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Collegiate athletes have a unique opportunity and a personal responsibility to serve those in need in the community, a former All-Pro Cincinnati Bengal linebacker and current Cincinnati city councillor told 150 student-athletes yesterday at a Kirkland House banquet.
"Athletes have a unique sphere of influence on college campuses," said Reggie Williams, one of six "Athletes Who Care" honored by Sports Illustrated as its 1987 Sportsmen of the Year. "People watch you not only when performing but in the real world. It's an opportunity to be empathetic toward other people--an ablility to really lend a hand--which comes with the responsibility to help those that really need it."
The former All-Pro also stressed the dangers of complacency and the need for continual personal improvement as reasons for volunteering time.
"[Former Bengal Coach] Forrest Gregg once said to us, 'Each and every day you're either getting better or you're getting worse,"' Williams said. "In other words, when you do nothing, you have a negative impact. The reason I'm in public service is that I don't accept the ills of this world: people living without a roof over their heads, people ruining their lives with drugs."
Speaking in a fluid, inspirational tone, Williams recalled Bengal teammate Stanley Wilson's drug incident in Wilson's hotel room the evening prior to Super Bowl XXIII. The NFL suspended the wide receiver for cocaine use the day of the contest.
"I don't have a Super Bowl ring on because we had one player who decided to use drugs," Williams said. "The night before the biggest game of our lives, the allure of drugs was too great."
Williams related his own personal experiences as a child in Flint, Mich., toemphasize the contributions that one individualcan make to another in need. He cited a thirdgrade teacher who recognized that his speechimpediment was caused by a hearing impairment ascrucial in enhancing his self-esteem.
"Mrs. Chapel was compassionate enough to make adifference in my life," Williams said. "She tookme to the Michigan School for the Deaf and Dumb.Because of Mrs. Chapel, I was able to staycompetitive with the other kids."
Williams--who chose Dartmouth over Michiganafter recently retired Coach Bo Schembechler toldhim he wasn't good enough to play for theWolverines--mentioned sustained effort and arefusal to give up as elements that can make acritical difference.
"Tim Krumrie--a Bengal lineman--broke his legin three places in the Super Bowl," Williamscontinued. "Whereas some people yell 'doctor' whenthey get the smallest cramp in their leg, Krumriedidn't make a sound. He just looked at me, flat onhis back, and said 'Don't give up.'"
"When you see something wrong in the community,you're part of the team--the chain of humans,"Williams continued. "You can't give up."
And finally, Williams glorified volunteers'Messianic role in relieving the heavy burdens ofthose beset by significant problems.
"I was in Montana recently and saw where Custerwas massacred," he said. "He was completelysurrounded and had no cavalry to come over thehill to his aide. He was wiped out. You can bethat cavalry through community service, coming toyour community's aide."
The 1986 NFL Man of the Year's address,entitled "The Honorable Athlete Serving theCommunity On and Off The Field," was arranged bythe K-House House and Neighborhood Development(HAND) affiliate as a prelude to the Sports Dayfestivities planned for April 17th, according tojunior organizer Michael Camunez.
Camunez said that HAND volunteers would act ascoaches and helpers for 200 disadvantagedCambridge youths at athletic facilities, wherethey would supervise sporting events with the kidsand Harvard athletes.
The Kirkland audience was moved by Williams'performance.
"I've always admired Reggie for the work he'sdone. He's a tremendous model, who has genuinelygiven something back to his community," Harvardmen's basketball Coach Peter Roby said.
Others expressed concern that Williams' wordswould be overlooked in the face of a collegeworkload.
"It's easy to lose your perspective with allthe work and setbacks," men's hockey goaltenderMike Francis said. "[Williams] had a goodphilosophy that inspired a lot of people. I hopepeople do something about this. The dinnershouldn't just be a one-shot deal.
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