Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Vince Williams has a gift for forging a fun connection with his fans.
Like that time in 2017 when, after Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Chris Boswell were receiving acclaim as the team’s “Killer Bs,” he changed his Twitter name to Bince Williams and declared himself part of the group.
Or the time last year when he arrived for the first day of training camp in Latrobe dressed as Stone Cold Steve Austin, blaring the wrestler’s theme music from his truck.
In his introspective moments, though, Williams isn’t sure he still wants to share that gift with his 200,000-plus followers on Twitter and Instagram.
He’s a rare athlete who grapples on a regular basis with the pros and cons of social media, how it can bring players closer to fans but also can create a row of rakes players easily can step on.
Williams is 29, so he essentially grew up in a world where social media was a part of daily life.
“When I was in high school or college or whatever, social media was an amazing thing,” Williams said. “I remember when I had my first interaction. I went on social media, and my guy was Chad Johnson. I used to write Chad Johnson, and he used to write me back.”
Now a successful NFL player, Williams would like to give back by providing the same type of interactions on social media to fans of his.
“I love people,” Williams said. “I just feel like I’m a football player at the end of the day. Yeah, football players do get notoriety, but I love to reach out and talk to people who support me and cheer for me and root for me. That’s a cool interaction. That’s a cool experience that I would love to share with somebody.”
Williams is hesitant to share too much of himself, however. He feels the traditional media plucks comments from social media out of context to fan flames of dissent or otherwise make athletes look bad.
“They kind of took the joy out of it for me,” Williams said. “I would see members of the media taking my words and changing them to fit around their stories, and I’m like, ‘That’s not what I meant. That’s not who I was talking about.’ I had regular people writing me, saying I offended somebody. You’re always going to offend somebody. I was like, ‘Since I can’t enjoy this in the way I want to enjoy it, I’m going to fall back.’ ”
To Williams, falling back doesn’t mean boycotting social media. It just means sharing less of his personality.
“I don’t know if it’s a safe place anymore,” Williams said. “Now I’m just going to be Vince Williams the football player. When a fan asks me a question, instead of being original and being myself, I’m going to give them a vanilla generic answer because you can’t be yourself anymore.”
Out of that dark cloud came a silver lining recently.
On his Twitter account in the middle of June, Williams gave indications good old Bince might be about to make a comeback.
“I’m about to be more active on social media,” he wrote. “I feel like Pittsburgh has taken a negative hit lately on these apps, I wanna be one of the athletes to help bring more positivity back. We used to have so much fun on here.”