“I almost lost my life,” he said.
Thursday was the first time the 31-year-old Williams has spoken publicly since the end of last season. He had instructed those close to him to not speak on his behalf in recent months, leaving only vague suggestions that he was unhappy with a medical diagnosis and had a health “scare.”
When he finally spoke, he told a far more serious story about a cancer creeping inside his skull and the fear that he might die, opening an enormous rift between the Redskins’ most-respected player and the team’s doctors and senior management that doesn’t appear likely to be closed.
The cancer, he said, is called Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans, or DFSP, a soft tissue sarcoma that develops in the deep layers of the skin. He first noticed the growth late in the 2013 season and said he asked the doctors about it then and at other times in the ensuing years as the growth continued to get bigger. Each time, he said, he was told the growth was nothing to worry about.
Only when the team finally grew more concerned with the growth this offseason and sent him to their affiliated INOVA hospital did doctors deem it to be a serious health issue, he said. Williams then went to a Chicago hospital, where he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. In midwinter, he had surgery there to remove it.
“We literally caught it within weeks of metastasizing through to my brain to my skull,” said Williams, who added the ordeal was “a scary thing to go through” and described being told by a doctor to get his affairs in order, in case he didn’t make it.
“Think how you describe to your 9-year-old, your 5-year-old, that daddy might not be here,” Williams said. “It’s tough.”
This is why Williams was angry enough to hold out. He did not directly confirm suggestions made by friends and associates that he does not want to play for the Redskins again, but he did not sound like someone who wants to be with the team. He said no one from the team visited him during his two-week hospital stay — it had flown him to Chicago but not back.
Thursday night, the Redskins released a statement on the matter, saying the team has requested the NFL’s Management Council convene a joint committee with the NFL Players Association "to review the medical records and the medical care given to Trent Williams. We have requested this review under the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that provides for an independent third party review of any NFL player’s medical care.
“The Redskins continue to prioritize the health and well-being of our players and staff. Due to healthcare and privacy regulations, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Earlier, Williams was asked if he wants to be traded. He smiled and chuckled.
When asked if he trusts the organization, he said, “No, there is no trust there.”
He returned to the team Tuesday afternoon, just before the NFL’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, when it was clear he would not be dealt to another team — something he requested June 1. By reporting then, he can claim he has fulfilled the obligations of his contract, which expires at the end of the 2020 season, allowing him to become a free agent.
Williams failed a physical Wednesday morning, when he was unable to comfortably fit a helmet on his head. He said he tried two helmets without any luck, adding that surgeons had cut out 30 percent of his scalp to remove the tumor, and that some pain remains from the two procedures to repair the wound.
What wasn’t repaired is his relationship with the only NFL team for which he has played in his nine seasons.
“There are some things that happened that are hard to look past if I’m just being completely honest with you,” he said. “That’s just what it is.”
“I can’t say names, to be honest. It’s whatever,” he said later. “You can kind of draw the conclusions if you want.”
Williams spoke for 18 minutes. He wore a white cap on his head and while he smiled several times, his foot-tapping grew to the point that at times his whole body shook.
“I guess nobody took the time to see what was going on there,” he said, describing what he felt was the way team doctors handled the questions he kept asking over the years about the growth on his head. “Football was more important, and to me it was more important, too. I was told it was something minor so I didn’t really question them. But, I mean, the lump continued to grow over the years. It was concerning, but there was no pain involved and if I’m being told by the very people I put my career in the hands of, people are telling me I’m fine, [then] I’m fine. That’s how I looked at it.”
Williams was asked several times if he will play for the Redskins again. The first time, he said, “We’ll see how the helmet thing turns out.”
Pressed later, he answered.
“I love football,” he said. “Football has done everything for me in my life. It’s all I’ve ever known. … But, I just feel like things could’ve gotten handled a lot better. Obviously, it got us to this point.”
Williams also seemed frustrated with the fact the Redskins had not traded him. A person with knowledge of the situation said team president Bruce Allen did not want to send the franchise’s top player to another team in response to Williams’s holdout, figuring the accumulation of fines and lost game checks would eventually bring Williams back. He already has lost a little more than half of his $10.25 million salary for this season and several of his signing bonuses. Allen changed that stance two days before the trade deadline, but no deal was made.
“When you give them 48 hours to strike a deal, it probably isn’t going to happen,” he said. “I just felt like that was done to embarrass me, so to speak. Try to make it feel like, ‘Ain’t nobody want you. You’re not good enough for us to trade for.’ I felt like that was the play, more so than to get me moved.”
Asked if the relationship with Allen can be repaired, Williams looked toward the floor.
“Next question,” he said icily.
When asked about team owner Daniel Snyder, however, Williams said he still valued his friendship and seemed to separate him from Allen.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Williams said of Snyder. “He’s not down there in the training room. It’s not on him. It’s not on anybody. I had a very rare form of cancer; my displeasure comes from how long it lingered and how it was neglected and how it almost cost me my life.”
At points, Williams talked about his disappointment that the team had not renegotiated his contract, especially given his standing as a leader and one of the league’s best left tackles, complaining that his final two years are not guaranteed and that he had no assurances he would be taken care of by the team, especially if he suffered an injury.
“We haven’t had the best history with the way medical stuff has been handled here,” Williams said of the Redskins, who have had a large number of players go on injured reserve in recent seasons and saw high-profile players such as quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy and running back Derrius Guice undergo complicated recoveries from their injuries.
However, Williams added that he did not demand a new contract during his holdout and indicated that he had lost so much faith in the team that he wouldn’t want to talk about renegotiating his deal anymore.
Williams said he was delighted to see his teammates again and expressed regret that his holdout might have hurt the team, which is enduring a 1-7 start that included former coach Jay Gruden — whom Williams said he “loved” — being fired.
In the end, though, his biggest concern seemed to be the tumor that had been removed, the fact he will have to have follow-up appointments every six months to be sure it won’t return and the anger he feels over how it was treated.
On Wednesday, he had to stand before some of the same doctors he said he does not respect as they examined him for his physical. The experience was not a pleasant one, and his eyes grew cold as he recounted it.
“It felt weird to say the least,” he said. “It did. It’s something I didn’t think I’d have to do.”