WILD THING TO BINDING FORCE
How Sonny Bill Williams is quietly working to help heal the terrible wounds of a country hit by tragedy
SONNY Bill Williams says his “wildness” has not disappeared. Instead, that energy has been directed towards Islam and, in turn, the All Black says he has learnt to look outside of himself. Williams, playing in his third and most likely last World Cup, is a self-described “shy” character but has managed to fight past that to become a pillar of not only his community but his country.
The hard-drinking, scandal-courting side is well and truly gone. Williams, soon to be a dad of four, quietly and powerfully has helped unify his country in wake of horrific tragedy.
Five months ago, in a time of horror and sadness after the mass shooting at New Zealand’s Al Noor mosque , a place he has often worshipped in, when people needed him most. Such is the magnitude of his actions, Williams has become the subject of a HBO Real Sports episode, which screened this week in America. In that program Williams openly reflected for the first time on heading directly to Christchurch after a massacre that killed 51 people, mostly Muslim immigrants.
“That was my time and I needed to step up,” Williams told Real Sports. “I know I represent the All Blacks, I know I represent a lot of different people, being a Muslim, being a Kiwi. We were all hurting. I had to get to Christchurch.” In a landscape when many sports stars lend their name to “a cause” and then drift away a from it when the cameras are off, Williams Will has continued that work with little l fanfare.
Last L month the media-reticent 34year-old ye allowed Real Sports reporter re David Scott, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, to spend days with him in Auckland and time at the Al Noor N mosque in Christchurch.
Scott tells this column that m moments that didn’t make the final cut of the program, or happened whe when the cameras weren’t rolling, were ti times that included Williams flying up memb members of the Al Noor mosque, including t the Ibrahim family who lost threeyear-old Mucad in the massacre, to be at the Bledisloe game in Auckland.
“He’s not looking for publicity or credit for those things, it’s just who he is,” Scott said. “You have to admire the guy, whatever he has been through in the past, he’s found a way to genuinely contribute. He’s the real thing. He has an authenticity.”
Scott saw it on a small scale, when after playing in the driving rain and cold in Auckland last month, Williams was the last All Black out on the ground signing autographs an hour after the game.
“He’s the guy, who will literally tell no one ‘no’,” Scott said. “He looks for opportunities for big and small to put his imprint on the country or a child fan who will remember it for a long time. It’s hard to hide true authenticity.”
Five months on from the tragedy, the HBO program also captures Williams praying in the very room where so many worshippers were gunned down. A room he used to often pray in when he played for the Canterbury Crusaders. He breaks bread with families, including the Ibrahims, that have lost loved ones. He sits in a park opposite a mosque, he meets with young men still traumatised by the events. He sits on the grass with them, and advises teens and kids about not feeling shame about their religion.
“To be proud to be a Muslim I know it is easier said than done, in some instances and situations ... I’ve been there,” he tells them. “It’s going to be easier, with hardship comes ease.”
He also regularly helps out in a kids’ ward at an Auckland hospital.
It’s well known that Williams wasn’t always destined for excellence off the field. There were a string of drunken off-field indiscretions and the most controversial exit in NRL history. That was followed by a French rugby stint and European tour with the All Blacks. He then discovered religion then he started becoming more introspective. In a 2011 interview, Williams said; ‘’I think I’m evolving, I’m always in search of bettering myself, how I can improve as a sportsman and as a person.”
While he’s won NRL premierships with Bulldogs and the Roosters, played for the All Blacks and went to the Rio Olympics to represent in the Rugby Sevens – he’s well and truly “bettered” himself as a person.
Williams’ self-described “wildness” — has become his greatest strength. “I’ve got a wildness in me, I found that Islam didn’t pacify the wild streak in me, I turned it and pointed it to want to grow and be better,” he told Real Sports. “That’s when I started openly coming out with my positive messages, who I was and what I stood for.”
Williams rose up