Fresh in their minds

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HONOLULU – As blissful as the Pro Bowl can be, it's hard for some to let go of a harsh reality.

For Denver Broncos defensive backs Champ Bailey and John Lynch, the death of teammate Darrent Williams still burns in their minds.

Both Bailey and Lynch wanted to wear No. 27 in the Pro Bowl before the league told them it was honoring Williams by putting the number on all the players' helmets for the game. Lynch, a 14-year veteran, praised Williams for trying to change his life and "do things the right way."

Williams was shot and killed after attending a New Year's Eve party in Denver that was sponsored by Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. Some of Williams' teammates were reportedly involved in an argument with other people at the party. Williams and some teammates left without an altercation, but the limousine he was riding in was sprayed with bullets.

Williams was hit in the neck as he sat next to teammate Javon Walker. Williams reportedly died in Walker's arms, a scene Green Bay Packers wide receiver Donald Driver can relate to.

"The same thing happened to me," Driver said when asked if he had spoken with Walker, a former teammate. "My cousin died in my arms … it's hard. Your heart goes out to Javon and the Williams family."

Driver said he was 14 when his 12-year-old cousin was shot by a friend after a disagreement. He didn't give any other details about the incident, but acknowledged he wasn't traveling down the right path.

"I've done everything from selling drugs to stealing cars," Driver said. "It got to a point where I knew I wasn't going to make it in this world. One day I was going to be dead. So you always ask yourself: 'Do you want to lose your life that way or do you want to live your life to a 100?' My goal is to live to 100."

However, making lifestyle changes can be easier said than done. Sometimes, people who were close friends have to be kept at arm's length, and certain places might have to be left alone.

"It's hard," Bailey said. "Yeah [you want to hang out with the people you grew up with]. But at the same time, you have to go with the people you trust. You can't put yourself in jeopardy like that.

"If the people you grew up with don't understand what it takes to be around you, how you carry yourself and how I'm trying to live, I gotta be a little selfish and say, 'You're not making it good for me.' If somebody doesn't bring a positive influence around you, you can't be around them."

However, perhaps out of jealousy, innocent players are targeted for criminal acts.

In 1997, former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Daryl Gardener was shot in the face during a drive-by after attending a nightclub in Dallas. Numerous other players, such as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, have been shot in seemingly low-risk situations.

"I think you gotta be smart," Bailey said. "You gotta be able to live, but at the same time, you gotta be smart. Who's to say when some [expletive] is going to come up to you? That's the hard part."

Just as frustrating is the fact that Williams' killer has yet to be captured in more than a month since the shooting. The Broncos recently offered a $100,000 reward for information, but little has helped the investigation.

Part of the problem may be the street credo against snitching.

"That's the way it is on the street," Driver said. "If you do a crime with somebody, are you going to tell on that person? Are you? Think about it. It's hard when you're talking about people you trust. Nobody is going to tell on somebody else."

Said Bailey: "That's society. People feel like snitching is the worst thing they can do. Now, I feel like if people think their lives are in jeopardy if they tell, that's another thing. Then law enforcement really has to step in and protect those people."

Whatever is going on with the investigation of Williams' death, it continues a trend of unsolved murders involving high-profile black men. Rappers such as Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were killed in the 1990s, yet police have made little headway solving those crimes.

"I don't know how far they are in the investigation. I can't really comment on that," Bailey said of Williams' shooting. "I feel like there is more to it than they are letting people know and I'm hoping people come forward."