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A-2 Column for January 30, 2019

Title: William White and the Invisible the Elephant in the Room

By: John Grindrod


When John Bean, a former teaching and coaching colleague early in my career at Perry High School asked me to attend the January 16 evening, “Becoming a Character Champion for Life,” a program sponsored by his non-profit Commitment to Kids, which featured three noteworthy Buckeyes, former football standouts Matt Finkes and William White and current Buckeye head wrestling coach Tom Ryan, all of whom would give speeches targeted at our community’s youth, I was pretty sure taking my voice recorder and a pad and pen was a good idea. After all, I’m always in search of content for my weekly scribbles to you.


Among the many positives I took away from the evening, I certainly have to count my opportunities to spend some time with the former Lima Senior Spartan, Buckeye defensive backfield standout and 11-year NFL veteran William White as one of them.


Of course, as a sports fan, I was well aware of William’s Lima roots as a Spartan standout in both basketball and especially football. Somewhat ironically, the one enduring memory I have of William as a Spartan was a basketball memory during his senior year in 1984.


It was that early February game that a whole bunch of us sports enthusiasts attended at the old Lima Senior gymnasium when the Middletown Middies, featuring William’s future Buckeye teammate, Cris Carter, came to town to take on a Spartan team led by Andre Reed, who would shoulder more responsibility that evening since leading scorer Anthony Thompson was out with a wrist injury.


Surely, it would be Reed’s jumper with less than ten seconds on the clock to secure a Spartan 70-68 victory that many in attendance in a sold-out gym that included Buckeye football coach Earl Bruce, no doubt there to see a couple of future Buckeyes in White and Carter, that many will remember.


However, for me, an enduring image I have is of an interception William made of a full-court pass in the middle of the game, one that showed the sheer athleticism that it would take to play in that Buckeye secondary. I remember thinking, William, while you’re surely not miscast as a basketball player, you are indeed a football player playing basketball.


And, we were all indeed proud of our native son when he achieved so much in his sport. Following his stellar Buckeye career, those eleven years in the NFL were nearly four times the average length of a pro career, which is 3.3 years, according to the NFL Players’ Association.


I met William for the first time before the actual character-building event at The Met during the meet-and-greet phase of the evening. Our conversation was one he steered toward the obvious pride he has as a father for his son Brendon, a Buckeye strong safety who burst on the scene this year with his thirteen tackles in the Nebraska game and then punctuated the season by his being named the defensive player of the game in the Rose Bowl win over Washington.


William jokingly said that suddenly he’s no longer the most accomplished athlete in the family. When I reminded him that Brendon hadn’t played in a Super Bowl as he had in his final season in 1999 with the Falcons, William joked, “Yeah, but I lost. Brendon will probably play in one some day and win!”


Following our pleasantries, it was time to head to Lima Senior’s gym for William’s talk directed at the many young people in the audience. He spoke of growing up in a challenging part of the city, not far from Whittier School off Reese Avenue and told his young people not to allow an environment to either define or limit them. 


He spoke of his early ambivalence to school, especially math and science courses, that is, until that light snapped which compelled him to strive for success as passionately in his academics as in his athletics. Surely the proof of that came later when he graduated from Ohio State with a degree in metallurgical engineering.


And, walking across the gym floor with a steady gait that still suggests they were the steps of an athlete, he said to the young people, “See what I’m doing? These are my footsteps, not yours. Your role in life is to create your own footsteps, not try to follow in mine or anyone else’s.”


By the time William handed the microphone off to keynote speaker Tom Ryan, about whom I’ll have some things to say next week, I knew by glancing around the bleachers and noting the looks on kids’ faces, the messaging William wanted to bring back to his hometown was received.


And, by evening’s end, from my conversations with William at The Met to every word he spoke in that gymnasium directed at the young people in his audience, in an evening filled with many of his observations and messages, perhaps, what was most noticeable to me was what was never mentioned once. There was not one word of his 2016 diagnosis of an incurable neuromuscular affliction, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. I got the idea William’s just placed that in God’s hands. 


No, I just don’t think William has spent a whole lot of time asking, “Why me?” and by not succumbing to the most natural of instincts for so many when they are faced with the certainty that their time here on earth may be far shorter than they imagined, that whole woe-is-me syndrome, on that night that one of Lima’s best came back to town, he just refused to acknowledge that invisible elephant in the room.


John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and author of two books. He can be reached at

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