Trent Williams was silent from the moment he didn’t report to mandatory offseason workouts in June until he did report to the Redskins' facility last Tuesday. Silence, despite this and other reporters' repeated attempts to reach out to the seven-time Pro Bowler as well as his agent, who also left calls, texts, and emails unreturned.
However, when the Redskins failed to trade Williams ahead of last week's deadline, he felt like he had no other choice but to speak up. In the week since, the team has asked for an investigation into Williams' claims of mistreatment and leaked to the NFL Network that Williams missed an appointment nearly three years ago.
Williams spoke to USA Today earlier this week in an interview published Friday morning. After reading that story, 106.7 The Fan reached out to Williams for a few follow-ups. What resulted was a nearly 25-minute conversation that discussed – in greater detail than ever before – Williams' cancer and the nearly six years of non-concern by team doctors and Williams himself about the growth, his distrust of the Redskins and what he is hoping to accomplish by speaking out.
Cosmetic Concern to Cancer
“I know the way the picture is painted is that I had skepticism for five-and-a-half years of this being something more,” Williams said of the growth on his head that started to form back in 2013. “That’s not the case. I just kept going back because it was strictly cosmetic, man. It was strictly cosmetic man.”
At no point while the growth was on Williams' head did he ever think it was cancer or anything other than “a big-ass cyst.” He trusted the doctors who were telling him it was nothing to worry about, even if he was annoyed at its ugliness.
“And if you can go back to the pictures, you'll see like earlier in my career, I liked to rock low cut. I would let my hair grow crazy in camp, but I would always want to cut it down. And the bigger the cyst got, the harder it was for me to wear my hair the way I wanted to wear it. So it was strictly cosmetic, is the reason why I wanted it off. I wasn't them begging them to take it off because I thought it was something that would be detrimental to my health. I just wanted it gone. It was an eyesore to me.”
Finally, in January of this year, Williams decided the growth must go. He had asked to get it removed when he was under for surgeries on his thumb and knee, but was told for varying reasons that it couldn’t happen. With no other surgeries needed and time to recover on his side, he went to have it removed. It was the plastic surgeon who was going to do the procedure who first suggested something was wrong.
“So what happened is the plastic surgeon - when he was in there numbing me up to cut the piece off or whatever and he just kept saying ‘I’m not sold that this is a cyst.’ And I was like ya know “trust me, man. The doctors I’ve been going to for four or five years…every doctor told me the same thing. It’s a cyst. I just want it gone. Cut that shit out. Please.
And he called one of the docs — the team doctors — and he reassured him that they’ve been looking at it and this is what they think it is and so he said alright, I’m gonna go ahead and cut it off.
I was happy. I was excited. I got it removed and I was just looking forward to getting the stitches taken out so I could go ahead and get back to my life. And then he called and said ‘hey this is not a cyst. It’s something else.’
Actually he called kinda freaking out and that kinda scared me. And then the Redskins doc called and was like it’s not a big deal. They didn’t tell me it was cancer right away. They just said I needed to get it checked again.”
When it was, the cancer was discovered. He got the call a few weeks after the initial surgery and eventually wound up in Chicago with an oncologist that owner Daniel Snyder had recommended. Snyder initially flew Williams to the doctor and still feels grateful for the help the owner gave him.
“When the diagnosis was grave and they told me that they need to cut my brain and I didn't have long to live, I mean Dan did step up. He called me. He flew me to Chicago. It was all an effort to save my life at that point. And you know, at the end of the day, I still appreciate that, because I didn't have a lot of people stepping up at that time. So even though I went through my hardship, I still maintain a level of gratefulness that he stepped up in that point. Even though a lot of people might say that's his job, it still, when you're in that position and you're kind of depressed, deep in the dumps, any little thing kind of brings a little sunshine. You know what I'm saying? He did get me to the doctor that ultimately extracted the tumor and kind of paid for some things, so I felt like I owed him a level of respect for that. I never wanted to speak out against him.”
When speaking to the media last week, Williams said no club officials visited him. Multiple reports then came out that team trainer Larry Hess visited Williams in Chicago. Williams clarified, saying that Hess came to Chicago but was barely present at the hospital and that no one from the front office came to see him.
“I guess when I heard 'team officials,' I was thinking in my mind of front office, like Dan or Bruce, or, you know, a Doug or just somebody. I wasn't thinking the head trainer. Because he was there. And as soon as I woke up from surgery, he was gone. And if anybody knows Larry like I know Larry, he kind of... well, I ain't even gonna say that, because I didn't want to put him out there. He was there for a couple days, but I was thinking that they was talking about somebody substantial, like somebody on the high totem pole. That's what I was thinking. For the most part, when it came to changing bandages, when it came to going in and out the doctor's office, it was just me and my mom. I didn't have anybody. And I spent close to $200,000 in just flights and getting myself back and forth to the doctor, before I could fly commercial. You gotta figure that, too.”
Williams’ anger is not from some intuition that something was wrong the whole time. It is from doctors who he trusted leading him to believe he was fine before luck ultimately saved his life and how the aftermath was handled.
“If I would’ve knew it was a tumor I would have never continued to play! I would have gotten it taken care of at that juncture, but if your doctor who is responsible for billions of dollars worth of athletes in a locker room is telling you that this non-football injury is a cyst or whatever and it’s minor and shit, I don’t know too many people who are going to question that position. It wasn’t like it was a sprained MCL and they told me it was a Grade 1 and actually it was really a Grade 2. It wasn’t like that.”
More Medical Mistrust
The Redskins medical staff has a poor reputation around the league and within the Redskins locker room. Williams had seen plenty of his teammates go through bad medical situations in his first few years in the league, but had largely been able to stay healthy until he hurt his knee in 2017.
Williams tore his medial patellofemoral ligament (MPFL), which holds the kneecap in place. He continued to play, even though he knew the injury would eventually require surgery.
CH: You did have some of that too though, because your knee and your thumb was all jacked up too, right? Your knee issue wasn’t handled well from what I remember.
“I mean the knee deal...I accept some responsibility because I put the team before me. I went against my agent, my mom, everybody. You know, like I said, I was struggling with loyalty. They did a lot for me, ya know? Every injury I had, I feel like if there’s a way I can push through for them? Shit, I was going to do it! I think you witnessed that. You was there.”
Williams would limp around the locker room and multiple times told reporters at his locker about how the kneecap would slide in and out during games, causing him short bursts of excruciating pain.
“You know, that’s just how I was. That’s how I thought. So yeah…the knee injury? They probably should have — in hindsight looking back at the season we had with nothing to play for — I probably should have started my 7-month rehab back in October when it happened as opposed to waiting till January and it kinda played until the next season. I kinda sacrificed two seasons trying to be a part of one. You get me?”
However, clarity on that decision has only come with hindsight. Williams knew something was wrong immediately upon hurting his thumb last season.
“I remember one instance where my agent was livid. We played in New York last year when I tore my thumb up. My thumb wasn’t even fitting in the socket. Like my ligament was completely gone. It was wrapped around the thumb muscle, so I had NOTHING holding my thumb in place.
And they just taped it and sent me back out there! I was just like…well part of me didn’t want to quit because it was just a finger ya know? But the other part of me was like “damn this feels unsafe!” I had never dislocated a finger in my life so I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel but I can’t even drink water without my thumb popping out of place.
Then you go there the next morning and they start telling me the treatment and stuff and I’ll be ready the next week. My agent steps in the middle and gets a second opinion and they told me I needed to be on the operating table as of yesterday.
And it’s like damn, how do they get that far off when they lookin at the same pictures that those other doctors are looking at?”
Redskins Request an Investigation
Hours after Williams spoke last week, the Redskins issued a statement saying they would be requesting an investigation as laid out in the CBA when there are medical issues. The investigations include a team appointed doctor, a doctor appointed by the NFLPA and a third doctor agreed upon by the two sides.
However, Williams quickly decided he wanted no part of the investigation and instructed the NFLPA to not engage. NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told The Sports Junkies this week that it was rare, if not unheard of, for a team to request such an investigation. Williams further explained why on Friday morning.
“It's a PR move. It's a PR move to say, 'Look, we're trying to'... If at the end of the day, it said, 'Yeah, we're wrong. Here goes your money,' or, 'here goes we cost you X amount of dollars this season,' then yeah, but that isn't the case. All it is is just writing a report and saying, 'Hey, this doctor could have did better. Hey, this doctor could have did better.' Like, who wins in that? You get what I'm saying? It ain't like I'm going to court, to where I can go through an investigation and they say someone's guilty. Here goes the reparations. That isn't the case, and if that was, I'd be all for it. But since it isn't, then what's the point of wasting my time?”
Many fans and pundits have reacted to Williams' lack of cooperation and a leak via NFL Network’s Charley Casserly that Williams missed an appointment by saying he has something to hide. Williams told USA Today that he missed the appointment by a day and eventually saw the doctor in question. His response to the idea of hiding something is about pragmatism above all.
“So to the people that are like, 'The only reason he's not doing it is because he has something to hide.' To you, it's just more about what the actual point of the investigation is, as opposed to discovering some truth because you feel like you know what happened.
All I think is the point of the investigation is just for them to now... If I would have never said nothing, my situation would still be the same. I'd still be on NFI and I'd still be under scrutiny with people saying that I'm all about money. You know what I'm saying? That's if I would have never spoke out. Now I spoke out, they're not coming to help. They're just trying to say, 'Look, it's a blame game.'
They just put out false stuff and say, 'Well, it's his fault and his fault.' You know, it's a blame game. That shit's immature. At this point, my time with the Redskins is over with. Why am I gonna still keep doing shit to help them improve, to be a better franchise? Because that's all it's for, it's just to help them improve.
They've been getting ways to improve from the team for a long time. It's like, this ain't a secret. It's just that now somebody come out and spoke about it, and that somebody happened to be me. So no matter what I gave to this organization for these last nine years, last nine-and-a-half years, as you can see, when I speak out about something that was obviously done that could have been done better, they don't say, 'Look, we made a mistake. Let's see if we can help.' They say, 'No, we didn't make a mistake. Let's get an independent doctor,' quote, unquote, 'to come in and see where basically Trent could have made a mistake.' That's what I feel like it's about.
Like I said, if there was a prize in the end, or if there was a judgment that could reverse some of the rulings and some of the things that happened, then yeah. I mean, shit, I'd be first in line. It would be already done. But right when I was about to do the investigation, I asked, 'What is this for? Is this gonna help me as for as any type of grievance or legal action?' They said no. I was like what's the point of doing this shit? They told me the point in doing it is to let the Redskins have a better understanding of where they messed up, if they messed up. I just didn't give a damn whether they had an understanding or not. Shit, I know for a fact that they've been told where they fucked up at.”
Money vs Medical
Williams will lose at least $13 million by not playing this season. He confirmed the Redskins will not pay him while he is on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list and he does not plan to go after that money at this time. He understood that was possible when he decided not to report, which is why he’s not sure why so many people think the actions he’s taken are financially motivated.
“That’s what I don’t get. I don’t get how it could be about the money but at the end of the day those people are going to look for a way to say, no matter what evidence is in front of them…if you want to say ‘Trent is about the money’ then they’ll find a way to say it.
You’ll ignore the fact that I could’ve reported and I could’ve been on the roster since training camp and still not played a down, ya know? But I didn’t want to go that route. So, if it was about the money I would’ve secured the bag that way.
I mean of course, if I would’ve gone to a new situation there was going to be a new contract but I mean at the end of the day...no matter how rich I am or how much money I have, when the doctors told me in February that I didn’t have long to live, that shit didn’t matter. It wasn’t about money no more. I couldn’t buy a new brain. I couldn’t buy a new skull. You know what I’m saying?
The money was obsolete at that point. It still is. It was a point to prove. It’s something more than that. It’s morals. It’s integrity. I had to. I couldn’t just sit there and let this go because it would have. If I had never spoken to you guys, you guys would have never known what happened. Right?
And I was prepared to do so. If they would have traded me, I would have never said nothing. I would’ve just kept my respect and kept it where it was, but they forced my hand. They painted me out to be the bad guy so I had to speak up for myself.”
Redskins team president Bruce Allen respectfully declined an interview request via a team spokesman. The team feels that their hands are tied with because of HIPPA laws and Williams declining to cooperate with the investigation they requested.
When told specifically about Williams' quote that he wouldn’t have said anything if he wasn’t traded, Allen retorted, “If he can’t pass a physical, how is he going to get traded?”
It is worth mentioning that teams can pass and fail players in physicals almost at will as there is no set checklist for an NFL physical.
In fact, the Redskins doctors passed Williams during his physical. The exam started at 6:30 a.m. last Wednesday. Doctors left and had signed off according to Williams. It wasn’t until around noon when Williams went to put on his helmet and felt discomfort that his physical was deemed failed.
In other words - another team trading for Williams could simply not make him try on a helmet, passed him finalizing any trade and then put him on an injured list if the helmet issue was indeed an issue.
A Hope For A Fresh Start
Williams made it clear that he’s ready to close the Washington chapter of his career. In his opinion, the story has long reached a point where moving on is best for all involved.
“If it was a bash the Redskins deal man, as soon as I got off the surgery table I would have been on media outlets and flooded you guys with pictures and shit to let people know the severity of it but that wasn’t the case for me,” Williams said. While he has declined to share pictures publicly, he did show them to a small group of reporters last week and they are gruesome. The hole that was cut in Williams' head looked to be the size of a softball. He estimates 30 percent of his scalp was affected. After the surgery, doctors had to staple his head back closed. It looked exactly as bad as that sounds.
“I wasn’t looking for blood. I was just looking for a new beginning. To put this behind me and kinda find a new home and that’s what I wanted to do. But I think them allowing me a new start would’ve admitted guilt and I don’t think they were ready to do that.”
“I ain’t got a reason to lie. I’m not trying to get anything. I’m not trying to get no money from them. I don’t even want what they didn’t give me. I just want to go.”