More power to Ricky for NFL exit
August 2, 2004
Ricky Williams made it official on Monday, filing retirement papers with the NFL. Williams has spent the time since his initial announcement as a punch line and object of ridicule, all for quitting his job because he doesn’t need it anymore.
Williams is choosing to spend his days traveling and raising his kids rather than running into 300-pound enraged men over and over and over. For the ability to walk without a limp when he’s 50 Williams is giving up millions of dollars, a fair trade since he’s already got millions in the bank. Assuming he didn’t attend the Mike Tyson school of athlete finance, Williams should be set for life.
Most of the criticism Williams has taken has been about loyalty. How could he betray his teammates, the Dolphins and the fans? But for loyalty to work, it has to extend in both directions. In the cutthroat world of professional sports, it doesn’t.
Pro sports are glamorous and lucrative, but there’s a more painful aspect that we don’t often appreciate: players are treated like property. It’s great when you’re the stud horse, with owners and fans lusting after you and the media fawning over you. But age, injury and plain poor performance can turn that same crowd against you in an instant. Ask Ryan Leaf how happy his time in the NFL has made him.
Rod Woodson was one of the greatest players in football history and last week the Raiders cut him because he has a balky knee. Woodson was a true gridiron warrior for 18 seasons, playing through pain and repeatedly crashing his body into bigger, stronger men for the sake of winning games and earning revenue. But because he has lost a step he’s been forced into retirement, not by his choice but by that of a wary owner. His career is likely over and he’s now adrift at the age of 39, ancient for an athlete but fairly young in the real world.
That’s the nature of sports. Players get old and are replaced by younger men. An athlete’s life is lived in fast-forward, trying to accomplish one’s goals before Father Time sneaks up from behind with a poleax.
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Williams is choosing to get out on his own time, not that of a spoiled billionaire who has never put on a helmet or limped through a Monday practice. He owes nothing to the Dolphins, his teammates or even the Miami fans. He put in five years of unbelievably hard work, carrying the ball more times than any other player over the past two seasons. If any player can actually earn his millions, Williams did it.
Now he doesn’t want to do it anymore. Free country.
Ricky Williams isn’t the average jock. By all accounts he’s a sensitive, shy person who isn’t comfortable in front of the camera without the protection of his helmet and pads. He has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and apparently finds marijuana the best cure. He never sought out the spotlight (well, other than that ill-advised wedding dress photo) but had it thrust upon him because of his physical gifts.
The most amazing thing about the Williams story is that it doesn’t happen more often. It’s a testament to the pure competitiveness of NFL players that they continue to grind up their bodies despite having more money than they could spend in a lifetime.
Put a million dollars in an average person’s bank account and see how long they stay at their job. For most, the biggest issue would be whether to give two weeks notice or just walk out.
The NFL doesn’t approve of players blazing up a joint after a game and hands down fines and suspensions, just one of the many controls the league holds over its employees heads. Players are fined for comments in the media, the length of their uniform socks and celebrating their touchdowns too creatively. The league lets players know who is in charge as often as possible and it’s not running backs or linebackers or even quarterbacks.
Williams wanted off the plantation and held enough power to walk away. More power to him.
– Tribune staff writer Jared Green can be reached at (530) 542-8008 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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