The uniquely beautiful and painful life of Monty Williams

Good afternoon, folks!

Despite the inglorious end (finally!) of the NFL season, less than two weeks remain until pitchers and catchers report to citrus tree states, and Beyonce inciting protests and social media manifestos nationwide, I lost my gabby internet accent this week. I forgot how to #ExpressMyUnpopularOpinion. Or #Popular. (I did dye my hair green unprovoked.) So I wrote about one of the most incredible men I’ve encountered in the sports world. You have my permission to wipe your eyes. You don’t need my permission to say a prayer.

[Ed: This might be the first essay in New Orleans Pelicans history to not have a single mention of Anthony Davis.]


Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.

 From NBA.com

From NBA.com

When Monty Williams coached the New Orleans Pelicans to a 45-37 record last year, he had to have felt moderately proud of the organization’s fifth place record in the West. The team won 12 more times than when Williams had coached them the previous year and 18 more times than season preceding it.  Three seasons back, the team had eked out 21 victories.

But a fifth place ranking proved no blessing for Monty and the Pelicans. Their first round opponent: the Golden State Warriors.

The Pelicans lost in four. Two weeks later, Monty, his job.

But I do not relay statistics about the coaching career of Monty to comment on his current assistant coaching position for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I do not present these references to reveal a deeper point about implicit racial bias and black NBA coaches. Instead, I offer this data to suggest pervasive injustice in Monty’s life.

Certainly, it shows up in the game. But most of it transcends basketball. Example one happened this week.

A 44-year-old mother of five, Ingrid Williams was involved in a car accident Tuesday night when she was hit head-on by another car that crossed over the center lane.

I’m no NBA aficionado, so I didn’t know about Monty until Deadspin told me he was there for the Pelicans’ Ryan Anderson back in 2013 after the player’s girlfriend committed suicide. Before I read Chris Ballard’s excerpted Sports Illustrated piece, I didn’t know that there could encompass so much physicality. I didn’t know there could connote so much love.

On the night that Ryan learned that Gia killed herself, Monty dropped to his knees and hugged his player, “the two men rocking back and forth.” Then he and a security guard literally carried a “too hysterical to even walk” Ryan to the coach’s car, before the coach drove Ryan to his own home. Once there, Monty brought Ingrid over and they began to pray. “Ingrid's brother had committed suicide recently. She knew not to say it was going to be O.K., because it wasn't. ‘This is going to be hard for a long time,’ she told Ryan.” In the midst of the prayer huddle, the family’s pastor stopped by, said his words, left.

Around 1 a.m., at Ingrid's urging, Monty brought one of his sons' mattresses down to the living room. There the two men lay through the night, Ryan curled on the sofa and his coach on the floor next to him. When Ryan wanted to talk, they talked. Otherwise, there was only his muted sobbing.

You can read about how Monty prodded Ryan to return to basketball—before giving him the night off for the first preseason game. You can read about the coach backing off and going in. You can ask yourself who slept on the mattress on Wednesday night when Monty cried himself to sleep on the couch. Or you know that he held his children. His littlest is five. His biggest, 17.

After reading about this man who had mastered the work of loving, I wondered who had taught him. Answers did not come easily. Early profiles of Monty disclosed that he had grown up in poverty. If only it was just that.

“Monty endured a youth of neglect, abuse and molestation,” wrote the Orlando Sentinel in 2000. “although he never can quite escape its memory. He battles the horrific flashbacks nearly every day.”

The trauma started when Monty was a toddler. After his parents divorced, he moved in with his grandparents. Other, unspecified relatives preyed upon him there.

At Notre Dame, Monty physically left behind the home of horrors, but depression overcame the basketball star in his freshman year. “Unable to play for a while because of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickened muscle between the chambers of the heart, he found himself contemplating suicide,” wrote the Sentinel in 2011.

Monty didn’t kill himself. Instead, he began working it out with God. It took two years of doctors appointments, secret sessions on the court, and festering doubts about his future with the game he loved so much, but in his third year of college, Monty learned he could play again. Against all shouting episodes, on-court meltdowns, and aspirations of revenge, he forgave the relatives who sexually assaulted him. And he did not contain his grace.

Monty has preached to inmates in Louisiana prisons. After playing basketball for days on end with South African children who lacked shoes, Monty returned to the country with donations. Monty has loved his five children and his players and Ingrid.

So how can she be gone?

Before the coaching gigs, before the NBA career, and back when his heart threatened basketball, Monty was alone. He walked around a South Bend lake and wondered if it was worth it. He contemplated if he should drown his suffering, drown himself.

But Ingrid was at the lake and she was walking alone. She called his name. She comforted him. And she took him home.


Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.

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Like, IDK, Chris Paul?

 
 

Delay of game.

 Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

Gonna warn you now. Today, you’re gonna get a LOT OF CAM.

Before we begin: we at Foul and Fair had a lot riding on Cam Newton’s performance in Super Bowl 50. Cam’s on-field excellence gave him his first MVP award. Cam’s unashamed exuberance and refusal to mute his blackness gave him a constant questioning of his motivation and “class”—alongside black America’s passionate loyalty. (I, Bradford, still contend that Cam’s dab is magical.) But then he got his butt kicked, sacking and fumbling his way to a Panthers loss. After shaking hands with Peyton Manning—who had nothing but kind words for the “extremely humble” QB—Cam left the post-game press conference as he wrestled with what may have been the most discouraging moment of his career.

And then came the think pieces!

The black Tom Brady. Terrell J. Starr, writing for The Shadow League, sees Cam and is reminded of Tom Brady. Both awesome at their craft, and known to take big losses very hard. Yet, they’re treated very differently. One difference between Cam and the man working to Make America Great Again: he’s bl- wait, no, I won’t spoil it. Just read the rest.

We all have our moments—except Peyton. He’s perfect. Cam would have avoided plenty of scrutiny if he stuck through the press conference. That’s the usual decorum, even after a tough loss. But, I refuse to judge Cam’s character when I will likely never experience the level of professional disappointment he did that evening. And I definitely won’t juxtapose him against Peyton Manning, as if he’s the patron saint of good sportsmanship. Fortunately, some writers with decent memories reminded his harshest critics about that time Manning lost a Super Bowl and didn’t even shake his opponent’s hand. In fact, when Peyton blew off a perfunctory handshake of Drew Brees and the victorious New Orleans Saints, one writer went so far as to challenge the very nature of what we consider sportsmanship. Funny how that works.

Yeah, we’re still talking about Bill Romanowski. Former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski chastised Cam’s conduct at the press conference, calling him a “boy” in a now-deleted tweet.

bill_romanowski_jerk_racist_stupid.jpg

Romanowski established his moral high ground some time after he spat on an opposing player’s face.

Living vicariously through Cam. Finally, at MTV NewsEzekiel Kweku appreciates Cam (and Beyonce’s) brash display of their blackness. What makes Cam so beloved among black fans? “Simply by being himself and being a quarterback at the same time, and refusing to compromise either of these roles, he defies the racially fraught notions about what a quarterback should be.”

He doesn’t give a Camn about your think piece. Cam, echoing the great coach Vince Lombardi, won’t apologize for leaving the press conference early, and I love him all the more for it.

"I've been on record to say I'm a sore loser,'' Newton said Tuesday as players cleaned out their lockers. "Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser and I'm going to show you a loser. It's not a popularity contest. I'm here to win football games.''


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Morgan and Bradford