Over his eight-year NFL career, Mario Williams has showed up on the injury report for problems with his foot, knee, thumb, elbow, groin, hip, shoulder and pectoral muscle. He was shut down one year with an inflamed hernia. Once, he was listed on the weekly report for general illness.
As Williams’ critics in Houston told me after he signed here, it’s always something with the guy. But I never could have imagined that the Bills’ $100 million defensive end would have to refute reports of mental illness.
That was the case Monday afternoon, though. An hour after the team’s voluntary workout at One Bills Drive, Williams spent 10 minutes assuring the media that he had never contemplated suicide or abused painkillers, as his ex-fiancee suggested in a series of texts made public by her lawyer last Friday.
“I mean, have you seen the notion of me needing any kind of help?” Williams said when asked about the texts. “Well, I am kind of off the wall sometimes. But other than that, no.”
I reminded Williams that suicidal people often give no outward signs of their inner anguish. And the experts say that outside parties should always take it seriously when someone expresses suicidal thoughts.
“Yeah, but in my situation, I’m completely fine,” Williams said. “I’ve never had any inclination of anything that even myself would notice.”
Williams didn’t deny anything that was revealed in the messages to his ex-fiancee, Erin Marzoucki, whose lawyers retrieved the texts forensically from her cell phone. In one of them, Williams told Marzouki he had taken three hydrocodone before the game in New England last Nov. 11.
Marzouki and her lawyer, Tony Buzbee, claim that Williams was despondent over the couple’s breakup and wrote, “there’s no telling what I’ll do to myself.”
Williams said the painkillers he has taken were prescribed solely by the Bills. He pointed out that he’s a big man and can require unusual doses of medication to relieve the pain. If he talked about killing himself, it was in the heat of the moment, in a conversation he assumed would stay private.
That changed when Williams sued Marzouki in an attempt to retrieve a $785,000 engagement ring. Not surprisingly, things turned ugly at that point. Buzbee said Williams was foolish enough to “kick ant hill,” and said you know what happens when you disrupt the ants.
“I’ve made it known, this is just going to get bad,” Williams said. “Neither of us want that, but you get what you ask for.”
That cuts both ways. Look, I can’t imagine what it’s like to buy a woman a $785,000 ring and have the relationship turn sour. I don’t know who ended it. But Williams might have been wiser to let Marzouki keep the ring and write it off as a bad investment, sparing himself this embarrassment.
Really, was it worth it to have his ex-fiancee retrieve old text messages that made Williams come off as some pathetic, self-indulgent baby? Evidently, he thinks so.
“I’m not going to say I’m excited,” Williams said, “but actually I feel a lot better that this is coming out. I’m not talking about the words or the things taken out of context, but I’m glad to see someone’s true colors and their character come out now, rather than later.”
It’s hard to feel much sympathy for either party in this situation. If you’re going to feel sorry for anyone, feel sorry for the Bills, who made Williams the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history last year and got a dubious return for their investment in his first season in Buffalo.
Almost from the start of his Bills career, Williams has struck me as a fragile character, both physically and emotionally. When he got outplayed by an obscure Jets tackle in his debut as a Bill, he began his postgame remarks by accusing Austin Howard of cheap tactics and whining about the officiating.
Williams used his wrist injury as an excuse for his poor play early last season, even though the team didn’t think it was serious enough to put on the injury report. After Seattle shredded the defense in Toronto, he deflected blame to his teammates and coaches. Hey, he was only one of 11 players.
During times of crisis, he never pointed the finger at himself and said, “It’s on me,” as a gesture to his teammates. So it’s not hard to imagine that, at a difficult moment in his personal life, Williams could have fired off messages that essentially said, “Feel sorry for me.” He comes off as a spoiled athlete with a huge sense of entitlement.
The NFL is understandably sensitive about mental health issues. A number of former players have committed suicide, including Junior Seau. Last season the Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then killed himself.
So until Williams spoke publicly, the Bills and media were treating his situation as a potential mental health issue. Coach Doug Marrone spoke about the programs and support systems that the NFL has put in place to help players with emotional difficulties.
Williams assured us it was a tactic on the part of his ex-fiancee and her lawyer, Buzbee.
“If he wanted to fight and get in the ring, we could do that,” Williams said. “But we’re fighting words.”
A war of words over a failed romance isn’t what the Bills need right now. Surely, they don’t want their highest-paid player distracted by a lawsuit over an engagement ring.
“I was told a couple of weeks ago, this is a season for revealing,” he said. “The lawyer is a direct extension of her. So I’m glad it happened now.”
Williams says it won’t be a distraction.
He seemed combative and relieved by the opportunity to answer back at his ex-fiancee.
Healthy and unburdened by personal drama, he wants to be the player Bills fans expected next season. It would be great to see.
I’m just skeptical enough to wonder what the issue will be next.