Though long retired, former NFL running back Ricky Williams still uses cannabis to combat the wear and tear from his playing days. He recently shared his experience and education he’s gained between the cross-section of cannabis and athletics at the Southeastern Cannabis Conference and Expo in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Headlining an event called “Pro Football, Pro Cannabis,” Williams and two other former professional football players urged the NFL to allow athletes to consume marijuana for medicinal purposes. Williams has also taken it upon himself to dispel the “lies and half-truths about this plant,” so prevalent throughout the country.
“The stigma is starting to be lifted,” Williams said. “It really has helped a lot of people.”
He also added: “At the time I decided to retire in 2004, there really wasn’t any such thing as advocating for patients’ rights in regards to cannabis. I was an underachiever who decided to give up millions of dollars and a future to go smoke pot.”
In his professional days Williams was one of the best running backs in football, and the best who’s ever played in Miami. He set Dolphins’ team records in 2002 by rushing the ball 383 times for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns. He then missed the 2004 season following a temporary retirement and was suspended the 2006 after a fourth failed drug test.
The conversation around cannabis is different now. Multiple former players have come out in support of the NFL allowing cannabis usage, like Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe, and Williams himself isn’t cast the goat, like he once was.
As Williams told the Sun Sentinel’s David Hyde: “I can come back to South Florida, on a stage at the [Broward County] Convention Center and talk about that was so controversial and such a big deal a while ago—that’s a big deal to me. And it’s more me feeling good about the choice I made and re-affirming that we’re aware now of things everyone wasn’t back then.
“But, for me, true redemption comes when—and this will take 20 or 30 years—when hopefully I get into the Hall of Fame. When people start to realize I was on to something and when the doctors and scientists have studies that show how to maximize the health benefits of marijuana on a large scale and know if used properly it is a positive.”
While playing, Williams took so much Advil he developed an ulcer. As other players have noted, Williams felt compelled to accept anti-inflammatories to stay on the field. These drugs temporarily mask pain but can have damaging, long-term effects on human bodies.
“I had this epiphany one day, realizing a large majority of the guys on the team had to take pain medication to practice,” he told Hyde. “I started to think about it, about how it wasn’t good for us, and that got me to think of alternative ways.”
Also on the panel was former Denver Broncos and New York Jets defensive end Marvin Washington who called marijuana a safe alternative to painkillers. “Cannabis is medicine,” Washington said.
Washington also went out of his way to commend Williams, who is seen as a trailblazer in advocating for cannabis in the sports world. Williams could’ve silenced his views and pushed forward with his career as a premier NFL running back. Instead he sacrificed potentially millions to learn more about the plant and his body.
“Twenty years from now, 30 years from now, we’re going to look back and we’re going to have a father of athletics and cannabis, and Ricky’s going to be it,” Washington said. “He was trying to medicate himself instead of going on the opiates that the team doctors—I put that in quotes—were medicating us with.”