When I heard that Nebraska wide receivers coach Keith Williams had been arrested for driving under the influence and getting into an accident as a result, I didn’t feel the same way a number of fans and people across the college football landscape did.
I’ve talked to coach Williams on occasion. He’s treated me like a good friend, yet he barely knows me. He’s one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met, loves his players as though they were his own children (one actually is his son), and lives an enviable life.
I wasn’t angry as many were and are. I understand why those people feel he should be fired and never get behind the wheel of a car again, but I personally I don’t share those feelings. While I was initially disappointed, I felt that I needed to hear all of the facts before chiming in. Thankfully, no one was injured in a minor collision with an Uber driver and her two passengers, but drinking and driving is obviously something that neither I nor anyone else can condone.
That said, I still felt empathy for coach Williams as news trickled out. He has a family, coaches his own son, loves his situation in Lincoln, and had to sit in a jail cell for hours on end letting his personal disappointment — the acute sense of how profoundly he failed — fester in his guts. There was no doubt anxiety about the uncertainty of his future. While Williams will be appropriately punished, I also believe that positives can come from this unfortunate series of events.
One of the reasons I found myself so conflicted is that I have a good friend who was nearly killed thanks to a drunk driver: Hail Varsity’s Erin Sorensen, a friend to many in the Nebraska athletic department. I was curious how she’d react to this news. She could’ve been just as angry as many Husker fans are — she certainly had legitimate reasons to be.
However, she didn’t lead a mob with torches and pitchforks. She took to Twitter and said that she wasn’t going to pass judgment, but that she wanted everyone to be safe. She’s very selfless like that.
Her words got the gears in my head moving.
Back in June, rape survivor Brenda Tracy met with the Cornhusker football team to have a very candid conversation about her horrific experience. Putting a face to such trauma can make a significant impact. It shows others that they can make a difference and have the power to control the situation, either in preventive or protective ways, often both.
Taking into account Erin’s familiarity with so many involved in Nebraska athletics, what better way to put another familiar face to the potential tragedy of drinking and driving than to have her discuss her own personal ordeal?
It wouldn’t shock me if Williams took responsibility in front of the entire team, issuing an apology to players and coaches, owning up to his mistake in front of the people he interacts with on a daily basis. If Williams and Sorensen share their experiences with the team, that would be better than any drinking and driving video. Personal stories trump formulaic presentations every time.
This issue gains a more human and powerful identity by putting two very recognizable faces on both ends of the drunk driving spectrum in front of players. A remorseful coach and a familiar friend whose life was almost lost can impress upon young men the fragility of life, which in turn enables college-age individuals to realize that life is to be cared for with vigilance and discernment. The sooner young men learn that they are not indestructible, the better.
While Williams can’t go back and change what happened, he can do everything possible to turn his poor choice into a net positive. Being a walking, talking example of how to claim your mistakes (not run away from them) and overcome self-created adversity would do just that.
Punishment is easy.
Transformation — which ought to be the true benefit of any damaging mistake, whether it takes a life or not — is much more difficult.
Young people, if they’re going to receive a first-class education, need to be shown the more difficult path, at Nebraska or anywhere else.