Ricky Williams was, in many ways, ahead of his time. Though often misunderstood, the former Heisman winner was a pioneer of sorts, forcing the NFL to confront issues of mental health (specifically his own struggles with social anxiety) and the medical benefits of marijuana. Williams, the league’s leading rusher in 2002, was suspended five times for repeated violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, missing two entire seasons including 2004, when the one-time Pro Bowler abruptly retired, only to return to a year later.
Even while at odds with the league’s hardnosed stance against marijuana, Williams still enjoyed a highly productive career, compiling 10,009 rushing yards (31st all-time) over 11 seasons with New Orleans, Miami and Baltimore. Williams was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015 and the 44-year-old suspects that if weed had been tolerated the way it is in today’s climate (NFL players are no longer suspended for positive tests), he’d likely be enshrined in Canton too.
“I wouldn’t have won the Heisman without it,” Williams admitted to Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated. Williams said he began smoking after a breakup his senior year at the University of Texas and immediately felt a “calm wash over him.” He’s sworn by it ever since. “I feel sorry for people who are so close-minded. I guarantee they’re suffering more than I am.”
Williams acknowledges certain regrets—he wishes he’d felt less pressure to conform during his career and, if he had to do it over, probably would have tuned out team doctors who dispensed opioids like candy. But Williams isn’t sure a Hall-of-Fame bust would have made his life any more rewarding. “I was a football player. And then I wasn’t,” said Williams, who, in his post-playing career has embraced astrology, yoga and business opportunities in the marijuana industry. “And that became part of my story.”
Williams, whose 1,853 rushing yards in 2002 remains the Dolphins’ franchise high-water mark, recently appeared as a guest on CNN, where he discussed the controversy surrounding American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson, whose Olympic status is in doubt following a failed drug test.