AFC East: Mack Brown

'Run Ricky Run' examines a complex life

April, 8, 2010
4/08/10
8:24
AM ET
Ricky Williams stares glumly out the little window in the front door, watching the rain fall outside his leased one-bedroom home in Nevada City, Calif.

He's 27 years old, owns a Heisman Trophy and has made millions of dollars. But he's a lost soul, disheveled and out of football because of too many failed drug tests. He turns to the camera he invited to film him for a documentary and delivers an agitated, rambling response to a question.

Ricky Williams
ESPNRicky Williams practices yoga at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in Grass Valley, Calif.
The lens eventually zooms in, showing chunks of food entangled in his nappy beard. Williams shrugs. He doesn't care.

The latest offering in ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary film series, "Run Ricky Run: Hard to Tackle, Harder to put a Finger On," provides a compelling look at the mystifying Miami Dolphins back with intimate footage shot over nearly six years. It will debut April 27.

"A gentle man in a brutal business, he of the na´ve, best intentions, asked me to make this film so his kids would know who their father was in case he never came home," filmmaker Sean Pamphilon narrates in the opening scene.

"Within weeks of his bizarre retirement from the NFL in 2004, the man who was universally loved when I first met him asked me to tell his life story with one directive: absolute truth."

Pamphilon's access provides a fascinating look at Williams' peculiar odyssey and tries to mesh the superstar running back with the conflicted son with the prolific marijuana smoker with the inspired yoga scholar with the absentee father with the diagnosed narcissist.

"It made me kind of squirmy," Williams recently told reporters about the documentary he requested. "There's some uncomfortable stuff in there."

Pamphilon's camera captures Williams smoking pot while clicking through Dolphins game film on a laptop computer and while strumming a guitar. Pamphilon tracks Williams across the country and sits down with a variety of family members, friends, former coaches, teammates and reporters.

The film succinctly summarizes the madcap, meandering path that was Williams' football career, but the examination of his personal life is what resonates.

Most gripping are interviews with Williams' parents. Sandy Williams reveals Errick Williams Sr. was arrested in 1984 after being accused of ordering Ricky to photograph him in the nude.

"When he grew up," Sandy Williams says, "he wanted to be a policeman so he can shoot his father and get away with it because a policeman can shoot you and not get in trouble."

Errick Williams Sr. denies the allegation that tore the family apart.

"What happened? Nothing, nothing sexual toward these children at all," Errick Williams Sr. says.

"What they say I was, I'm not that. What they say I did, I did not do. ... God is my secret judge. Never done it, and I feel like I haven't gotten a fair shake with that, but that's OK. That's OK because the bible also says you do reap what you sow."

Sandy Williams acknowledges her son carries guilt over his father's indelible status as a sex offender. Later in the film, a more-at-peace Ricky Williams delivers a comment about his family that only raises more questions about what really occurred.

"What I carry with me still was how everything went down and that the event, and mainly me, I was the one that was used to get rid of my father," Williams says.

Janey Barnes, Williams' former counselor, explains she diagnosed him with social anxiety disorder and put him on Paxil because of "his admission to me that he often only felt safe when he was in his home, in the dark."

When filming began for "Run Ricky Run," he had three children to three women in three states.

"When it comes to women, my son always has been a D-O-G," Sandy Williams says. "Always."

"Sometimes I pray that I wake up and I don't love him," says his wife, Kristin Williams, in an interview that predates their September 2009 marriage. They've had two more children, giving him five in all.

At the end of the 51-minute film, we don't see the same restless spirit from six years earlier.

Asked what he loves about football, he unsurprisingly responds with a philosophical thought that can be applied universally.

"I love seeing people take themselves to that uncomfortable place," Ricky Williams says, "overcome it and see progress, results, improvement."

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