According to croberts5…
One of my earliest memories growing up was shooting threes (probably 2 foot lay-ups in reality but let my dream live) on a Fisher-Price basketball goal in my childhood home. All of my life, since I can remember has always in one way or another been interwoven w/ sports. My mother is an intense sports fan, to the point where Mayflower is still a dirty word in that home (83, BMore, ya feel me). I, in much of the same way, have become an avid sports enthusiast. From peeling basketballs being shot into milk crates to lacing up cleats in a collegiate baseball game being an athlete and a sports fan has been something that I’ve loved. That said, I was always what some would term “a different type of cat.” Sports and being an athlete is a part of who I am, but not all of who I am. And in this respect I feel that in more ways than one I can relate to the life of one Ricky Williams. I could never dream of dreaming about being half the natural talent of Ricky. Yet, his journey throughout the realm of sports speaks to me in multiple ways. Ricky Williams emerged on the college football scene at the University of Texas as a dynamic running back with a rare mix of speed, power, and vision. He was faster than Ron Dayne, more powerful than Ricky Waters, and had better vision than Jerome Bettis. Williams went on to win the Heisman Trophy, an award reserved for the most outstanding player in college football.
But Ricky Williams was a different type of cat. When coming into the league he was photographed in a wedding dress (representing how he and his coach were married to each other due to the major financial investment the franchise made). He was forced to deal with idolatry, fame, and fortune for something that did not represent all of who he was. At times it was visible that the limelight was not only uncomfortable for Williams, but it seemed to strike him as shallow. For me it was a dynamic mix of being known in my high school as an athlete, yet simultaneously existing in a world of AP courses and political discourse that layered my personality in ways which baffled those unwilling to peel back the onion of my identity beyond the athletic realm. As Williams’ career continued he became a very accomplished running back, and over time transitioned from New Orleans to Miami. While with the Dolphins, Ricky shined as a feature back, racking up touchdowns and yardage to rival some of the all time greats. But Ricky Williams was a different type of cat. He was suspended from the NFL for marijuana use and was suspended a year, additionally he retired and spent time away from the game on a journey to self-actualization and enlightenment. There is a great documentary entitled “Run Ricky Run” which chronicles Williams’ time away from football. Much of his use of marijuana revolved around meditation and spiritual reflection. Ricky spoke often about being engulfed by the fame and expectations of the NFL in that it forced him to conform, when he felt he was born to expand. In the documentary he talks about how life is a journey and as humans we are imperfect and we are on a path, and the decision to walk is more empowering than the decision to merely be led. People looked at Williams as selfish, arrogant, childish, and irresponsible. Yet, in this film, the people around him who pray with him and meditate with him and learn from him repeatedly speak to his character, his thoughtfulness, and his selfless outlook. On my teams I was the guy re-reading Malcolm X on the way to a double-header. I was the guy who didn’t cut my hair in high school and possibly turned down a scholarship because I wanted to do that on my own terms. I was the guy who before practice went to give tours to black youth on the irony of bling and shackles. I was the guy who after practice would rush downtown to get Organic Soul Open Mic and hone my craft.
Williams spent this past year of his career with the Baltimore Ravens and has remarked about how discussing life and sports with the likes of Ray Lewis has been a powerful experience for him. Relishing the ability to work with a young talent like Ray Rice and be in a city where he was wanted. This week Williams announced his retirement from the game of football so that he may pursue other things in his life. He has discussed how philosophy has become important to him and shedding a western framework in favor of a more holistic view of life and purpose discussed in eastern philosophy. Amid the minuscule definition that the mainstream media has given us of what it means to be an athlete Ricky Williams shatters the mold. For he exists with a helmet in one hand, and a book in the other. Williams is quoted as saying he loves learning and wants to “take classes around the world.” In much of the same way I have existed in a post-modern gray as opposed to defined binaries. I play sports yet hate blind obedience. I am in a fraternity yet believe in feminism, queer theory, and gender issues more fervently than I can say. I am a fan of sports yet would love the complete destruction of our white patriarchal capitalist system here in the U.S. (cc: Souled Out and 40 Million Dollar Slaves). That said, I wouldn’t be the scholar who sees the need to address the narrative around Mike Vick if I weren’t a sports fan. Nor would I see the need for an intersectional analysis of race, class and the exploitation by wealthy whites of black youth (ex: Iverson and T.O.). And I wouldn’t have been the teammate/friend who talked about the prison industrial complex on the way home from a game were not for my revolutionary disposition.
Throughout his life Ricky Williams has been called a different cat. If that is true, then there is not one feline comparison I would welcome more than to also be termed “a different cat.”