Ricky Williams has plenty left in the tank

July, 21, 2010
7/21/10
5:00
PM ET
Ricky WilliamsSteve Mitchell/US PresswireRicky Williams attributes his resurgence and success in part to his generosity and philanthropic work.
DAVIE, Fla. -- Ricky Williams admitted he runs out of gas twice a year. Not figuratively speaking, either. His car actually coasts to a halt with an empty tank. He has to call somebody to rescue him. Often.

It happened again the night before Williams sat down for an interview with me at the Miami Dolphins' training complex. His Dodge Challenger burned the last fume before he could get home.

Exasperated friend Josselyn Miller eventually pulled up. Fittingly, she's executive director of the Ricky Williams Foundation. On this low-octane night, it was a charity of one.

Williams, of course, has worked out of bigger jams and can laugh about some of those now, too.

"When I was going through all those troubles while I was away from football," Williams said, "I was out of money. Somehow, through all those difficulties I never got down, never got depressed, never was afraid that something bad would happen.

[+] EnlargeRicky Williams
Getty ImagesRicky Williams gave away Easter meals to needy families.
"I really think when I look back on it, the reason I was able to come through it and land on my feet is because I've always been so generous."

His curious odyssey from Heisman Trophy running back to notorious pot smoker to Dolphins deserter to diagnosed narcissist to successful reclamation project was detailed in "Run, Ricky, Run," a compelling film in ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series.

Fortunately for Williams, he discovered himself in time. He didn't squander his football career. He was the Dolphins' MVP last year. He still can use his celebrity and resources to give back. About a year ago, he revived the Ricky Williams Foundation, an organization he founded as a rookie but decomposed because he didn't know what to do with it.

"These past 12 months, I've really been thinking about what's important to me," Williams said. "I've found I'm very passionate -- in one form or another -- about alleviating people's suffering, whether it be emotional suffering, physical suffering, mental suffering."

The Ricky Williams Foundation's objective is to help disadvantaged youth but has a larger scope. He gave away meals at Easter, has held fundraisers to help repair Haiti after the earthquake and has been involved in the Wounded Warrior Project. He conducts a free meditation lesson every week.

"If I want to continue to have a fortunate and blessed life, I know it's my duty to keep giving," Williams said. "On another level, I sleep better at night. One of my teachers explained it to me: People that don't share a lot, they're inhaling and they're inhaling and they're inhaling. Eventually, you have to exhale."

It's a karmic philosophy Williams lives by. He's a licensed yoga instructor. He studies Ayurveda, an ancient Indian medical form, with an emphasis on pranic healing. He is working on his undergraduate degree and might get into osteopathy.

For years, Williams couldn't figure out what he wanted to with his foundation, which he initially began in 1999 for the same reason many rookies do -- because their agents tell them it's a good idea. Williams held the occasional golf tournament, but he had trouble being the public face of a charitable organization. He preferred to donate without fanfare.

"I've always known him to be giving, kind of too giving," said Miller, who worked for the New Orleans Saints when she met Williams.

A decade later, Miller cajoled him into realizing an athlete can capitalize on his cache to generate more dollars for people who need it. Williams finally decided to embrace being a philanthropist.

[+] EnlargeRicky Williams
Paul Abell/US PresswireWilliams set an NFL record by having 1000-yard seasons six years apart.
It didn't hurt that Williams' career was rejuvenated last season. As a 32-year-old, he rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns, the most he'd scored since 2002, his lone Pro Bowl season. He set an NFL record by going six years between 1,000-yard campaigns.

"These last two seasons, I've made more money than when I was younger and I was a star," Williams said. "I feel if I want my life to keep going in an upward direction, it's important to find ways to give."

Most players don't get the opportunity to leave the NFL for a year or two, figure themselves out and then return to stardom. That's why Williams laments all the money young players waste. He wishes they'd divert "one-tenth of the money they spend going to clubs and buying bottles and on VIP room" to the community instead.

"When you become a professional football player, a lot is asked of you," Williams said. "That's why there's only a thousand of us. Most people couldn't deal with it.

"The pendulum swings one way, and to find balance, it has to swing as dramatically in the other direction. I was lucky to have that time in the middle of my career to find balance and proceed in a fulfilling way."

He's trying to prolong his impact as long as possible. He knows that being a 1,000-yard running back buoys his cause tremendously. The moment he can't carry a football anymore, the tougher it will be to convince people to get involved.

The Dolphins want him to remain productive, too.

Probably unaware Williams' needle frequently drops below "E," football operations boss Bill Parcells placed a symbolic gallon of gasoline at Williams' locker stall last year. Starting tailback Ronnie Brown had suffered a season-ending foot injury, and Parcells wanted to send a motivational message.

"You got enough gas left in your tank?" Williams recalled Parcells asking him. "If not, I put some next to your locker."

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