POLITICAL FOOTBALL : Reggie Williams Makes 2 Cincinnati Rosters
All week long, Reggie Williams of the Cincinnati Bengals has been thinking about the bills.
Gun control bills.
But what about the Buffalo Bills?
Oh yeah, them too.
Williams, you see, has the most intriguing dual life this side of Clark Kent. He is the world’s only city councilman-outside linebacker.
Compared to Williams, Bo Jackson is a couch potato. Even Bo hasn’t attempted two careers at the same time.
But when Williams agreed to accept an appointment to the Cincinnati City Council last spring, he knew he was tackling something far more difficult than anything he had ever tackled on a football field.
“I approached it vigorously,” he said. “I was not willing to give up pro football, so I knew this appointment would be a unique challenge. I knew it would require a significant time commitment. But I felt the challenge would be just the stimulus I needed at this time in my life.”
What he didn’t realize was that the Bengals, 4-11 last season, would come back with a division-winning season, the role of host team in Sunday’s AFC title game against the Bills and, if they win, a trip to Super Bowl XXIII.
An incredibly hectic work schedule has gotten even worse.
Through it all, Williams has proven to be more than just a hand-shaking, baby-kissing politician. He studies the issues as diligently as he studies opposing offenses.
Monday--This is the day Bengal players get treatment for injuries and look at game film from the day before.
Williams finishes all that by early afternoon so he can run downtown to attend the weekly meetings of 2 of the 4 committees he is on, the finance and infrastructure committees.
Usually done by dinner time, Williams will hang around the city government offices until about 7 p.m. to meet with constituents.
“I want to be available to meet with people,” he said. “I don’t want my celebrity status to interfere with my post.”
Tuesday--For the other Bengals, this is a day off.
But not for Williams.
He spends the day meeting with special-interest groups, sending his written correspondence and attending meetings of the human resource and urban development committees.
Wednesday--Time to get his head into football.
Williams goes over the game plan for that weekend’s game, watches film of the opposition and works out.
All that must be finished by early afternoon so he can rush over to city hall in time for the full weekly city council meeting, which can last anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.
“Fall, when we play football, is actually the toughest time in terms of council meetings,” Williams said. “It’s budget time. Everyone comes to plead their case.”
Thursday--This is the day he devotes totally to the Bengals.
Sometime during the week, he must sneak in budget meetings and others that can last as late as 10 p.m.
Friday--There is practice, and meetings of the football variety. His mind shifts from zoning ordinances to zone coverage.
In late afternoon, however, he switches signals again, after receiving the agenda for next week’s council meeting.
Saturday--This is preparation day. And we’re not talking football.
Whether home or away, on an airplane, in a hotel room or his own living room, Williams is buried in council material. While his teammates might be thinking about the home-field advantage, he’s more concerned with the homeless.
“I’ve probably got to do the biggest amount of preparation of anybody on the council,” he said. “As the newest member, I have to play a lot of catch-up. I have to do a lot of historical research on subjects I am not that familiar with.”
Sunday--No council business. No politics. All Williams has to do is to go out and play football.
Yet with all the apparent distractions, at 34 and in his ninth pro season, Williams has continued to excel as starting right outside linebacker. He is among the team leaders in tackles and continues to receive high grades from his coaches for his play.
“I feel my being on the council is one of those factors that has contributed to the success of our team,” Williams said. “I really do. It gives our locker room an added dimension. It gives our players a variety of subjects to talk about.
“For example, there was a major controversy here in Cincinnati over the passing of a gun ordinance, one that would require a 15-day waiting period. Among our players, there are many hunters who had opinions on the subject. Now they feel they have input into the city they are paying taxes to. They are very interested in where their tax dollars are going.”
They are also interested in where their team is going. Outside interests, even of a positive nature, routinely create as many jeers as cheers among teammates.
“There were a lot of doubting Thomases early on,” Williams said. “People felt I was going to hurt the team. I was not going to do my job.
“It was a challenge. But that was what was most appealing. I knew it was going to tax everything I had, but it was a challenge I wanted, a challenge I needed. The pursuit of excellence in one endeavor complements the pursuit of excellence in another.
“Many times, I did think I had bit off more than I could chew. But by finding a way to digest it, I became a better person. The biggest challenge is finding free time. If you try to go out, you’re public property. Everybody wants to share their agenda with you.”
Especially opposing players. The scene will usually go like this:
Williams will bury his helmet in the stomach of an opposing ball carrier. As he hits the turf, the runner will look up, smile and say: “Come on, a council member shouldn’t do that.”
Or, “Is that justice? Is that fair?”
Williams has heard it all.
“It can come back to haunt you on the football field,” he said. “But overall, I think it’s good. I’ll be on the field talking about urban development with the refs. You know they have a variety of jobs in the real world.”
Although Williams has talked freely on the field, he has not been so vocal in council chambers where he is 1 of 9 council members.
“I’m the new kid on the block, " he said of his political role. “I’ve been somewhat insecure about the issues. I’ve ended up having to turn the other cheek many more times than I wanted to. As a National Football League linebacker, I’m supposed to be the most intense, violent, brutal person in a stadium of thousands. I’m supposed to be the main intimidator. It’s different in politics.”
Williams thought about all that when he was approached to fill out the term of Councilman Arn Bortz, who was leaving after a decade to pursue outside interests. He thought about how little time it would leave him to spend with his wife, Marianna, and his sons, Julian, 6, and Jarren, 4 1/2.
He talked to Jack Kemp, the former Buffalo quarterback who went on to become a U.S. Congressman and will serve in President-elect George Bush’s cabinet. The difference, of course, is that Kemp entered politics after football.
And Williams thought about the irony of someone who had to attend the Michigan School for the Deaf in his hometown of Flint, Mich., when he was a youngster to overcome speech and hearing problems, entering public life.
“I thought it would serve as a positive image for football,” said Williams of his ultimate decision to become a politician. “I wanted to show that we can be role models.”
He has long been that. Williams already has a resume of public service that would put many politicians to shame. He has worked for charities, is a popular speaker against drug and alcohol abuse, has been picked NFL man of the year for his community work.
“For many years, I shared an apathy with politics that a lot of Americans have,” he said. “But when I worked with young people, trying to get them involved, I realized that I was beginning to sound like a hypocrite. People respond to what you do, rather than what you say.”
But this week, with the AFC title on the line, even Williams has had to admit that his double life is too much. Politics is on hold through Sunday.
No meetings. No budgets. No agendas. Well, almost none.
“This is one of those times where I had to make a real tough decision to do one or the other,” he said. “Most of my fellow councilmen have encouraged me to go to football this week. They are more excited about the possibility of the Bengals going to the Super Bowl than anything else.
“But I just can’t get away from politics for very long. I’m not attending the council meeting this week, but I did have to go to a long hearing on appropriations for the fine arts.”