August 16, 2004 -- Ricky Williams, one of the NFL's best running backs who scooted to 3,225 yards over the last two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, recently ran a one-man sweep away from 'Fins to pursue a career in pharmacology where he will be a human guinea pig for studying the effects of marijuana on the human body. His research will involve quite a bit of travel, from the Great Barrier Reef to Rio to anywhere else his wanderlust takes him (and I hope it doesn't take him back to the barber - long live the dreds!)
And I for one say, Run, Ricky, Run. Like so many business wonders, you've earned the right to retire whenever you want, the fruits of your labor as an American capitalist/tackling dummy. Predictably, the blowhards and the blowharders all gave their "take" on Williams's departure in the sports media, and even more predictably the majority of the middle-aged white men with minimal athletic skills were outraged that a man would decide that smoking weed was a more enjoyable way to treat his body than the relentless, numbing, pain that cuts decades off at that end and left the immortal Johnny Unitas with bad knees and almost no usage of the hand that made the Colts whinny and kick long before he died at the age of 69.
Ricky has some supporters in the media, but not many, even though his retirement should be uniting the pro-choice (a man's got the right to decide what he wants to do with his body) and pro-life (a man's got the right to try and live longer if he wants) movements. The big sticking point seems to be that Williams left the Dolphins in a lurch. Conventional wisdom has it that if only he had retired earlier, the Dolphins could have solved their running back situation, although that doesn't explain how they planned on solving their inability to win important games during the holiday season. Fair enough, Williams probably should've announced earlier, but then again perhaps he hadn't made up his mind yet.
Ricky is also taking a lot of abuse because the Dolphins spent a lot of money on him, so he owes them his femur or something. Owner Wayne Huizenga is apparently going to try and retroactively retrieve incentive money Williams earned through some legal loophole. Umm, excuse me, Mr. Huizenga, does that mean the 3,225 yards have returned to being sod? Williams is adding his $3.6 million salary to the Dolphins ledger and Huizenga has the stones to demand money back because he's mad at his running back for being talented and driven enough to call it a career on his own terms. Huizenga should be retiring Ricky's aquamarine #34 for letting his owner know that he just wasn't into his job anymore and not half-assing it while cashing the checks. Who wants an employee who doesn't want to be there, even an all-world tailback with all-world braids? (Retirement equals dreadlocks, c'mon now, how 'bout it Ricky?)
And if Huizenga is ticked because Ricky prefers hitting the chronic rather than the A-gap, he should be smart enough to recognize that he is simply trading the numbing effects of one drug - painkillers -- for another. And painkillers don't come equipped with an acoustic Bob Marley No Woman, No Cry playing in the summer wind of the Grand Caymans. What separates the ballers in the NFL from the rest of us is their skills, both physical and mental, so in essence, Williams' business is himself: he owns it, he can decide what he wants to do with it. He busted his ass for over ten years, took his business as far as he wanted to, reached the point where he could deisgn his own exit strategy, and headed off into the blissful recurring sunsets. Early retirement is a common theme among entrepreneurs about why they started their thing in the first place, so what's the difference? And when small business owners say "busted their ass" it doesn't mean having Ray Lewis literally unleash his vengeance upon them and piledrive their tails back into God's green turf.
It's ironic that the Ricky retirement party coincided with Barry Sanders entering the Hall of Fame. Sanders famously hung up his turf shoes at the age of 31 as the second all-time leading rusher, leaving many Detroit Lions fans "betrayed." The temerity of Sanders, not donating his body to the science of drunken doughy Teamsters who bet the grocery money on the Lions getting 3 1/2 against the Bears. And let's not forgot about Jim Brown, considered by many gridiron scholars to be the best running back ever, who quit at 30 to make The Dirty Dozen, and is now revered for going out on top. If nothing else, Ricky, you're keeping great company.
Ricky Williams always marched to the beat of his own iPod (who would say "I Do" to Ditka, even with the Levitra), but he isn't an oddball for retiring. He worked hard, won some big games, gained a lot of ground, banked plenty of green and always has a Heisman Trophy to pawn if the price of the kind bud spikes like a pigskin in the end zone. In my estimation, he is the American dream: be the best at what you do, get rich and get out. Maybe weed and a Eurorail pass to Amerstdam isn't your dream, but calling your own shots: that's the entrepreneurial ethos. So I say Run, Ricky, Run...just don't bogart it...I plan on announcing my retirement to a life of leisure activities any day now.