Two decades after Ricky Williams infamously retired from the NFL at 27 — with multiple failed marijuana tests and rumors of a third strike lingering — the former Dolphins superstar sat on a couch on the top floor of a a low-rise building in Manhattan, puffing on a joint in a foggy room full of sports fans as “Monday Night Football” played in the background.
About 50 people crammed into the space, most of them smoking their own joints, blanketing the room in a thick layer of smoke. Few seemed to notice or care when the power went out for several minutes on one side of the room, killing the music and TV (and a few lights).
Williams was working in the room, chatting with his fellow stoners, including one who was wearing his Dolphins jersey. This is the Ricky Williams – one of college football’s greatest ever players, had four straight 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL (his 2002 1,853-yard season was his 15th all-time). It would have been a jaw-dropping spectacle 20 years ago, when not only was public awareness of the weed far less forgiving, but Williams was virtually kicked out of the NFL after multiple drug tests. missed drugs.
“I probably would have played longer,” Williams told the Post as he continued to puff on his joint. “But I probably wouldn’t have had that much of an impact… It wasn’t until I had life experiences, got into trouble, and started to learn who I really was that my life had meaning.”
Now, at 45, Williams has dedicated her life to weed. But not only as a consumer, even if he still drinks it daily. Just over a year ago, he started his own cannabis company called Highsman — fittingly, considering he won the 1998 Heisman Trophy as a star at the University of Texas — in the goal of combining his two passions: sport and weed.
In 2002, the Dolphins mortgaged their future on him, trading two and more first-round picks to the Saints in hopes he would become the centerpiece of the team. (The Dolphins weren’t the first team to bet the house on Ricky; three years before Miami acquired him, the Saints and head coach Mike Ditka traded every remaining choice they had in the 1999 NFL Draft in Washington to move up seven spots and take it. It’s considered one of the worst trades in NFL history, and it was essentially the fatal blow to Ditka’s NFL career.)
But after two spectacular seasons in 2002 and 2003, he shockingly announced he was retiring just days before the start of training camp in 2004 after failing drug tests as the reasons. It was a massive story, and Williams was somewhere between an outcast and a laughingstock. The Dolphins went 4-12 and head coach Dave Wannstedt resigned mid-season. Williams essentially left the surface of the Earth, moved to Australia, and lived in a tented commune.
He eventually returned to the NFL (and played a year in the CFL after another weed suspension), but he never reached his pre-retirement heights again. He suspects his career would have turned out differently if attitudes towards cannabis had been the same then as they are now.
Highsman sells bud in five US states: California, Oregon, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington. The company offers three flower strains: Pregame (an energizing sativa), Halftime (a hybrid), and Postgame (a sleepy indica). They’re also planning events, including the “Highsman House” smoke sesh and watch party for “Monday Night Football” which The Post attended this week (and where we allegedly sampled the product).
As of 2022, marijuana is legal in several states, including New York, where the event took place (at Work ‘n Roll, a coworking space at WeWork where guests are encouraged to smoke while they work). The NFL still isn’t as progressive on cannabis as some parts of society, but the league recently sharply reduced testing for marijuana — and the resulting suspensions for its use.
“At least 80% of NFL players these days smoke weed,” Williams guessed. “I don’t think they smoke before games – I think there might be one or two guys in the team. But especially these days, it’s everywhere, it’s so easy, and the NFL only tests once during training camp. My opinion, if you’re in the NFL, why wouldn’t you?
The NFL has often punished marijuana-related offenses — again, now completely legal in many US states — more harshly than domestic violence, among other heinous offenses. Other players, such as Josh Gordon and Martavis Bryant, faced lengthy suspensions and essentially saw their careers derailed due to positive marijuana tests. But under the new collective bargaining agreement enacted in 2021, players are no longer suspended for testing positive, with NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith citing a company that is “changing its mind.”
If Williams had played today instead of 20 years ago, he might not have wasted his best years. But he is not bitter. Instead, it uses Highsman — described on its website as “where sports and cannabis meet” — to plan events and educate the public about the benefits that marijuana use can bring.
“My hope is in the future, that not just the front office, but the coaches actually see the benefits of players using cannabis,” Williams said. “One of the things I’ve heard from current players and retired players is that retired players are kicking themselves because they haven’t found cannabis earlier. And many current gamblers say they prefer cannabis because when they drink, they want to go out and tend to get in trouble.
“When they smoke, they want to stay home and watch football. If the coaches realized that…”
Lane Radbill, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Highsman, came from Athletes for CARE, a non-profit organization that champions the physical and mental health of athletes. Medical marijuana is a popular alternative treatment for many issues athletes face – chronic pain, depression, PTSD and more.
While Highsman is primarily a company that sells weed, Williams calls it a “lifestyle brand” – and says he started it largely to break the stigma around pot.
“The stories around cannabis are all crap,” Williams said. “When I was going through all my stuff with the NFL and trying to seek support or help, there was no one there saying something that really resonated with me. And I feel like my journey has been an authentic journey, and I feel like I have a lot to share.