From football dropout to healer
By TOM FITZGERALD
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — He’s no longer Ricky Williams the football player. He plans to become Ricky Williams the holistic healer.
It’s been more than 10 months since Williams, one of the premier running backs in the National Football League, last ran off tackle for the Miami Dolphins and four months since he suddenly announced his retirement at age 27.
Then he dropped from sight. Now Williams has turned up about as far away from professional football as you can get, as a student of the ancient Indian medical system known as Ayurveda. In the Sierra foothills, no less.
“I realized a while back that I have an innate ability to be compassionate,” he said, “and I saw that the strength of compassion is something that healers have and healers use.”
Williams gave up the $5 million he would have earned this season, which would have been his sixth in the NFL, amid reports he faced a league suspension this year for substance abuse.
Williams is a month into a 17-month course at the California College of Ayurveda (pronounced I-yur-vay-da) in Grass Valley, a city of 12,000 about 45 miles northeast of Sacramento.
Since he called then-Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt on July 23 to give him the shocking news he was quitting football, Williams has been to Australia, Europe, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Japan, Southern California, Fiji, then back to a campground in Australia, where he lived in a tent.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stay in one place for more than a year or two. It’s not in my nature,” he said in a rambling interview with The Chronicle, one of the few interviews he has given since he left the Dolphins. Reluctant at first to talk to a reporter, he soon started describing his old life in football and his new life in holistic healing.
“Ayurveda deals with using your environment to put yourself in balance,” he said. “I’ve realized, both on a psychological and physical level, that the things we do in football don’t bring more harmony to your life. They just bring more disharmony.”
Williams’ agent, Leigh Steinberg, and his attorney, David Cornwell, both think it’s likely he’ll return to football next year. Steinberg calls Williams’ departure “a sabbatical.” But Williams said, “I understand their wishful thinking. It’s easy math. If I play, it puts more money in their pocket.”
Although he wouldn’t rule out a return to football (“I’m not a fortune-teller”), he indicated the game was far from his mind.
The 5-foot-10 Williams weighs 210 pounds, about 25 fewer than his playing weight. He looks healthy and happy. As part of his Ayurveda studies, he said, “I try to give foods and herbs attributes and find out which ones balance me out.”
He wore sandals, black trousers and a light blue T-shirt silk-screened with the message: “My home is in my head.” His beard is somewhat scraggly. His distinctive dreadlocks have given way to a short haircut.
“I loved playing football, but the reasons I loved football were just to feed my ego,” Williams said. “And any time you feed your ego, it’s a one-way street.”
He was evasive on the question of his drug use. A recent article in Esquire magazine by a writer who found him in Australia described him as sharing a joint that was “sturdy enough to prop open a door.” Shortly after retiring, he told the Miami Herald that one of the many reasons he quit was that he wanted to smoke marijuana without incurring the wrath of the NFL. The Herald said he faced a four-game suspension and a $876,000 fine by the league for a third violation of its substance abuse policy.
Marc Halpern, William’s primary teacher and the founder and director of the college that includes three branches in California, agreed that Williams is “a very good student.” He wouldn’t talk further about Williams’ participation in the course, citing his concern for Williams’ privacy.
Ayurveda, which means “science of life,” is between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. 2004, Tom Fitzgerald