Former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams said Sunday he still uses marijuana to deal with the wear and tear his body and brain endured during a football career that included 2,431 carries in the NFL and 1,011 rushes at the University of Texas.
Williams made the comments at a South Florida conference for cannabis advocates. He and two other former professional football players called on the National Football League to allow the use of marijuana as a medicine.
During his time with the Dolphins, Williams was both a hero who set single-season records for rushes, yards and touchdowns and a goat who couldn’t pass a drug test.
Amid a wave of marijuana legalization in Florida and elsewhere, Williams has recast himself as a crusader for cannabis.
“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,” Williams said Sunday during the Southeast Cannabis Conference in Fort Lauderdale. “I was an underachiever who decided to give up millions of dollars and a future to go smoke pot.”
Williams’ 2002 season stands as the best ever for a Dolphins running back. He carried the ball 383 times for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns, all team records. But he missed the 2004 season during a temporary retirement, then returned to the Dolphins in 2005 and was suspended for the 2006 season after a fourth failed drug test.
Now 40, Williams says he’s fighting the “lies and half-truths about this plant.”
“The stigma is starting to be lifted,” Williams said. “It really has helped a lot of people.”
Reflecting changing attitudes about pot, Florida voters in November overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, a measure that legalizes marijuana for patients with serious diseases.
During an hourlong panel discussion that featured two other retired NFL players, Williams didn’t specify exactly how weed has helped him. Advocates say cannabis can treat pain, inflammation, depression and brain trauma, although the U.S. government’s prohibition of the drug has hampered research.
Williams, for his part, stressed that weed is no miracle drug. Different strains affect people differently, he said. Williams said he combines cannabis with meditation, massage therapy and acupuncture, and he keeps a journal to track how he reacts to pot.
“It’s not, ‘Take a magic pill and everything is better,’” Williams said. “There’s a process.”
Williams and other former NFL players say they’re pushing the NFL to allow players to use marijuana as medicine. Marvin Washington, a former defensive end for the Denver Broncos and New York Jets, called cannabis a safe alternative to the prescription painkillers popped by players starting in training camp.
“To me, cannabis is medicine,” Washington said Sunday.
Washington said research shows cannabidiol, or CBD, one of the compounds in marijuana, can treat the brain damage from concussions.
And he lauded Williams for sacrificing his career to further the cause of cannabis as a legitimate treatment.
“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.”
Williams won the 1998 Heisman Trophy and was the first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints, who later traded him to the Dolphins. During his NFL career, Williams suffered from a widely publicized anxiety disorder. He sometimes did interviews while wearing a helmet and tinted mask.
During Sunday’s event, Williams seemed relaxed and at ease. He cracked jokes from the stage and later posed for photos with conference attendees.
In his post-NFL career, he has focused on alternative medicine. Williams’ website lets event organizers book him as a speaker. Williams also offers 90-minute astrology readings for $500.