I’ve followed along the strange, sometimes funny, always different string of DeAngelo Williams’ tweets for the better part of the past month, like some of the rest of you have.
He calls his tweets petty – like when talking about his dismissal from Carolina or, more recently, saying Peyton Manning couldn’t play dead in a western during the 2015 season.
Finally, on Tuesday, the Steelers said they had had enough.
“DWill,” tweeted Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin from his verified account Tuesday afternoon, “quit while you are behind! #Really.”
There’s really nothing like getting publicly reprimanded by your superior.
The past two days have perfectly illustrated what I’ve struggled to put into words since Carolina cut Williams after the 2014 season. The Williams jokes that have made their rounds in recent days are just like the jokes the Panthers laughed at for years. Then they had to endure them. Then the jokes all just stopped being funny.
Williams’ sense of humor isn’t the reason he’s no longer with the Panthers. He’s not in Carolina because his play was not commensurate with his pay. But I got the sense in the locker room during that 7-8-1 season that the guys were just simply tired of Williams’ jokes.
He’s a fun-loving guy, but a lot of times the jokes weren’t about laughing with people so much as they were at people.
Of course, in an NFL locker room you have to be able to take it and dish it out. You have to have thick skin. It just seemed like Williams’ jokes never, ever stopped.
It got old.
The laughter may very well have been a defense mechanism. Williams went through the very difficult experience of losing his mother after the 2013 season, and on top of that he felt the Panthers left him on an island to cope with it.
Then Williams dealt with a string of injuries, playing just six games and producing a career-low 3.5 yards per carry. Those issues seemed to manifest themselves in the form of joke upon joke in the locker room.
None of this is to say Williams was a “bad apple” in the locker room. I thought that was unfairly thrown out when Steve Smith was cut in 2013 and it would be, too, in Williams’ case. I felt as though a lot of guys in the locker room just wished he’d dial it back some.
It’s been two years now and I don’t remember any specific examples outside of two, but I know the jokes happened more than that. Seemingly out of nowhere he joked about a media member’s jacket. Another time, in the midst of a two-month winless streak, I was interviewing a player who stopped talking and rolled his eyes at a loud Williams laugh from across the room.
Last month Williams tweeted a picture of his release from from Carolina, and I had no problem with it. He gave a behind-the-scenes look at the NFL business and said he uses it as motivation.
(And clearly it worked. He had 907 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last season for the Steelers in an injury-shortened season, getting 10 starts in place of the injured Le’Veon Bell.)
But then Williams engaged the fans and started being petty. And the goodwill he may have built up in Charlotte started going away with each tweet referencing Carolina’s recent Super Bowl loss.
A day or two later he took aim at the Patriots and the organization’s checkered history, from SpyGate to DeflateGate.
Then on Monday, Williams again had some interesting thoughts that spiraled out of control. He commented on how the media had treated Manning’s play in 2015, and he wasn’t wrong.
He built his argument until finally, on the day of Manning’s retirement announcement, he delivered the coup de grâce.
Williams, of course, didn’t stop there. He continued Monday night, and I reached out to him to ask if he wanted to talk for a story. We traded a few messages, and I can’t say he declined to speak because he ignored my request more than anything.
So Tuesday morning he doubled down on the comments on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show. And then he kept tweeting. And kept tweeting. Until finally Tomlin, who has tweeted just 70 times in nearly three years, told him to stop.
Just like in Carolina, the jokes stopped being funny.
Clarification: An earlier version of this story used the word “cancer” when describing Williams in the locker room. The use of that word could be construed as insensitive toward Williams and his family, and I apologize for not noticing earlier.