People often cite Williams’ refusal to remove his football helmet during an interview as a prime example of his having social anxiety disorder. But Williams said there was another reason. First, he said, he’d come in right off of the field and, before he’d had a chance to take the helmet off, the reporter barked at him to remove it. Resentful of being told what to do, he didn’t immediately take it off. Then something hit him. “As a football player, when they interviewed me, they had a sense of who I was as a football player, and they didn’t really care who I was outside of the helmet, so what was the big deal about taking it off?” he said. Eventually, both Clarett and Williams walked away from the game. Clarett, because he soon found himself with no other choice after he was banned from the Ohio State program and was unsuccessful in his attempt to sue the NFL to allow him to enter the draft early. After a being drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2005, Clarett was released before the season began and found himself returning to what he’d known before: the neighborhood. “The same way I got adulation for winning the championship, I got the same adulation in the nightclub because I was the guy on TV,” he said. Williams, again in an experience that was the complete opposite of Clarett’s, walked away from the game in the middle of a successful NFL career. “It was scary, because my whole life was wrapped up in being a football player,” Williams said. And despite his success in the league, when he stopped playing football, he learned he had no other marketable skills with which to make a living.“When the only thing you’re ever around is football, it really limits what you’re able to do.”
More to Life Daron Roberts, who spent time on the coaching staffs of the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and West Virginia University, said once the individual reaches the professional level, many of his values are set and it is difficult for coaches to have a huge impact on the player as a person. But he does acknowledge the need for players to identify themselves as full individuals, not just football players. “The unexamined life is not worth living. So our first role [as those individuals around the players] is to force our young people to think about their role and vision for life outside of the confines of sports,” Roberts said. “Our players have turned into double down blackjack players, instead of hedge fund managers,” Roberts said, adding that players’ inability to assess risk and make decisions based on the reality that their playing careers will not last forever is a major shortfall.
“There’s a subconscious value proposition that we place on sports,” Roberts said. For players who make it to play at the Division I or professional level, “they’ve never believed the odds. … So when you tell them there’s a small chance they’re going to make it [in] the NFL, they say ‘ok, I’m that small chance.” Roberts, who is a lecturer at the University of Texas and the founding director of the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation at the university, is a firm believer that “we have to transform sports from a pinnacle to a pit-stop” and encourage athletes to consider that there is more to life. Williams and Clarett have both reached points in their lives where they are acknowledging there is more to them as individuals than football. Clarett is being leaned upon heavily by mentors at Ohio State to return and finish his education, which he says he plans to do. “Education is essentially what has transformed my life,” he said. Though that has not yet meant a return to the classroom, Clarett said he has done a tremendous amount of reading and self-educating since his departure from football. Williams recently returned to the University of Texas at Austin to complete his education. He was accepted into the McNair scholars program at the university, a pipeline program to help undergraduate students earn their Ph.D. Williams said he plans to pursue his doctorate in psychology. He likes the idea of being “Dr. Williams.” “If I want to move forward in my life, I have to go and acquire some skills,” he said. “I know football has opened a lot of doors in my life, and a Ph.D. will open even more doors.”