MIAMI - OCTOBER 12: Running back Ricky Williams #34 of the Miami Dolphins prior to taking on the New York Jets at Land Shark Stadium on October 12, 2009 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
He's been making it easy lately for the average person to forget what a circus Ricky Williams was: the leveraging of a franchise for his services, the famous SI cover, the bizarre behavior, the rapper-backed agent, the white clothing, the drugs, the drugs, the drugs.
Dolphins fans remember, of course, because the team bore the brunt of the latter scandals and then bore nothing when he disappeared (twice). But even at the height of the considerable media to-do, Ricky remained something puzzling, something unknowable, something of an enigma -- and, he says, completely misunderstood. So he did what any idle rich person who felt he was wrongly interpreted would do: hire a camera crew to follow him around for the real story.
Five years later, Run Ricky Run is finally being released this spring as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series, an initiative that aims to tell the biggest stories of the network's first three decades (and has already told, to record ratings, the story of our own Hurricanes).
Ricky Williams does not conform to America’s definition of the modern athlete. In 2004, with rumors of another positive marijuana test looming, the Miami Dolphins running back traded adulation and a mansion in South Florida for anonymity and a $7 a night tent in Australia. His decision created a media frenzy that dismantled his reputation and branded him as America's Pothead. But while most in the media thought Williams was ruining his life by leaving football, Ricky thought he was saving it. Through personal footage recorded with Williams during his time away from football and beyond, filmmaker Sean Pamphilon takes a fresh look at a player who had become a media punching bag and has since redeemed himself as a father and a teammate.
Pamphilon, who says he was "always fascinated and drawn to the introspective, deep thinking athletes who had strained relationships with the media," couldn't have drafted a better subject with the Saints' staff on the line (stop me if you've heard this one...). Williams has endured the stigma of being labeled an addict, the struggle of social anxiety disorder and depression, and the worst pot jokes you can think of, but hasn't gotten any less interesting in his second act: he's setting goals, studying osteopathy, giving rubdowns while answering to Errick, and playing some pretty amazing football.
And we'll get to see the whole transformation in behind-the-scenes footage.
Boring? Not a chance.
ESPN says Run Ricky Run will premiere Tuesday, April 27 at 8 p.m. If art imitates life, it'll have a three-year intermission of nothing but fuzz, quit working twice, run long, and leave you with a pleasant aftertaste in spite of it all.
Janie Campbell is a Florida sports fan who believes in the pro-set and ballpark hot dogs. Her work has appeared in irreverent sports sites around the internet.