Madieu Williams hasn't changed his surname to reflect his Minnesota Vikings jersey number, 20. He doesn't star in a reality television show circling around his life. He doesn't even tweet.
He is the anti-Ochocinco, the mirror opposite of T.O., the quietude in the cacophonous world of the modern professional athlete.
But Williams' refreshing persona is not what is most remarkable about him. Instead, it is that he is a pro athlete -- no, make that member of the human race rather than sell him so short -- who actually has something worth sharing about his life, from which all of us can learn and our neighbors can prosper, and chooses not to pound his chest to the world.
To be sure, this is how Williams spent the Vikings' bye week last week:
He traveled back to his alma mater, the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., for an all-day meeting with Robert Gold, the dean of the School of Public Health, and 40 local and national experts in the field of delivering health care to underserved communities in this country and the Third World. He then endowed the new Madieu Williams Center for Global Health Initiatives with $2 million out of his pocket, said a few words afterward for consumption by a little media availed of his good deed, and then disappeared back into a life of anonymity -- as anonymous as a pro athlete can be -- that he prefers.
A Terrapins sports information official told me their office was unaware of their former player's act until after the fact. A Vikings media relations officer said he was unaware of their starting free safety's latest altruistic gesture until I called asking to speak with Williams. Williams' agent, Kenny Zuckerman, relayed my request to Williams to interview Williams about what he'd just done and called me back a few days later to inform me Williams had said all he would publicly about his generosity.
"He's quite a young man," Gold summed up Williams, now 28 and a six-year NFL veteran.
Gold told me he'd met Williams -- who immigrated to Lanham, Md., from Sierra Leone as a 9-year-old -- only a couple times as a Maryland student. Williams earned a bachelor's degree in 2003 in family science.
Their initial discussion led to several more, as well as talks with another Maryland alumnus, Alice Horowitz, who had donated $2 million to the public health school earlier. The next thing Gold knew, Williams elevated their discussions to seeding something that could serve many rather than just a few.
What Gold didn't know immediately about Williams was that giving to many others wasn't new for him. He'd started his own foundation, the Madieu Williams Foundation, which focused on wellness and education for underprivileged youth. In Cincinnati, where Williams started his NFL career in 2004, he built a playground with the hope that it would inspire kids to get outside and be active for the betterment of their health.
At the end of last season, Williams traveled back to his hometown of Freetown, Sierra Leone, to cut the ribbon for the opening of an elementary school his foundation funded in memory of his mother, Abigail Butscher, a nurse. The school is located in Calaba Town, which is one of the poorest areas in Freetown. It is the first school built for this area.
"I was struck by two things [about Williams]," Gold said. "It was very unusual for someone so relatively young to be thinking in terms of gifts of this magnitude because they're still building wealth at that point in their career, and I also thought it was unusual that an athlete would be giving back to an academic program rather than athletics."
Williams isn't the first athlete to give back to his school. He isn't the first to give to something other than his alma mater's athletic department. But Williams' club is small, maybe the smallest when you consider he is so reticent to tout what he's done. He doesn't call along a TV crew. He just does his thing for someone else's benefit.
"And in each of the cases, he's supported health programs by supporting screening of underserved populations and referrals to care when they've identified people with serious risks to health related to high blood pressure or diabetes or other potential things," Gold said. "He did that in Cincinnati long before we ever talked. It's remarkable. He has a real commitment to education and health."
But Gold said the discussions he had with Williams weren't enough to convince Williams to contribute so mightily. Williams asked to meet with others Gold had mentioned to him to be sure of what he felt he wanted to do. The only time such a meeting could be made to meet everyone else's schedule was during the NFL season, and the only time Williams could spring free from Minneapolis was last week, his only off week.
"We knew it [Williams' gift] couldn't be formally announced until we could have this meeting and he could gather some final thoughts about it," Gold explained. "He shared his vision with them at the beginning of the day, and then we set up an agenda to allow people to talk about all the options for what might be done in a center like this in both Prince George's County and Freetown."
In Prince George's County, the Washington suburb in which Williams was reared, is the second-highest rate of AIDS in Maryland. In Sierra Leone, 27 of every 100 children die by age 5. Those are human statistics Williams told Gold he hopes to change.
A day after the meeting, Williams made his wish a reality. In doing so, he became the youngest donor of so much money to Maryland and the largest black donor to the university.
There is saying in the neighborhood that goes, "Don't talk about it; be about it." Madieu Williams is its marvelous personification.