Ricky Williams talks Canada legalizing marijuana, its impact on NFL


Former NFL and CFL running back Ricky Williams seen here in 2013 speaking during an NCAA college football news conference when he was an assistant coach at the University of the Incarnate Word. (Edward A. Ornelas/San Antonio Express-News via AP)

Former star NFL running back Ricky Williams thinks cannabis legalization in Canada is “a huge step forward” towards professional sports leagues like the NFL softening their stances on athletes using marijuana therapeutically.

Williams has long been an advocate for the legalization of marijuana and essentially served as the posterboy for athlete pot advocates during much of his 11-season NFL career.

The NFL currently prohibits players from using marijuana and synthetic cannabinoids even though it is now legal in Canada and is legal in various jurisdictions in the United States.

“My strongest argument to the NFL is we go out there and risk our bodies and our minds to entertain people and to play this game and I think that we should be given any reasonable means to take care of ourselves,” Williams said Wednesday during an appearance on The Jeff Blair Show.

The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner ranks 31st all-time in NFL rushing yards with 10,009 but the Texas Longhorns legend’s stats could’ve been all the more impressive were it not for multiple suspensions stemming from failed drug tests in which he tested positive for marijuana.

Williams even briefly retired in 2004 after several failed tests. He returned to the Miami Dolphins for the 2005 campaign, but failed another test and was suspended for the entire 2006 season.

Instead of lying dormant, Williams was allowed to play in the CFL and he spent that year as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Williams says he noticed then that Canadians seemed more accepting of his marijuana use than many of his compatriots.

“I think it’s amazing,” he said of Canada’s new legislation that went into effect across the country Wednesday. “One of my fondest memories of my time in Toronto was the first couple weeks after I got there, talking to fans, talking to people, and the consensus was, ‘It’s just pot, what’s the big deal?’ And so I knew back in 2006 that Canada was ahead of the curve relative to cannabis and it’s amazing to see you guys actually make it legal. I think it’s setting a precedent and an example for the rest of the Western world.”

Ricky Williams: Knew in 2006 Canada was ahead of the curve with cannabis
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Williams said back in 2016 he figured he was subjected to “at least 500” drug tests during his days in the NFL. Williams retired from pro football in 2012 and has since transitioned to a career in the cannabis industry.

The 41-year-old is brand leader and the VP of product development for Real Wellness, a company Williams launched earlier this year that sells various cannabis-based health products.

Williams said his experiences as a professional football player, as well as the compassion he holds for people in physical pain, has helped him transition to his current field.

“Football players, athletes are directly affected by any kind of pain or injury,” Williams said. “It has a direct effect on our livelihood and our confidence in our ability to do what we love to do.”

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Williams said he was a 20-year-old college student when he got his first ulcer from taking too many Advil dealing with the pain of playing football in college. Then, he explained, when he got to the NFL he was still having issues with pharmaceuticals.

“I have compassion for people that are looking for a way to take of their selves and a way to feel better, but the options available have tremendous side effects and aren’t healthy for them in the long run,” Williams said. “That was really the impetus for me to start thinking about doing something in this space.”

Williams explained that he began sharing his story at various conferences at the end of 2015. At that time, he would explain, he had no intention of getting into the industry.

“I just thought it was important that people spoke honestly about their cannabis use,” he said. “There’s a horrible stigma that’s still lingering in the States and I think that more people that are willing to share their stories that stigma will start to fade.”

He also thinks allowing players to benefit from the use of various cannabinoids could actually save NFL teams money in the long run.

“Using me as an example, I saved the teams I played for a lot of money,” Williams said. “I didn’t spend much time in the training room, I didn’t spend much time taking pills from the doctor. Through my yoga practise, my meditation practise and occasionally using cannabis I was able to take care of myself.”

Williams added that instead of going to team doctors he found ways to take care of himself when he returned to the NFL for the final leg of his career.

“Whether they were herbal formulas, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture et cetera, my experience of taking care of myself in natural ways really inspired me and so when I thought about doing something in the industry I said, ‘You know, people are more open to herbal remedies, people are more open to medicinal marijuana,’ so why not create more formulas that incorporate THC, CBD and the other cannabinoids to give people alternatives to pharmaceuticals?”


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