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Mario Williams gun photos not the wisest way to project public image

By Tim Graham

Two days ago, I stood in a ballroom at the NFL Rookie Symposium and listened to former defensive tackle Tank Johnson beg the league's newest class of players not to own guns.

Johnson was arrested multiple times because of guns and was reinstated from a suspension on the condition he forsake ownership. One time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell pleaded with him over the phone not to purchase a Glock after Johnson caught two men trying to burglarize his car.

A day after Johnson's rookie presentation, authorities arrested New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. He's facing murder and five gun-related charges.

Let's just say the NFL is hyper-sensitive about guns these days.

That's why somebody close to Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams should advise him to remove from his Instagram page a photo that makes fun of Hernandez and shows Williams firing what he claims to be fully automatic assault weapons.

Williams is an avid hunter and a licensed Texas peace officer. His enjoyment of guns is well known and has been reported. There's a high degree of likelihood his guns are fired legally and with all the proper permits.

"We discuss the NFL policy regarding guns with all of our players," the Bills told The Buffalo News in a statement. "Mario adheres to the policy and has taken the necessary steps to ensure that his guns are legal with the proper documentation. It has been well documented that Mario has promoted safe and legal firearm possession."

I'm not saying Williams shouldn't fire a gun. I'm not suggesting anyone should infringe on his Second Amendment rights.

I've owned a handgun for 14 years. I've enjoyed shooting it.

All of that's moot.

The problem is that the NFL has a serious image problem when it comes to guns. That's why Tank Johnson was brought to the Rookie Symposium. He wasn't there to tell the newbies what it's like to play with Rex Grossman.

Remember the controversy in 2011, when former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison appeared on the cover of Men's Journal with guns in his hands? Hernandez was entering his second pro season then.

The NFL-gun climate has been steamy for a long time.

"We advise players not to own guns," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said tonight in response to Williams' photos, "and have a long-standing policy prohibiting the possession of guns by NFL employees at NFL facilities or while traveling on NFL business."

Williams didn't appear to be in violation of either caveat. He's not a criminal. He certainly has Constitutional rights.

But to see the highest-paid defensive player in league history armed to teeth is a bad look, regardless of the circumstances.

And to give fans (many of them kids who follow their heroes on social media) the impression that firing a fully automatic M-16 with a silencer, and with handguns holstered under each arm, is glamorous must make Goodell's stomach turn.

Add to that Williams ragging on a murder suspect by posting an image of Hernandez as a gun-toting video-game character from "Grand Theft Auto New England," and there are people shaking their heads around the league. Williams tacked on the hash tag #craycray.

I'm sure Goodell erupted in laughter and retweeted that photo to all his buds. #sarcasm.


Mario Williams | Roger Goodell
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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |