Ricky Williams: On His Own Terms

I didn’t choose my parents. I didn’t choose the time of my birth. Heck, I didn’t even choose to be born, period. I was nothing, and then – what do you know? – here I was spinning around on the planet just like everybody else. Some, probably more than we’d like, of life’s terms are set for us.

Some terms we set on our own. And these are the most important ones of all.
Soon after he placed a football under his arm and began to run as a young boy, the terms of Ricky Williams’ life were set, most frequently by those other than Ricky Williams himself. He would be a running back. He would gain many more yards than most, score touchdowns as easily as you would pop another M&M in your mouth and go to a major college. He might even win the Heisman Trophy someday. Then he would go into the National Football League and have a Hall of Fame career and retire with millions in his bank account.The terms of Ricky Williams’ life (the chapters that are simply defined in the above paragraph) were often mapped by everyone except Ricky Williams. The voices in his world spoke loud and clear and never waned: this is how your life will go. This is what you will do. This is your path.Except Ricky Williams wasn’t listening. And I say good for him.Ricky Williams retired yesterday as a young 34-year-old with a wife, children, a foundation that helps kids and a college town that will gladly pick up that order of enchiladas for you.”Ricky, we sure liked watching you run, thank you very much. Can I get a picture?”And of course, with Ricky’s announcement has already come the inevitable speculation: did he reach his potential? I answer that question with another: does anyone?The irony of all of this is that Williams accomplished everything people initially said he would. He became the best player in college football. For a time, he was the best running back in pro football. He played in the NFL for more than 10 years. He rushed for more yards than some Hall of Fame backs. He provided for those he loved.He had flaws of course. Do you?But always – always – he insisted upon living his life on his terms. Yes, he went into college and pro football with high and heavy expectations, but he was always determined to have fun with the game, too. In his statement released yesterday, he used the word “fun” to describe his life in football. And during his life, when football wasn’t fun, when he was carrying the ball for nearly 400 carries a season, Williams made the decision to walk away from the game.Would I have walked away from millions during the prime of my career? Probably not. Is that more of an indictment of Ricky, or of me?Last weekend I turned 50. More than I care to admit, I have lived my life on other people’s terms, and certainly some of that is because I certainly wasn’t blessed with the genetic football lottery that was the body and soul of Ricky Williams the player. Dammit, there is sure a lot of stuff out of my control. But some of that is also because there have been times, many times, in life when I had a choice and walked through the door labeled “status quo.”Sometimes (and even Williams has probably made this decision much more often that we know) you choose what makes the most sense, what needs to be done at the time to take care of yourself and the ones you love. Life gives you certain terms that are out of your control and everything else is up to you. The “up to you” part always seemed to be important to Williams.When I really think hard about my life – and I don’t do this too much because I don’t have time, I have to go throw the football right now with my boy, Miles – I do occasionally wonder about the paths I didn’t take. Usually I don’t linger in that place, because all around me I see the glorious – and even the not-so-glorious – results of the paths I did take. I try to be thankful for the glorious and the inglorious. Do I wish I would’ve travelled more roads on my own terms? Certainly. Do I regret the paths I took? Certainly not.So what do we make of Ricky Williams? For me, it’s pretty simple.He was a great football player. He was real, flaws and all; kids always gravitated toward him, and still do. He was generous with his money and his time. He made mistakes and caused hurt to people who loved him (Allow me to welcome you to that club, Ricky. I’ve been a member for a long time). He always seemed to be more excited about tomorrow than today.The NFL Hall of Fame? Maybe, probably not and I don’t care.And like it or not, he has certainly lived his life, football and otherwise, on his own terms. So run, Ricky, run, into whatever you choose. We sure loved watching you run with the football, and thanks for the thrills. Can you still hear the crowd that day against the Aggies? I can. And look, there’s your mother in the stands; she sure got a kick out of you, didn’t she?Now come on back home and throw the football around with Miles and the rest of the kids. The enchiladas will always be on us.