The majority of players in the National Football League smoke marijuana, according to retired running back Ricky Williams. In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, he estimated that 60-70 percent of active players (and even some coaches) use marijuana. And as an outspoken cannabis advocate, he wants to see the NFL repeal its ban on pot so that 100 percent of players have the choice to use it medicinally.
Williams sat down for the interview to promote the new Sports Illustrated mini-documentary called Ricky Williams Takes the High Road, which looks at the former Heisman Trophy winner and his experiences with cannabis. Here are five things we learned from the feature.
1. His suspensions haunted him
During his NFL career, Williams was suspended numerous times for cannabis. And when he retired abruptly in 2004 at the age of 27, rumors swirled that he gave up the gridiron for ganja.
"The way the story goes - and it's funny because it's kinda true but not the way that people say - that I quit football to go and smoke weed," he said in the documentary. He added that he left the NFL because of all the controversy surrounding him, not so that he could spark up without scrutiny from fans and the media.
But his reputation as a delinquent pothead followed him for years - when he un-retired in 2005 and afterward.
"It was one of those things where every article that was written about me or anything that was said about me - regardless of how positive the article was - there would always be a line mentioning that I had failed drug tests and that I was suspended. And I was like, 'Is this just going to follow me around for the rest of my life?' "
2. His unwanted accolade
"I think I might have the world record for 'most times drug tested,'" Williams says. He can't say for sure because he lost count, but he guesses that he faced "at least 500 drug tests" during his career.
"When the drug testers would come, some of them were like family," his wife added.
3. Fighting for middle ground
As an advocate, Williams says that he wants to be the voice of reason between the two extreme polls dominating the conversation on cannabis right now.
"Some people are saying, 'it's the devil's lettuce. It's horrible. It's going to make you go crazy.' And there's people saying that that it's a panacea and it's going to cure the world - it's going to make the world a better place."
Williams is committed to remaining sceptical of both sides until further research can prove marijuana's potential health benefits and risks. "And where I stand on the spectrum is...let's find out."
4. Becoming a hero
Because of his suspensions, Williams has become a folk hero in cannabis culture. While attending a cannabis conference recently, a fan came up to him and said, "Just so you know, when you got suspended, your jersey got sold out everywhere because all the fucking real potheads wanted to support it. And I got a jersey, and I still rock that."
5. Being a role model
Cannabis has also given Williams the opportunity to become a role model like the athletes he grew up idolizing.
"I hope I'm a role model. I think I'm a better role model than a lot of other athletes. I remember when I was a kid and I thought about being a professional athlete, what I was inspired by most - by guys like Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali - they were great athletes. But they also stood for something. And there's finally something to stand for that I believe in, so I'm excited about it."
For more - including why Williams thinks pot prohibition's days are numbered - check out the full doc.
Banner Image: Ricky Williams statue at University of Texas, where he was a star running back. (Wally Gobetz / Flickr)