I’m concrete in my beliefs, and situations aren’t going to change.
What are your core beliefs?
Just living right. Treating people right. Through college, I took some religious classes. And I thought about the religion that made most sense to me, and I was like, Buddhism.
Do you practice Buddhism?
No, I don’t. I’m in a touchy subject, religion and stuff. But you know, karma is just trying to live right and do things right; basically you keep getting chances and chances and chances until you live that perfect life. And when you do things wrong, you start further back, so it teaches you a lesson. So my core beliefs are just, you know, be happy, treat people well; I’m a huge believer in honesty. I enjoy life; I like to have fun.
Do you consider yourself happy?
Let’s just say I’m not content. I’m not content with where I’m at in my life. I can be a lot happier. Things can be a lot better. But I’m definitely not sad or depressed.
If it were up to you, would you retire as a Bronco?
Yes. That’s actually my plan, to retire as a Bronco. The crazy thing about it, when I was up for my second contract (in 2008), I spoke to (then-head coach Mike) Shanahan. He said, ‘Hey, I’m going to be honest with you. You’re probably not going to be the highest-paid guy in your position, but we’ll do the best we can to get you as close to that, and we’ll treat you right.’ And since I’ve been here, the Broncos organization – with whatever coach has been here – I’ve been treated fairly and I’ve been treated well. I enjoy the city. I like the fans. I like how the whole organization as a whole treats me, so if it was up to me, I would retire as a Bronco. I’m close friends with Rod Smith, and to see how he went through his career and his life, and the relationships that he built, I want to have the same thing.
Is it the coaching staff that is your lure to the organization?
We’ve had a lot of coaching changes, but the core, the trainers, the owner (Pat Bowlen), the people that work in the kitchen, the clean-up guys, like the core, like the people I want to say are fireproof, they treat you so well. There’s a guy – we don’t even know what he does – we call him Freddy. Nobody knows what Fred does. He does everything. He picked me up from the airport my first day, and I’ve seen Freddy every day that I’ve been here, and he had a smile on his face, and he’s been nice to me, courteous to me, and it’s just things like that where you go somewhere else you don’t know if you’re going to get that.
Do you expect to regain your starting position (when you return November 12)?
That’s out of my hands. That’s not in my control. Would I just love to jump on the football field and jump right in there? Of course. I’ve got a few more weeks to talk with the coaches and discuss. They’ll probably check my conditioning level, and my mental capacity, because I’ve been away from so long and things change. But, that’s not up to me. Would I love to play? Yes.
What’s your relationship like organization-wide with your coaches?
It’s tough, because we have a new defensive coordinator (Jack Del Rio). The only time that I got to spend time with him was those 17 practices (OTAs). I’ve got a great relationship with my linebackers coach, Richard Smith. My first year, it started out kind of rough because he’s a real old-school coach. And you bring in an old school coach and somebody who’s been in the league eight or nine years, I’m kind of stuck in my ways; he’s stuck in his ways. So, even little things on how he wants me to take on a block. ‘I want you to do it like this.’ Okay, well, eight years in the league, four years in college, four years in high school, I’ve been doing it like this. So, in the heat of the moment, in a game, even if you do the drills like you want me to, I’m going to want to do it like I’ve been doing it for the last 16 years. And you know, in the beginning, we kind of bumped heads on that. But then he realized that I wasn’t defiant. We kind of learned from each other. We both realized that I had to give and tweak little things about me, and he has to do the same. I think he coaches me totally different this year than previous years.
Where is your focus right now? Is your focus on re-establishing your place on the football field? Is that where your mind is at or is it somewhere else? What are you thinking about when you have down time?
Football. What a lot of people don’t know is, I’ve worked my butt off this whole time. When I got back (to the Broncos’ Dove Valley facility in October), the first thing they did is strip me down, weigh me, take my body fat and do all these various things. And everything was lower than the summertime when we really work our hardest. That was the first thing that I could show my coaches and my teammates, that I had been working, preparing, grinding to come back and play. If I would’ve come back out of shape and sloppy and used these three weeks to get back in shape, they would’ve realized that football wasn’t important to me. But I already came back in shape; so these three weeks that I’m doing, I’m just putting on top of that. So my main focus is just getting back on the field and being successful. I haven’t hit somebody in so long.
So you’re in game shape right now?
I wouldn’t say that. What people don’t understand about football is the only way to get in game shape is to play games. You can simulate every drill, throw weighted vests on you, pads on you, you can do everything you want, but in football, it’s all reaction, it’s all instinct. It’s not run five yards, cut to the left and then turn. In football, it might be cut to the left, but he might make a sharp cut. So game shape, it’s difficult. I still have two weeks. I’m working out with our strength-and-conditioning coaches right now, and they’re working my butt off every day. I’m working out five, six days a week, running, lifting. I actually felt like I started to get too big. I’m a lot bigger now than last year.
Where are you at weight-wise and where were you last year?
That’s the funny thing (shows picture of himself three months ago and now. Looks significantly more lean and cut). Weight-wise, I’m the same. I changed my body fat. I went down a lot. I sent this (picture) to the guys on the team, because (Elvis) Dumervil teased me, ‘Don’t be getting fat’. There’s a huge difference. But I weigh the same; I’m 245. I lost about three or four percent body fat, which is always good. I plan on playing five, six pounds less than this. I left high school at 233. In college, I got up to 257, but the NFL’s a totally different game. It’s about speed. People think it’s about size. If you can’t get there to make the tackle, it doesn’t matter if you have the size to make the tackle.
You’re extremely open and candid and certainly have the personality that would be appealing to a lot of people. Is there any inkling to open up to the public and show your true self?
This was a first step. I said I’d take baby steps to see how it goes. 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. So I think nobody cares about my story. Even when people ask for my autograph, I have to realize what if I met somebody and put myself in their shoes. Then, I’ll understand.
There are media members who go, ‘Don’t ask D.J.’ Media members are scared of you.
I sat by my locker, everybody came, I said, ‘I will never talk to any of you. So don’t ask me.’ And I was serious because, I don’t even remember what the situation was, but somebody wrote something negative about me, and a lot of it was just a bunch of hoopla, and I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m just not going to say anything.’ I did an interview and the words got twisted up or something happened, it just rubbed me the wrong way. And I was just like, ‘I’d rather not say anything.’ Now, people are just going willy-nilly and writing whatever they’re writing.
So come Nov. 12, reporters approach your locker, do you talk to them or not?
Probably not. Why am I going to talk on Nov. 12? Here’s my thing: What do I have to talk about? I haven’t done anything. People don’t understand. Sometimes, people want to interview you, and I feel like I haven’t done anything. I don’t feel like I deserve to do interviews. Don’t you think people would want to (think) about something besides me? Sometimes, negative or positive, I don’t think I deserve some of the stories. I could see if I did something super-heroic and I did something, this or that. Like if I don’t have a good game, that’s my job. To me, I don’t feel like I should be the one being interviewed or spoken to – somebody else had a better game and might deserve it.
It sounds like you pay attention to what’s said about you, yet you say you’re confident in who you are, why do you read all this stuff?
Actually, I don’t. What happens, friends and family members will send stuff to me. Every once in a while, I’ll look at it. Sometimes, I just won’t. I get negative tweets all the time. Another thing – and this is how things are so misunderstood – when they had the Batman shooting (the July 20 Aurora theater shootings), my birthday is July 20. I turned 30 this July 20. I rented out a theater in Miami to sit 50 people for me and my friends to watch Batman. Then, we took a party bus, we went to dinner and we went out. And I tweeted how great my birthday was. I’m not in Colorado. You think I know what’s happening over here? I wake up the next morning, I’ve got hundreds of nasty tweets. ‘Why aren’t you here? Why are you celebrating, and this and that. Don’t you care?’ And I didn’t even know what happened. You know what I mean? It just feels like a lot of things have been going the wrong way. I get in trouble for drinking and driving, so I get a party bus. I do everything right. I set up a dinner. And I did everything right. I didn’t break any law. I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s my 30th birthday, I feel like I should be allowed to celebrate it, but then, now I’m getting ridiculed from somebody else, yelling at me, when I’m on the other side of the country and I don’t know what’s going on in Denver.