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Still Marching On

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

By: Andy Martino, NY Daily News

Reggie Williams is seated in Manhattan's Professional Therapy gym, pushing 270 pounds of weights away from his thick chest. The skin on the former NFL linebacker's shaved head wrinkles and his eyes bulge. There are three Velcro straps on his leg brace; Williams has written "OBAMA" on one in black marker, and "HEALS" on another. He screams as he extends his arms.

"All right," he says, laughing. "Now I feel alive, baby."

Williams, 53, is trying to build strength as he awaits the third total replacement of his right knee. The former Cincinnati Bengal is in New York this summer, sleeping alone on a mattress on the floor of a midtown sublet, fighting to save his leg.

It is the most demanding challenge in a life full of adversity and success.

He has overcome a hearing impairment, competed in two Super Bowls, served on the Cincinnati city council while still playing, worked as an executive at Disney and interviewed to become the commissioner of the National Football League.

Now that he finds himself in acute pain and uncertain about the future, he is forced to confront a question that follows many athletes who played through injuries: Was it worth it?

The inscription on his leg brace is consistent with his lifetime of political engagement. Fourteen seasons in the NFL have robbed Williams of his mobility and may yet steal his leg, but they also offered him a platform to promote social change - an opportunity that he says justifies that the pain he is in now. As a member of the Cincinnati city council from 1988-1990, he spearheaded legislation that helped end apartheid in South Africa, and in the years since, he has remained outspoken about his beliefs.

To read the rest of Andy Martino's story, as found in the Daily News, please click here.