Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Williams embraces new role

Ex-NFL star now marijuana expert

- By Omari Sankofa II

In 2004, Ricky Williams retired from the NFL for the first time after failing his third mandated drug test in five seasons.

He never imagined that, more than a decade later, he would be touring the country as an unofficial marijuana expert.

Williams has since transforme­d his reputation with the rise of legal medicinal and recreation­al marijuana use. The former star running back has embraced the drug that tarnished his NFL public image and cost him millions in salary, per his estimate.

Williams, who said he speaks at between six and 10 marijuana convention­s per year across the country, was part of an athlete’s panel at the World Medical Cannabis Conference & Expo on Saturday, which was held at the David L. Lawrence Center.

“The word medical marijuana didn’t exist [in 2004],” Williams told the Post-Gazette before addressing a crowd of a few hundred people at the panel. “People talking about health and cannabis, it didn’t exist. And now that it does, players can be educated on what are the possible side effects, how does this work, and how to use it in ways that are going to be most productive.”

Williams has become a public advocate for marijuana use in the NFL as a way of treating pain and concussion­s. As a player, Williams preferred cannabis to the various drugs doctors would prescribe to players in pain or recovering from surgery — painkiller­s such as Advil, Toradol and Indocin.

The NFL has a noted pill problem. A 2011 study by researcher­s at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that, in a survey of 644 retired NFL players, 71 percent said they misused painkiller­s while in the NFL.

“Seems like guys that were hurt always had a surplus of pain pills,” Williams said. “For me, I would take pain pills sometimes after a game if I was beat up. But very rarely. The big thing was people taking Toradol and Indocin, which are strong anti-inflamator­ies. And that’s what alarmed me because I realized early in my career, even early I couldn’t practice without popping Advil all the time. Gave me an ulcer in college. And then I got to the NFL and realized, ‘OK, I’m in pain all the time.’ ”

The NFL’s drug policy will be a point of contention for the NFL Players Associatio­n with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire in 2020. Williams said the NFLPA will propose the issue of marijuana use from a health standpoint, and that use of the drug shouldn’t be treated as substance abuse.

Williams added that if marijuana use is a health issue, it shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip in CBA negotiatio­ns.

“If it’s a health issue, it shouldn’t be a CBA issue,” Williams said. “For example, we didn’t need the CBA to deal with having a concussion specialist on the field. Owners tried to make it an issue and tried to fight that way, but the players’ union is taking the stance that this is a health issue, this isn’t a bargaining issue. We don’t bargain with players’ health.”

With his NFL career behind him, Williams is enjoying his new phase of life. He finished his bachelor’s degree in Educationa­l Psychology at the University of Texas last December, and recently enrolled in at the Emperor’s College of Traditiona­l Oriental Medicine in Santa Monica, Calif.

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