It’s fair to say this has been a momentous week for Willie Gault, the former Chicago Bears wideout who was also a track star of great renown. Things started off great when police in Los Angeles found his stolen Super Bowl ring, but then took a turn for the worse—the much, much worse—after news emerged that he was being targeted by the SEC for fronting a pump-and-dump stock swindle.
To be frank, nothing about the latter revelation surprises me much, given what I learned from this 1986 profile of the man, yet another Sports Illustrated classic that helped steer me into the writing trade. One of the story’s opening anecdotes regards Gault’s efforts to put together that celebrated Super Bowl Shuffle video, a project that he may not have exactly done out of the goodness of his own heart:
There are still some players who think Gault’s best song and dance may have been the one he did to get them to Shuffle along at a net of only about $6,000 a man, after their donations. After the Illinois attorney general’s office launched an inquiry last January, Meyer registered the project as a charitable endeavor under state law. Some of the Bears accused Gault of getting them involved in a slick hustle, and worse, of lining his own pockets at their expense. “The guys were saying Willie was just doing it because he was getting money under the table,” says Dainnese Gault. “That hurt him. That was a job, getting all those guys together with all those egos. He had to literally drive the Fridge, Walter Payton and Jim McMahon down to that studio. I told Willie he should take more money than the rest of them for all the work he did.”
Gault says he didn’t, but others weren’t so sure. “They sold almost a million records and 170,000 videos, and we got $6,000,” said Bears linebacker Otis Wilson. “Wouldn’t you feel screwed?”
Wilson still seems convinced that Gault is the Baryshnikov of bunco artists. “Put it this way,” says Wilson. “If I had to trust him with my life or my wife, I wouldn’t trust him with either one.”
What I remember even more vividly than the profile, though, was this critical letter to the editor that appeared in the magazine a few weeks later:
Bruce Newman missed the boat in his reporting of an interview with me and my wife, Dainnese (Gault Is Divided Into Many Parts, Nov. 24). For example, he neglected to report on the most emphasized and important aspect of my wife’s and my life—God. Instead, he has painted a picture of a man who is quite the opposite of the man that I am.
At the time, my little grade-school mind was blown by the conflict between writer and athlete. Did this mean that magazine stories weren’t wholly accurate reflections of reality? That writers sometimes stretched the truth in order to spin a better yarn? Or perhaps that some profile subjects didn’t like to see their greatest failings revealed for all to see, especially after they invested such great care in crafting their public facades.
Given what has gone down in Gault’s post-football career, including his dalliance with a certain money-making enterprise even bigger than his alleged stock scheme, I now tend to view that letter as the work of a man whose ego rules everything around him. I would have more sympathy if he’d at least made a nod to the brilliance of the story’s headline, “Gault is Divided Into Many Part,” a delectable play on a Julius Caesar quip.