Ricky Williams | Shirley’s Temple

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Photographed by Vinny Nolan.

Ricky Williams is a legend in his own right, best known for being one of the most well-respected, electrifying running backs to ever grace the sport of football. The San Diego native rose to prominence playing college football at the University of Texas, making history time and time again as a two-time All American and even taking home the Heisman Trophy in 1998. From there, he went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL… before realizing his true purpose in life: healing and spreading the love of cannabis.

After a tumultuous relationship with the media, who painted him as a professional athlete who was frequently drug tested and tested positive for marijuana, Williams made the bold decision to retire in 2004, in turn finding solace in the world of astrology, yoga, and cannabis. 

“In September, he launched his own cannabis line called Highsman, which in his words- ‘is not about a trophy, it’s about getting high.’” Highsman isn’t your regular cannabis brand, it’s purpose-driven and created specifically to accentuate different moments in your day. Bridging the worlds of streetwear, cannabis, and sports, the goal of Highsman is to help you achieve greatness, and your maximum potential.

On the 32nd episode of Shirley’s Temple, I sat down with Ricky Williams at the THC Design facility to discuss his love for astrology, the moment he started smoking, yoga saving his mental and physical health, studying cannabis in the Himalayas, how cannabis helps his social anxiety, starting his own brand Highsman, the grind to become one of the greatest college football players, how the NFL suspension helped him find his purpose, his desire to help people heal, his relationship app Lila, his current marriage, and more! 

I’m so intrigued by the fact you’re an astrologer. I’m a Capricorn, but I honestly don’t believe in horoscopes. 

The kind of astrology that I do is not trying to describe people, but helping people be more themselves. Sometimes Capricorns get a hard time because we call them the fun sponge. Think about this: hard work means you have to stay focused and get things done. Sometimes other people want to play, they don’t want to work. But Capricorn is about order, getting shit done. We need people on this planet that gets shit done and keeps us in order, that’s why God created Capricorns. 

How did you get into all this?

It’s real talk. Different generations. I'm 44 so when I grew up, I thought the only way for me to really make it is to be a professional athlete because I was really good at sports. I had this vision to be the best college football player ever. I went to the University of Texas and had the most yards ever rushing by a running back, so I checked that off my box. I didn’t really think beyond that. They threw a lot of money at me to go to the NFL so I did it, and I had a pretty good career. I got to a point where I’m like “what am I doing with my life?” 

That’s when I started smoking. I started smoking and after practice, I’d go home and start reflecting. Thinking bigger thoughts than I’ve ever allowed myself to think. One day, I thought “mainly what I'm doing is distracting people for a couple of hours on Sundays, I want to do more.” So I retired from the NFL, I started traveling and that’s when I found yoga, healing, astrology, all that stuff. I felt this was a purpose, then I came back to the NFL. Played 5 more years, retired again, and now I’m doing my thing. 

You got me at yoga, it’s really saved my life.

It saved my mental health, my physical health.

I know you met your yoga teacher when you were traveling, how was that experience? 

When I left the NFL, I started traveling. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I was always playing football. I started traveling around the world. I finally found this beautiful spot in Australia. I said “okay, I’m going to buy this land. I’m going to grow trees, fruits, and live here forever.” That’s what I told myself. But they said to buy the land, I’d have to become an Australian citizen. Cool, I started filling out the paperwork. There’s one question: “what skill do you have? What’re you going to do when you come into our country?” I started going down the list of jobs. There were 150 occupations, I got to the bottom and realized I don’t have a skill! I can’t do shit but play football.

But you’re damn good at it! 

Yeah, I’m too old to play now. I had to find something else that I’m passionate about, I wasn’t okay with just retiring. I was 28, I had to do something. I started thinking about my life: okay if I’m not a football player, then what do I want to do? I started going over memories and realized the thing I enjoy doing the most is helping people feel better. I wanted to study to get skills so I could get better at helping people feel better, so I started studying healing. That’s when I learned about herbs. 

I learned that people in India have been using cannabis for thousands of years, to meditate. When I read that, damn! I started changing my relationship, then I took a yoga class. I was taking the healing class, part of it was we had to do yoga. After that first yoga class, I went to the teacher like “whatever this is, I need to do more because this is the most peaceful and relaxed I’ve ever felt in my whole life.” The next level, I was at this school learning about all kinds of herbs. I was in California, so I had my medical rec. I started messing around with other herbs and cannabis, and I made this ghee with cannabis. I put a little bit in my oatmeal before yoga class one day. I went to yoga class and that’s when everything changed for me. I felt like I was in my tissue, stretching. I could feel so much. I could feel where I was stuck and where I needed to breathe into. It really took my practice to a whole nother level. 

You studied cannabis in the Himalayan mountains!

I was with my yoga teacher. We’re going to the top of the Himalayas to meditate fast in a cave, at the base of the Ganges River. It was this spiritual journey, she’s taking me there. We were driving, it was a 7-hour drive. I remember looking out of the window like “is that weed?” From miles and miles and miles, just in nature. At the hotel, the guest house where I was staying, as I’m walking up, literally weeds. You could see cannabis plants growing on the ground, it was this profound moment. We grow up saying no to drugs, then you go and have that experience of seeing it in nature? [sighs] I started asking questions to the local people that lived there, having a different perspective about how cannabis fits in their life. That’s what I mean when I studied it. I really talked to the people, it’s been a part of their heritage for thousands and thousands of years. Not as something that’s a negative thing. 

A huge part of this show is mental health, cannabis helped you with your social anxiety. 

Oh my God, did it? I was diagnosed with social anxiety after my second year in the NFL. At the time to be honest, it was refreshing to know it was something to call it. I was sitting at home watching a commercial for Paxil. I was on Paxil. At first I started feeling better, but then I noticed the side effects. About the same time, I started really smoking heavier. I realized when I smoke, I become more aware. When I was taking Paxil, I become more numb. When I smoke, I’d start to reflect and think about my problems differently. That’s really what healed me. There was one point I was wearing helmets during interviews. Now, I’ll talk about anything in front of anybody, because I worked through my shit. Medicine’s not about covering stuff and not feeling stuff, medicine’s about seeing things clearly. When you see clearly, everything clears up.

How does it feel to have your own cannabis brand, Highsman?

It’s a dream come true in a weird way. When I was 12, I was watching Notre Dame football. Touchdown Jesus. I’m thinking there’s something special about football and I want to be a part of it. I went to Texas, I had that experience. After I left, I wanted to be something special and have a message in the world. To me if I’m just scoring touchdowns and making money for myself, that’s so limited. I wanted to do something bigger, but I never knew what it was. I had all these issues and problems around cannabis getting suspended. 

Low and behold, the mission was right there in front of me. This is real medicine. For what he did for me, it opened my mind and gave me access to real spirituality. That’s something I want to get on the mountain top and scream because the world needs it right now. If more people can open their minds and realize that we’re all connected, start to live in a way that honors that, it gets better for everyone. 

Are you religious?

I’m very religious, but I’m making up my own astrological based religion. I’ve studied so many different religions that I realize all of them are essentially saying the same thing: try to find love in your heart for everyone. The truth is: there’s one me, there’s one Shirley. The one me and one you are made up of a bunch of different atoms, cells, and organs. They all have to be on the same page, or we get sick and we die. What they found is if you take a cell and put it in a Petri dish, it still does its thing. It has its own consciousness. Imagine if a cell said “fuck this Ricky dude, I’ma do my own thing.” You know what the body would do? It would kill that cell! That’s what the body does. In life/spirituality, we’re all cells in the body of humanity. We have to realize that we are all here to take care of each other, and start to live like that. That’s what I mean by spirituality: what connects all of us? 

Based on diagnostic interview data from National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R), an estimated 7.1% of U.S. adults had social anxiety disorder in the past year. An estimated 12.1% of U.S. adults experience social anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.

You know how I understood my social anxiety disorder? If you think about the term, social means around other people. Anxiety: it doesn’t feel good to be around other people. It means you’re around the wrong people. I found I was socially anxious because I was around football players. I love football players but when you get a bunch of dudes like that in that environment, there’s not much deep talks or spiritual energy going on. 

For me to feel comfortable and be around my people, we need to be able to converse like this. If I’m not around people who are willing to do this, I’m going to feel anxious. But it’s not a negative thing, it’s the universe or my body telling me to go somewhere else where I feel comfortable. But I ignored that for the money and all that other stuff. That’s what I learned, the most important thing in the world is to feel good. I decided to make that a priority of my life. 

Being one of the best college football players, how did you deal with all that attention? 

I loved it. In college, I feel like I earned it. It was a dream. When people see someone famous, you see them after they made it. Until they do the long special, you don’t always see the steps and the grind it took to get there. For me where I came from, it was a grind. I had to believe in myself when no one else did. When people started to appreciate me for my grind, I’m like yeah. When I got to the NFL, I thought “okay now that I’ve proven I could be successful, people would appreciate me for my mind.” But that didn’t happen. That shut up and dribble thing. Before I started smoking, I’d talk to people and share my ideas. They'd say “what’re you smoking?” I was thinking if smoking makes people say things like this, maybe I should be smoking. [laughs]

How much did the suspension affect you? 

I was good. That’s the whole story, I was in the wrong place. Me getting suspended helped me be in the right place. If it was up to me, I would’ve kept chasing that bullshit ass dream. 

Do you miss football at all?

No. [laughs] Listen, the reality of football is that my body was in pain pretty much all the time. When you do that all the time, you don’t even realize it. Then when I retired, I realized damn, I feel good! 

Can you imagine if you did baseball instead?

No, baseball they don’t drug test. NBA now too. Baseball players can smoke. Here’s the truth, I’ma be real. What I realized playing in the NFL is for me to play in the NFL, I had to smoke. If I wasn’t smoking, fuck this shit I’m out of here. We’re taught the whole purpose of life is to make money, take care of your family, be somebody. If you believe that and go hard, you’re rough on yourself. That’s why you need something to help you heal, to reflect, to recover. To see the bigger vision so you could keep grinding. 

How many people do you touch on a daily basis?

I do readings. I had 3 readings today. When you have a chart, you can go so deep with someone which allows you to touch and bring light and spaces to deeper places that a lot of times don’t get to see light. Part of what happened when I left the NFL, I had this moment where I realized I didn’t have any skills. I became passionate about learning as many skills as possible. I went to massage therapy school. I’ve taken so many different classes and trainings to learn to help people feel better. I went to acupuncture school, I’m a true real medicine guy. 

How does it feel to be living in this purpose now?

I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. Even those times I feel tired, I think about what I’m going to do and get energy. When I was in the NFL, it was the opposite. I think of all of the things I had to do and be like ugh. 

What was the reality of the grind? 

Part of the reality is it was what I knew I was able to do. I knew I could run a linebacker over. I knew I could bench 200 pounds. Sometimes when we’re really talented at something, we lean  into that talent to avoid dealing with other stuff where we might not be so strong and feel so confident. When I gave up the thing I was great at, it forced me to have to develop other parts of myself. Now, I’m a more balanced human being. 

It’s funny one night after practice, I came home and had my nightly smoke sesh. I started to reflect about my life. My football life is so great, I’m one of the best football players in the world. But my personal life, my relationships are a nightmare. I started to think: how can I have the success that I have with football, in these other areas of my life? I started to apply the same principles that made me a great football player to these other areas. 

My girl @thecannabiscutie told me to smoke with intention. That changed it for me.

That’s the message of Highsman right there. To me, we could talk about smoking but it’s more interesting for me to say: what do you do after you smoke? The intention is in it. The shit is real. My relationship with cannabis is a part of my morning meditation. I connect, I smoke. I sit down with my books. I get my mind right for the day. 

Talk about Highsman being named after the Heisman Trophy, which yours sold for $500K at an auction. Crazy!

So the names are similar. To me, it’s not about a trophy. This is about getting high. It’s a play on words. When I was in college trying to win a Heisman Trophy, they said “you can’t win the Heisman trophy with dreads or piercings.” For me, I took that on like “I’ma change this. I’ma change the way they look at people that look like me.” I did it, I won the Heisman trophy. The whole idea is I wouldn’t have won the Heisman trophy if I talked about smoking cannabis. It would’ve been so controversial. It wouldn’t even have been a question. It woulda been all negative, there wouldn't be any talk about football. 

After I won the Heisman trophy, soon after I really started smoking. Back in the early 2000s, if I told people I was smoking, they’d suspend me and do all these things to me. A professional athlete using cannabis was unthinkable. Still guys are afraid to come out, this was 20 years ago. To me the beauty is after all said and done, I'm sitting here proudly. Heisman trophy winner, ran over 10K yards in the NFL. Quit the bullshit. That’s what Highsman is about: having a higher purpose. 

It’s funny, something I had so much shame about. Talk about mental health, I have a lot of life force. I don’t think about suicide, but the one time where the thought across my mind — thank God it was really quick — it was after the time it became public that I smoked. Dealing with people saying that I’m going to throw away my whole life, all of this opportunity over drugs, how many times have you heard that story? That’s what they put on me. I had to sit and say “is this real? What is my story?” I created a completely different story, not saying “oh, cannabis ruined my life. I want to move away from it.” I went towards it, and my life got better! I knew if I lived the story, me sitting here telling my story and people seeing my life, they can’t say shit. I took my shame and turned it into empowerment and empowering people. Don’t be ashamed of what people put on you. Trust yourself. It’s hard at first, but always worth it.

How much did the media affect you?

It was a good lesson, a good training. At first, I was naive. I learned, the media doesn’t care about me. I hated that shit. I realized it wasn’t their job to care about me, it’s their job to tell stories. Instead of being the story of the guy that doesn’t want to talk to the media, I started having more interesting stories. Now, I have a wonderful relationship with the media. It’s crazy. Something happened with Sha’Carri Richardson and the Olympics, CNN called me to go on and talk about it. Now the media is my friend, they help me tell positive stories. It’s funny because I realize what the media appreciates about me: it gives them the opportunities to write positive stories about cannabis. To me, that’s the purpose of things to be an example. 

Talk about your relationship app, Lila. 

Lila is the thing I think about the most. My passion in life is using astrology to help people appreciate each other. To me, it’s not about compatibility. What’s compatible is that I appreciate you and you appreciate me. If we can do that, we’re good! Astrology helps us appreciate people. I’m a Gemini, you’re a Capricorn. If I expect you to be like me, I’ma be disappointed and pissed off all the time. If expect you to be like you, I can support you being a better you. That’ll feel better for you and me. 

How’s your marriage now?

My marriage is wonderful. I had a lot of relationships that weren’t so wonderful, but I learned. I kept learning. The same way I tried to master football, I put that energy into mastering human relationships. 

How does It feel to have kids?

That’s another learning experience. It took me 6 tries to have a positive family experience. This is the first time in a relationship where the child was born out of true love. It’s a completely different experience. I’m older and more mature, so I’m ready for it. 

How long do you meditate for?

I try to get to 2 hours before I start my day. When I was your age, I wasn’t doing that shit. I’ve gotten to this point where I know what I’m on this planet to do. I’ve realized in order to do most efficiently, I need to start every morning getting my mind right. 

Do you listen to music?

I’m listening to one person: Damian Marley, his album Stony Hill. The thing that blows my mind, music is so powerful. My first spiritual teacher was Bob Marley. I grew up, single mom. When I’d get home from school, I’d listen to Bob and he was saying something. He was feeding something in me that school wasn’t. Sometimes church would, but he was feeding my soul. With all his children, it’s soulful music. There’s a rhythm, but there's a message that goes deeper into you.