Argo back in charge of life

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

I don't know where you fall on the question of marijuana as a victimless crime, but Bernard Williams is here to tell you it surely is an expensive one.

Williams, an offensive lineman with the Argonauts, toked away an NFL career.

He figures pot cost him $50 million US, not counting the potato chips.

"I could be making six or seven million a year in the NFL," he said, and he has a point.

Last summer, Robert Gallery, an Oakland Raiders rookie left tackle, signed a deal that could pay $60 million over seven years.

The Argos and Williams, 32, have agreed to extend his contract to 2007 and since CFL contracts rarely top $100,000, we leave it to you to imagine the financial shortfall.

Great left tackles improve the longevity of right-handed quarterbacks and as such are in keen demand in the NFL. That's why the Philadelphia Eagles selected the 6-foot-9 Williams out of the University of Georgia 14th overall in the 1994 draft. He was the first offensive lineman chosen.

Williams is athletic and light-footed. He started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, made the NFL's all-rookie team and was poised to become a fixture on the Eagles line. Coaches talked of him as a potential prototype player. His $5-million, five-year contract was just a hint of the riches to come.

He has been living on the $3 million the Eagles ended up paying him ever since.

Williams could not or would not stop smoking pot. He was suspended for a year under the NFL's drug policy and just kept on toking.

To this day, he has not applied for reinstatement in the NFL.

"The reason I never applied was that I never could see myself stopping and I didn't want to disappoint anyone," he said. "I was so down, so depressed."

He hasn't smoked pot for a couple of years. He didn't give it up because it cost him his career. He wanted to make sure that if he and his wife, a Georgia judge named Lee Ann Young-Williams, had a child, the pot use wouldn't cause abnormalities in the baby.

There is no drug testing in the CFL, although a spokesman said the league and players are working on it.

Bernard was the youngest of six kids in a religious, industrious family in Memphis. His dad was a landscape contractor, his mom a dietician. The Williamses were staunch Baptists and toured churches with their own musical act, The Family Stars. Bernard played tambourine and drums.

Williams said that sheltered background, though wonderful, left him poorly educated to the pitfalls of so-called recreational drugs.

"Maybe if I had been exposed earlier to it, man," he said, "I would have handled it better."

Aside from a few exploratory tokes, Williams didn't start smoking dope until his first year at Georgia.

"I was 18. I was homesick. I wanted to transfer to Tennessee and I was missing all my buddies."

His dad had died two years earlier. He was listing.

The pot smoking continued into his rookie NFL season. By then, the NFL had adopted a new drug policy, Williams failed more than a dozen drug tests. He left a rehab centre because he felt everyone knew who he was. Thus began a five-year pot-induced standstill.

Williams tried two more treatment centres. Therapy, to connect him with the grief of losing his father, helped but not enough to offset the lethargy brought on by the marijuana.

"I'm a happy, cheerful person," Williams said, "but people will tell you I barely came out of my house for a year."

He moved back to Memphis to be back with his mother who was dying of breast cancer. The worst things got, the more pot he smoked.

"I didn't want to stop smoking," Williams said. "By then, I had a lot of other stuff, financial stuff on my mind. My mom passed away in 1998. I just wanted everything to go away."

Finally football called. He played a bit in the Arena league. His agent contacted Greg Mohns, then the coach of the B.C. Lions, about a comeback.

"This is your last chance," Mohns said. "If you screw up, you're out the door and all it costs me is a plane ticket."

Things didn't work out with the Lions or the XFL, but Mohns remembered him when he moved to the Argos.

Williams has been an Argo for two seasons and stood out as the club marched to the Grey Cup last year.

It all, Bernard Williams insists, worked out for the best.

He rationalizes away the lost money. He has a daughter, Dahlia, his family life is thriving. "A lot of money means a lot of problems, too, people nagging on you, everyone wanting you to do stuff. Honestly, man, I'd rather be not making the money and have the blood pressure I have right now."


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