Given Jayson Williams’ status as an ex-convict with involvement in a shooting death and a history of drinking, the township never intended for children to view him as a role model during an event that carried an anti-substance abuse theme, Asbury Park Press reported.
However, the Neptune Municipal Alliance to Prevent Alcoholism and Drug Abuse still chose Williams, a former professional basketball player, as a special guest speaker at last month’s ninth annual Cops vs. Kids Basketball Game inside the township High School. The game, a community outreach program, carries a prevention message for children of all ages.
In 2004, a Hunterdon County jury convicted Williams, who spent the majority of his nine-year career in the National Basketball Association with the then-New Jersey Nets, of trying to cover up the shooting death of his limousine driver two years earlier. However, the jury deadlocked on a count of reckless manslaughter, which set the stage for Williams to plead guilty to aggravated assault during a retrial in 2010.
A month prior to his guilty plea, Williams drunkenly crashed his SUV in New York City. In April 2009, police used a stun gun on Williams inside a New York hotel after a female friend reported his suicidal actions. That same year, the former athlete also ran into trouble outside a North Carolina bar, where he allegedly punched a man in the face, but those charges were later dropped.
Considering his record, the decision to make Williams a speaker at the game angered several parents, who criticized the township’s choice and questioned what message children might derive from his speech. Even Mayor Eric Houghtaling says he immediately disapproved of the former athlete.
“I did not want him to come,” said Houghtaling, who attended the game only after Williams spoke. “It just never sat well with me.”
But Dawn Thompson, the township’s director of recreation and coordinator for the alliance, says the township gave much thought to Williams’ criminal background before they asked him to come.
“It was about Jayson, the person in recovery,” she said.
Normally, the game attracts 50 to 100 people, but this year roughly 250 people attended, said Thompson, who added they also picked Williams because he does not accept payment for such appearances.
“You could hear a pin drop in the gym,” she said.
Despite his initial criticism of Williams, Houghtaling says a former basketball player with natural talent likely attracted children’s attention more so than an average person.
“The message was how he ruined people’s lives,” he said. “I think there’s something to that.”
Similarly, Richard Allen, principal of Neptune High, says he initially disliked the idea of Williams as a speaker, but then changed his opinion after hearing Williams’ speech.
“I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by his talk,” he said. “What I saw was a humbled man who has taken responsibility for his past transgressions. He was contrite and remorseful. He spoke candidly about his failures and how his past actions ruined what was once a promising career.”
And Kia Lyons, an English teacher at the high school, says she supported the decision to host Williams because she thought his celebrity status would attract children’s attention.
“Today’s teenagers relate success with money, status and fame,” she said. “TV and music tend to make teens think that hard work, preparation and opportunity have no impact on where their idols are today. Consequently, they never consider how decision-making, bad influences and peer pressure could have effected their outcome.”
Williams played 9 seasons in the NBA for Philadelphia Sixers and New Jersey Nets. A defensive-minded forward/center made an NBA All-Star team in 1998, when he averaged 13.6 rebounds per game, second in the league.
The same season, Williams lead the NBA in offensive rebounds (443). He holds career NBA averages of 7.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg in 20.6 minutes of playing time. He appeared in 475 NBA games, starting 158.Follow @exnbadotcom
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