Virginia Athlete on Hunger Strike

Virginia Athlete on Hunger Strike

This is the time for football players to grind the weights, muscle up, get ready for spring ball.

If you’re fat, slim down.

Skinny, bulk up.

But nowhere is there a program that endorses what Wonman Joseph Williams, a defensive back for the University of Virginia, is doing.

Joseph — his first name is Korean for ‘‘full harmony’’ — is down to 195 pounds from 207. Why?

He hasn’t eaten for eight days. His last meal was on Feb. 19, when he chowed down on a McDonald’s double cheeseburger, chicken nuggets and a drink. By Thursday, he had lost nine pounds. On Sunday, when I first talked to him, he had lost 11 pounds. Now it’s 12.

Williams is on a hunger strike with a dozen or so other Virginia students to protest the low wages paid to everyday laborers at the university. The cause is called the ‘‘Living Wage Campaign,’’ and Williams supports it with his heart, soul and belly because he grew up poor in various Virginia towns, living in friends’ spare rooms, trailers, motels, church basements and homeless shelters with his mother and four siblings. He was an observant child, home-schooled because of the constant moving, and he graduated from high school at 16. He walked on with the Cavaliers football team at 17 and is now a 19-year-old junior, majoring in a highly selective program called political and social thought. He’s the first football player in that major since it began almost two decades ago, and to graduate, he must write an 80- to 110-page thesis.

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