America to Williams: Put Down That Bong and Play Some Football, Punk!

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Any hopes that Ricky Williams' apparently candid comments about his pot use might throw some light on the NFL's anti-drug mania are dwindling rapidly. The Dolphins runningback made a surprise retirement announcement Sunday, and followed that up with the revelation that he's been beating drug tests throughout his five-year career with a detox potion. (Spectrum Labs, give this man an endorsement deal!)

While the message is worth considering, the messenger is as tainted as a urine sample on the last day of Burning Man. Williams, for reasons connected more to the method of his retirement announcement than his drug use, is not getting a lot of love from the pencil-necked pencil pushers who cover football for a living. A few samples:

"Pat's 2 Cents: Good Riddance Ricky." "Thank you, Ricky Williams, for showing me the way" (sarcastic). "Ricky Williams could be forced to give back to the Miami Dolphins more than $8 million already paid to him because he retired before the expiration of his contract." "Ricky Williams did not retire—he quit." "Ricky Williams was always fool's gold." "It's an act of betrayal that will be difficult for the team to recover from as training camp opens." "Incredibly, [Williams'] type of immaturity never stopped coaches from thinking he could be harnessed." "Ricky Williams' mom: 'As a fan, I'm heartbroken'."

Also a discussion, split between pro- and anti-Rickyists, at Plastic, and a photo of Ricky Williams in a wedding dress.

Looks like Mark Stepnoski still has the pro-pot football hero field all to himself.

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  1. Traitor? For not playing a football game? Sports really is America’s religion. 🙂

  2. Part of the problem is the timing of his announcement. The Dolphins had centered their entire offense on Williams, and, now, he’s pulled the rug out from under them just when the season’s about to start. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that the Dolphins will be contenders this year. People were depending on him, people spent their hard-earned money on season tickets, people trained in the offseason, people bought and sold advertising, and he just gave them all the finger.

    Did you expect all those people to say thank you?

  3. Gary, it is slightly more complicated than just refusing to play ball: People are mad (ostensibly, and I think honestly) because he just up and R-U-N-N-O-F-T, without telling his teammates he wouldn’t be around. I think the anger over that behavior is justified, and he does have a past history of being a bit, well self-involved. On the other hand, he had just been flagged positive on a drug test (according to Williams, because he hadn’t taken his detoxifier), so I can’t really blame a guy who decides “the hell with a system this stupid” on the spur of the moment.

  4. Well what do you expect from a bunch pencil pushers that wanted to be pro athletes their whole lives, but can’t thanks to nature. Instead they watch a guy who has the talents, but not the desire. I doubt they would fault a person for quitting their job after winning the lottery and doing what they’ve always wanted. That’s basically what Ricky did, good for him.

    I was watching a discussion with one of Ricky’s media confidants and he said that Ricky felt that mj laws were arbitrary and the guy said “whatever the heck that means. He doesn’t have a respect for rules and laws.” I doubt Ricky is the only one that feels that way and I’ve never heard a good reason why mj laws aren’t arbitrary when alcohol is legal.

  5. It’s hard to imagine the same kind of moralist handwringing if a 27-year-old stockbroker or software entrepreneur had decided to walk away and do something else after building a net worth around $20 million.

    Why should someone with brains and enough money to live comfortably on for the rest of his life continue working at a job that’s as dangerous as doing emergency maintenance on a North Sea oil rig? He’s got his health, he’s got good knees and an uninjured spine, he’s got a college degree and a bunch of money.

    Also, if a white football player with a comparable college academic record announced he was retiring to go to law school or concentrate on commercial real estate and transoceanic sailing, I can’t help but think there’d be more sportswriters out there saying “good for him”.

    As for it being unfair to the Dolphins, so what? He was an employee of a private business. If the manager of a successful mutual fund suddenly quits in the midst of a 3-year run of 25% growth to play with the kids and live barefoot in Tuscany, is s/he a traitor to the firm? So what? Anyway, judging from the number of his teammates who seemed aware that Williams was considering quitting for months, I tend to think this is a case of the Dolphins’ management choosing not to develop a Plan B.

  6. Why doesn’t anyone admonish the NFL teams who cut players without guaranteed salaries at the last possible moment? These players don’t have time to sign up with another team and have to sit out a year. This is just as big a blow to them as Ricky retiring is to the Dolphins. Ricky owes Miami NOTHING.

    The only legitimate argument is that he let his teammates down on a personal level. Even that is weak since he wouldn’t have played with the fire necessary to succeed in the NFL at running back.

    Ricky hasn’t been happy playing football since he left The University of Texas.

  7. It’s a stupid system, that’s true Tim. It’s also voluntary, and he was well compensated for voluntarily promising to abstain from the green stuff. But, for some reason, he thought that he didn’t have to live by the terms of the obligations he agreed to. That’s pathetic, and, as you wrote, people are justifiably angry.

    Maybe something good can come of this; it?s a good example of why so many anti-drug policies are bad policies. If you asked Cowler, and it’s been suggested that he may lose his job over this, I bet he’d want Williams to be his tailback regardless of whether or not he smokes two joints in the morning, and he smokes two joints at night.

    But he shouldn’t have made promises that he couldn’t keep, and he should have kept his promises.

  8. I agree with Ken Schultz’ comments above. I think the biggest thing that bothers sportswriters, fans, and anyone else who’s taken an interest in this story is the timing of Ricky Williams’ announcement, as it’s a week before NFL training camps opens. Had he done this earlier, the Dolphins could have a) possibly signed Eddie George or any other free-agent running back, or b) changed their draft strategy accordingly.

    There’s something called “not burning bridges”, and Ricky burned bridges with his timing.

  9. “he thought that he didn’t have to live by the terms of the obligations he agreed to.”

    It’s also part of the agreement that a player can retire any time he likes. The alternative is that he stands there and throws the ball up everytime he gets a hand off. Do you think the Dolphins want him playing if he’s not willing to? At least this way, they don’t have to pay him.

  10. JJB,
    It sucks what Ricky Williams did to Dolphins fans and the team, but don’t think for a second the team wouldn’t have done the same thing. Maybe not to this Ricky Williams because he’s such a good back, but probably someone like Indy’s Ricky Williams.

    Players sit out to make more money during training camp, sometimes missing the whole year. Teams cut players at the last possible moment in order to confuse other teams. A sport that thrives due to non-guaranteed contracts (which sounds like an oxymoron to me, but IANAL), isn’t exactly setting itself up for loyalty.

  11. Patriot,

    No one is suggesting that Ricky Williams should be arrested and forced to play football by a court of law.

    He betrayed the people who were depending on him. His teammates, Dolphins’ fans, his employer, etc. were expecting him to do what he had promised to do, and, instead, he’s laughing at the people who depended on him like his obligations were a joke. It’s an insult to anyone who’s ever kept a promise.

    But no one’s saying it should be illegal; we?re saying it?s pathetic.

    The next time you get on an air plane, I hope the pilot doesn’t decide he’s had enough of the FAA’s drug policies and then decide to leave you stranded on the tarmac.

  12. Ricky tried to force himself to play. He finally realized that playing half-hearted was worse than not playing at all.

    You forget about all the players today that just mail-it-in and take the paycheck (i.e. Tracy MacGrady last year). Ricky said “I just don’t have the drive anymore. You’re better off finding whatever alternative is out there.”

  13. I agree that playing without desire is just as bad or worse than not playing, but it’s too bad that he didn’t realize he felt that way until he was about to get flagged for failing a piss test.

    P.S. That pilot analogy breaks down rather quickly; a pilot can be replaced with relative ease, but quality tailbacks, on the other hand, are in very short supply.

  14. Ken:

    I didn’t suggest you thought he should be prosecuted in a court of law. And let’s not overestimate the role that drugs played in this. We have NO way of knowing if it played a significant role or not. Ricky has said that it was a very small factor.

    He obviously feels he could not have performed to the level the Dolphins expect or require. Therefore, he took perfectly legitimate steps to retiring. The reason he didn’t do it sooner was that he struggled with the decision. Multiple sources have stated that he debated the topic for months now.

  15. Did anybody else hear that Ricky Williams spent a significant part of the offseason as part of Lenny Kravitz’s entourage?

  16. The timing could have been better, but I don’t think that explains all the anger at Williams. I think people think what Ditka said, that he’s “wasting” his talent, that if you have the ability to be a football player then you have some sort of moral obligation to use it and you’re stupid not to and letting US down because WE would rather have you to root for than not. So he quit his job, BFD. Maybe he should have decided sooner but maybe he didn’t know for sure sooner either. Again I say, BFD. And I’m a football fan. It’s a stroke of bad luck for the Dolphins, but nothing to diss Williams about. Frustration and disappointment make sense, outrage and vitriol don’t. But then, they’re not surprising either. That’s how sports fans are, and that’s part of the partly disgusting charm of it all!

  17. “The next time you get on an air plane, I hope the pilot doesn’t decide he’s had enough of the FAA’s drug policies and then decide to leave you stranded on the tarmac.”

    Shultz, get a grip. Football is nothing more than a goddamned game. Expecting that a grown man devote his precious time to some stupid game when he’s decided he has better things to do is unworthy of serious people.

    No one is going to miss a plane, surgery, or even a traffic light because Ricky Williams doesn’t want to play football anymore.

  18. I love the John Matuszak quote from North Dallas Forty: “Every time I want it to be a game, you want it to be a business. Every time I want it to be a business, you want it to be a game.”

  19. Look, the guy’s a jerk. I wouldn’t depend on him for anything, because he’s a jerk.

    If that’s hyperbole, or if that’s needing to get a grip, well then I guess I’m engaging in hyperbole, and I need to get a grip. But I don’t think making an analogy to getting stranded is indicative of needing to get a grip, and I still think Ricky Williams is a jerk.

    P.S. Ricky Williams is a jerk.

  20. CNN.com has had columns by two Sports Illustrated writers praising Ricky Williams. If I was less lazy, I’d find links.

    Anyway, it’s not every pencil-necked geek of a sportswriter who thinks Williams is a “traitor.” Only the stupid ones.

  21. Ken,

    Yes, you need to get a grip. I’ve never met Ricky Williams, and I don’t know if he’s a jerk. But he seems a lot better-adjusted than most football players I knew in college & high school. He passes the “I’d like to hang out with him” test, and not just because I’m a pothead.

  22. The situation is no different than someone working on a project and quitting before completion. Other members of the team will pick up the slack or someone else will be brought in to replace.

    Ricky quitting is like he came down with an injury. Miami may have screwed itself by not having a decent replacement already on hand. They may still be contenders yet.

    If Miami’s season tanks, it will not be because Ricky is gone. It will happen because the team fails to adapt to the new situation.

  23. Ricky,

    I’m not sure I understand how ignoring your obligations is like coming down with an injury.

    And from a pure football perspective, the idea of replacing Ricky Williams with what’s currently available, and I was just checking this out at ESPN, is laughable. There’s no room in the inn.

    Understand, when you’ve got a weapon like Williams, you build your whole offensive unit around it. The people you sign, and the people you let go, the people you draft, the quarterbacks you don’t go after, the playbook, the linemen, if the Dolphins hadn’t had a reasonable expectation that Williams was going to be there for the whole season, all of those things would be different than what they are now, and training camp starts this week.

    I could name ten teams whose chances would be dashed if they lost one player right now, but most of those cases are quarterbacks. I would suggest that Clinton Portis of the Washington Redskins would be one example and that Stephen Davis of the Carolina Panthers would be another. While there’s always a chance that a Cinderella team will get there, make no mistake, the Dolphins only have a Cinderella?s chance this year, and that’s because of Ricky Williams.

  24. Doormat for the Pats again …

  25. Umm, Ricky Williams last year led the AFC with 392 rushes. This was 5 carries more than Jamal Lewis of Baltimore got.

    I went to every Ravens game last year. Jamal was the bulk of the Ravens offense, so much so that every time he got in the box, he faced 8 or 9 men, all of them rather big, all of them knowing that, well, Jamal was gonna get the ball.

    Jamal also had the best left tackle in history (Jonathan Ogden), coupled with Mulitalo, protecting one side, and on the other, Zeus, a 385 pound beast who can run block with the best of ’em.

    Jamal looked tired at times last year, particularly in mid-season, when his shoulder was hurtin’. Jamal, who turns 25 this year, has had both knees surgically repaired.

    Ricky had no OL help on a par with Jamal’s. Williams also caught 50 passes last year. Every time the ‘Fins had the ball, the opposition knew it was going to Ricky. His declining yards per attempt shows this clearly (Ricky had had TWO years in a row leading the league in carries before he retired).

    The Dolphins didn’t add a lot of passing help this year (the Ravens at least tried to upgrade their receivers to mediocre, adding a world-class QB coach for rookie Kyle Boller, as well as keeping two other RBs and a pro-bowl fullback to help Jamal somewhat and lighten the load on him this year).

    By all accounts, the Fins weren’t planning on lightening Ricky’s load this year. If a man goes through what Ricky went through, and suddenly decides he wants to take the money and run, more power to him.

    The only betrayal here was Wannstadt’s failure to get some kind of help for their star rusher.

    /goes back to running porn site.

  26. Sorry, Ken, but I don’t see it your way. Williams is just a former employee of a sports entertainment business. You can argue he was a key employee… so are many professionals who decide to leave suddenly (regardless of whether the departure is good for the company.)

    Williams’ only obligation is to meet the requirements of his contract. As I understand it, he was free to retire at anytime.

    You can argue the moral obligation to the team and the fans. This moral obligation and $3.50 will buy a cafe latte at Starbucks. Oh, the Dolphins could refuse to rehire Williams as an expression of contempt for his actions. The fans can boycott commercial endorsements by Williams (masking agents and wedding apparel seem good choices). Like any professional, Williams must face the consequences of his decision… apparently while smoking some bud with his friend, Lenny.

    If Williams were injured in an off season accident rendering him unable to play, I would not criticize the Dolphins for cutting him loose. I certainly would not think that the Dolphins should continue to pay him out of some sense of moral obligation. The NFL is a business, Ken, nothing more, nothing less. The Dolphins will do what is best for the Dolphins and Williams will do what is best for himself. To expect anything more is silly.

  27. “Football is nothing more than a goddamned game. Expecting that a grown man devote his precious time to some stupid game when he’s decided he has better things to do is unworthy of serious people.”

    I love this argument. Football is actually a profession and big business, borne out by the market. A stupid game compared to what? Working in the stock market, or in advertising or making wigets?

    You show me something, anything, that anyone devotes his “precious” time to, and I’ll point you to plenty of people who think it’s stupid and a waste. It’s all a matter of opinion.

  28. “Williams’ only obligation is to meet the requirements of his contract.”

    I have lots of business obligations, and most of them aren’t in writing. If Ricky Williams thinks that his only obligations are those stipulated in his contract, then he’s a jerk, and I feel sorry for anyone who has to depend on him.

    P.S. Does anyone else out there remember Chuck Muncie?

  29. Ken,
    Fine, he bailed on his team, but to say his behavior was out of line with what goes on everyday in pro sports is naive. Teams move cities in the middle of the night after taxpayers pay to build the stadium. Owners will cut a non-star player after he gets hurt for something completely out of their control (the stars may come back and dazzle, so loyalty lasts as long as there may be value). Players get derided for sitting out with injuries when the only person who will be living with those pains for the rest of their lives is the player.

    I love football, but I can’t blame Ricky. The team did nothing to help Ricky’s load lighten and reduce the pounding he takes every Sunday. The team is not contractually obligated to help their stars play for a long time, but they should. The reality is coaches and GMs take the easiest route and try to squeeze 10 years of carries in 6. That messes up the body. Maybe Ricky wanted to wake up without having to pop pain pills.

    Whatever his reason, and yes his timing was atrocious, it’s his life and he showed the same loyalty he would get from the Dolphins.

    Are you a DolPhan, Ken?

  30. “A stupid game compared to what? Working in the stock market, or in advertising or making wigets?”

    Oh, compared to say, performing surgery, or driving an 18-wheel truck safely along crowded highways.

    His ‘profession’ was literally playing a game. He decided he didn’t want to play the game anymore. The fact that other people have decided to spend their money in service of that game doesn’t make it any less of a game.

    I personally think it’s a bit of a stupid game, but I can respect those who disagree with that opinion.

  31. Mo,

    I’m not a Dolphins fan. I’m a Redskins fan and a Baltimore Colts fan. If this had happened to the Redskins, I really would be engaging in some hyperbole.

    Judging by some of the responses above, I think my posts must read at higher volume than they’re written, or maybe it always just sounds like you’re yelling when you’re attacking someone’s integrity.

    Why does Ricky Williams bug me so much?

    Some hardworking guy in Miami saved his pennies so he could buy a season ticket for himself and his kid this year; he was hoping that by taking his kid to the games, it might generate some permanent memories for both of them. Some guy on the Dolphins? line worked even harder than usual in the off-season because he’s getting older, and you only get a few chances to make it all the way. Joe Gibbs gave up his stake in the Carolina Panthers this year because if he was going to coach again, it had to be for the Redskins.

    It’s not just a business.

    That father in Miami was hoping to use football to teach his kid about stuff like always doing your best, about how important it is to play as a team and about how, unlike Keyshawn Johnson, you should be loyal to the people you work and play with even when things aren’t going well.

    When someone like Ricky Williams does what he’s done, I won’t say it’s like spitting in that Miami father’s face, but it certainly makes a mockery of everything that father wanted to teach his kid. Because of what Ricky Williams has done, all the work that guy on the line put in during the off-season will probably go to waste. Joe Gibbs still has more integrity in his little finger than some teams have on their whole coaching staff, but if his job is to mold players into people with the kind of character that wins football games, then Ricky Williams just made his job all that much harder.

    And he made it harder for that father who bought his son a ticket too

    And that makes me sick.

    I’m a developer. There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind you can depend on and the kind you can?t. My living depends on finding the kind of people you can depend on, and, to a larger extent than most people realize, my freedom does too. Ricky Williams is the kind of person you can?t depend on.

  32. Ken,
    I understand why you’re upset. Maybe I’m cynical about pro football because I’m a Raiders fan (and Al Davis hater, the Bill Clinton of the NFL. He can spot talent, but is a dirtbag).

    Ricky screwed over his fans and I feel truly bad for the Miami Dolphin fans (and not just because of Brian Griese). However, this sort of stuff happens all the time from both sides. Players have held out 4 or so games (or even whole years) for bigger contracts. After those 4 games, they are usually so out of tune with the rest of the team, they may as well have never suited up. Owners routinely trade, cut or underpay players that they have “committed” to. Look what the fans of St. Louis did to Kurt Warner. Sure he’s had a bad streak, but they wanted to off him after the first bad game last season, one that he played through a concussion.

    For every father that wants to show his son the meaning of fair play, loyalty and being a good winner/loser there are four drunken idiots cheering when a player is lying unconscious on the turf.

    Ricky isn’t the first, last or only person to reneg on a promise. Coaches, owners, GMs and players. In the end, we’re the ones that get screwed.

    I hear you about being able to count on people. It seems like it’s harder to find people with integrity these days. Ever since the sports world turned into Hollywood II, I’ve given up on looking for integrity in sports and just allow myself to be pleasantly surprised when it happens (not that things like Carlos Boozer’s move don’t piss me off).

    Good luck this season. I like Joe Gibbs and now that Spurrier’s gone I feel like I can enjoy the ‘Skins again. The Ol’ Ball Coach is a douche and the fact that he threw Stevie Davis to the curb only proves this.

    P.S. Ken, I think the volume thing has to do with the discussion being about sports rather than what you said. All sports conversations are loud and usually involve beer. 🙂

  33. Football is a complete crock of shit.

  34. As good fences make good neighbors, so do good contracts make good business relationships.

    Now, Ken, if you were a stockholder in the Miami Dolphins and Williams’ leaving resulted in a financial loss, I could understand some pain and frustration. The moral outrage over some fictional father in Miami strikes me as misplaced and quite frankly, silly.

    If you want to teach a child moral values, I respectfully suggest the NFL is not the best place to look for shining examples… if you really need me to explain this, you must not read the sports page/police blotter.

    It seems you think Williams’ owes the team, the league and the fans another few years of getting beat on by 300-pound defensive lineman. Apparently, when Williams gets old and semi-crippled his moral obligation is finished. You may join the legion of fans booing him for ths sin of getting older and slower. You may also join the rest of sports fans not giving a rat’s ass if he takes two hours to get out of bed in the morning.

    The real results of Williams leaving will be that the Dolphins, not a playoff team anyway, will lose a few more games. So the Miami fans will be disappointed. So what? Moral outrage is just people venting when other people do something they don’t approve of. It is a rush of air that does not shake a single leaf.

  35. Miami management was at any time free to cut Williams. Why is Williams not free at any time to cut Miami? If they wanted to keep him, maybe they should have picked up some more offense instead of adding yet another defensive all-star. Knowing that you are the only thing moving the ball for your team, *and* that you’ll have to piss in a cup for Paul Tagliabooboo, and in failing you’ll either be cut or suspended, it is prefectly within his rights to say “fuck that.”

    I pay as much in a year for cable as many folks pay for NFL season tickets. Am I being betrayed when one of the channels they carry drops a program or goes off the air? No, because I am not guaranteed a specific quality of service in the entertainment I purchase. When you buy a ticket there’s a risk you’re going to sit there for 4 hours and watch your team get wrecked. You are not owed anything on account of it.

    In the interest of full disclosure I am a Bills fan. I enjoy this turn of events immensely.

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