"From that point on I got the reputation that I couldn't catch the ball," Gault says. "I got more publicity off that one dropped pass than all the ones I caught. They were just waiting for me to make a mistake. It was a humbling experience. I was too perfect, I guess—the all-American kid who couldn't do anything wrong. Now they had found something they could criticize. Once that happened, all the players jumped on the bandwagon. I found out that year who my true friends were, and what I discovered was that I didn't have any. It opened my eyes. I spent the rest of that year fighting with the team. All the players didn't really understand me as a person, that I'm a humble and gentle guy. They didn't understand that I could have interests outside football."
What is difficult to understand is how, with all his outside interests, Gault finds any time at all to play football. For instance, the week before the Monday night Rams game, which was played in Chicago, he flew to Los Angeles after practice on Monday, met with a movie producer and had dinner at Spago that night, spent all day Tuesday talking with a Hollywood talent agency, taking lunch at Mr. Chow, flew back to Chicago on a red-eye, arriving at 6 a.m. Wednesday, and was at practice three hours later. Thursday night he and Dainnese attended a Lamaze class, he drove his horse on Saturday, and the next day he modeled furs in a fashion show during which he was named one of Chicago's 10 best-dressed men for the second year in a row.
Gault doesn't have a life story, he has a résumé, copies of which he carries around with him at all times, references available upon request. He and Dainnese, who models and writes a column for Sophisticated Black Hair Styles and Care Guide, are also willing and able to crank out reams of their respective clippings on the copying machine they keep set up at all times in the kitchen. Mmmmm, smells good, honey. What's cooking? "Why, it's just some copies of your tasty Ebony Man fashion spread and my hard-hitting look at the problem of combination skin...oily on the forehead, nose and chin and normal-to-dry on the cheeks. What to do?" When the Bears played a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys in London this summer, Gault invited the entire team to a dinner party at the mansion of a Nigerian industrialist named Chief Harry Akande, who had flown from Chicago to England in his private jet for the game. The Chief, who had the players picked up in Rolls-Royce limousines, is a friend of Willie's. "Can I help it if I know these people?" Gault asks. "I know several stars that some people would feel inferior to. Marlon Jackson is a very good friend of mine." Marlon Jackson?
Between meetings with the executive director of the American Health and Beauty Aids Association and a photo session for his modeling portfolio last May, Gault finally gave in to his wife's demand that they take a vacation and took her to the island of St. Martin for 10 days. "He almost died when we got there because the telephones didn't work," says Dainnese. "By the end of the trip he was so bored he was begging me to cut the trip short."
The trip was significant if only because it was the first time in three years of marriage that the Gaults were alone together. He had chosen the 1983 track and field world championships in Helsinki—where he ran on the gold medal-winning 4 X 100 relay team—for their honeymoon. "What could I do?" says Dainnese. "I went with him, or he would've gone without me. We turned it into a honeymoon—just Willie, me and the U.S. track team."
The wedding in Griffin bore Gault's unmistakable imprimatur. Six hundred guests were invited, but 1,200 people showed up—most of them as part of the bridal party. Dainnese had 15 bridesmaids and Willie topped her with 17 groomsmen. He showed up at the altar with three best men, which at the very least is grammatically impossible, and the happy couple were joined in the holy state of matrimony by preachers from the wholly separate states of Georgia, Tennessee and Texas. Somewhere in the background a pair of caged lovebirds tried to make themselves heard over the din of "dearly beloveds."
While they were in Helsinki, Gault's attorney called to say that the Bears, who had selected him in the first round of the '83 draft, had said that if Gault didn't chose football over track by the following day he could forget about playing for Chicago. Willie and Dainnese sat in his dorm room and discussed it. "Then he got up and tied his track shoes together and hung them out the window," recalls Dainnese. "And he cried. It was as if part of his life was over."
Now, because the International Amateur Athletic Federation has relaxed its eligibility rules to allow professionals in other sports to compete in track and field events, Gault will be able to return to the track circuit next spring. And if all goes well he may even compete in the '88 Olympic Games, assuming the Bears don't mind his missing part of the season or that he hasn't taken up with the ballet full-time by then. No matter what he decides, he'll make sure people notice. All he ever needed was the music and the mirror and the chance to dance.