Steelers' DeAngelo Williams offers encouragement in visit to Egypt

| Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 7:57 p.m.

CAIRO — Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams stood at Cairo American College, a school for pre-K through 12th-graders, and talked with a teacher wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey.

“We played football,” he told the Bengals fan Wednesday about the teams' last brutal meeting in the playoffs. “You played dirty.”

Off to the side, junior student Maheen Ahmed, 18, waited nervously.

“I don't follow football,” she said, “but I know the work he has done with breast cancer. My mother has breast cancer. ... I know about the controversy over his uniform.

“I've seen everything you've done,” she said as she snapped a selfie with Williams. “It has just meant a lot to me and my mother.”

Williams and nine current or former NFL players are in Cairo as part of efforts by American Football Without Barriers to conduct a training camp for Egyptian players. Williams is the organization's developmental director.

The players mixed with the school's students before visiting a children's cancer hospital.

Williams' mother and four of his aunts died from breast cancer. In October, the NFL fined him for wearing “Find the Cure” eye-black stickers, describing it as a uniform violation. His hair is highlighted pink to show support for breast-cancer awareness.

“I think it is a selfless act for them to come here and share their sport,” said sixth-grade teacher Andrew Kasel. “Our students are really excited that they are here.

“We have this impression that football players have big egos, but it is a false impression.”

The players urged the students to maintain good grades, try different sports, play safely and stay motivated.

“We get it from people telling us what we can't do,” Williams told them. “Don't let anyone put a ceiling on what you can do.”

One student wondered what the athletes would do if they didn't play football.

Their responses included working construction, working with kids, being a banker or professional surfing.

Williams said he would be an accountant: “I like playing with numbers because they all add up.”

Later, during a bus ride to the hospital, Williams said he visited orphanages and other institutions on previous trips, but “when I found out it was a cancer hospital, my face lit up, and it quite lifted my spirits.”

He was surprised and pleased Ahmed, the girl at the school, knew about his work with breast-cancer awareness.

“Just seeing her eyes and her body language let me know that what I'm doing and what I stand for is working,” Williams said.

As the players distributed gifts to young patients, Williams said no team represented on the trip “is more decorated or celebrated or prestigious” than the Steelers.

“I'm pretty sure the Steelers stuff (black-and-gold sock monkeys) will be in high demand,” he said.

Wearing masks in a chemotherapy ward, the players handed out gifts.

Williams gently placed a Steelers sock monkey on the lap of a small boy, who smiled broadly.

Then, after asking how to say “coloring book” in Arabic, he quietly confessed: “Just to help someone in another country is amazing.”

Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Reach her at bhiel@tribweb.com .

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