Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm Not Ashamed to Say it: I Love Ricky Williams
By Zach

I've always been interested in Ricky Williams. When he was setting NCAA rushing records and winning awards at Texas, he was worth watching as one of the most dominant running backs in college history. Then, Mike Ditka suffered a stroke and traded his entire draft for Ricky...as the #5 pick in the draft (and second running back taken). Shortly after that, they posed on the cover of ESPN the Magazine...with Ricky wearing a wedding dress. How awesome is that? Seriously, can you imagine another high profile athlete (besides Dennis Rodman) who would be comfortable enough with themselves to do that?
I thought this was against the law.


While Ricky's performance in New Orleans wasn't quite at the level one would hope for when anointed the franchise's savior (though it's unfair to expect one guy to reverse an entire franchise history's worth of crappiness), he wasn't half bad. Still, the Saints soured on him shortly after they canned Ditka, and shipped him off the Dolphins. There, he had an oustanding 2002 season, ripping off 1853 yards, averaging 4.8 yards/carry, and scoring 17 touchdowns. 2003 was a letdown for Ricky and the Fish, as they missed the playoffs.

All of this lead to the stunning announcement just days prior to the 2004 season that Ricky was retiring from football. Right away, Dolphins players called him a traitor, media members said he was a modern-day Judas, and everyone said they were glad to see him go. Ricky said he was gonna travel the world, smoke pot, and basically just enjoy being a rich, twenty-something in peak physical shape.

Long story short, the Dolphins sued Ricky, the courts ruled he had to pay his $8.6 million signing bonus back, and Ricky decided he would come back to try and earn his money.

What everyone seemed to ignore during the whole saga is that Ricky Williams has been playing football for virtually his whole life. Clearly, he didn't love it anymore, if he ever did. He was merely a highly-paid professional. Many such professionals take time off, and no one says anything.

See, this all comes back to one of my pet peeves about sports fans and the sports media. We tend to treat players as if they existed in a vacuum, that all they do is play sports. When any of them behave like actual people, we tend to be astounded. When Mike Tyson slowly goes crazy, we act like it couldn't happen just because he was once heavyweight champion of the world. When players like Jamie Moyer decline a trade because they don't want to move away from their families for the rest of the season, people feel like they're betraying the team. And when Ricky Williams wants to take time off from his job, he's villified. How many people took a year (or more) off before they started college, or after they graduated college, or at any other time in their life?

Is the illusion shattered when we learn that Ricky Williams played football because it could get him a college education (he actually graduated), and then because he could make millions of dollars? Shouldn't every player just play for the love of the game? Hell no. Football is a rough game. It takes decades off your life. And if Ricky Williams doesn't want to play until he's crippled, or a shadow of his former self, like Emmitt Smith, that's his right.

So like I said, I like it when athletes think for themselves, when they show us that someone can be both a world-class athlete and a person too, for good or bad. And I hope he succeeds this year, whether in Miami or somewhere else.

3 Comments:

Blogger booth52 said...

amen brotha.

100% complete agreement.

3:14 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

I agree with the main sentiments. You shouldn't expect every professional athlete to love his sport so much that you'd have to drag him off the field to get him to quit. That said, after re-reading, I get the feeling that Ricky Williams's example makes it easier to come to that conclusion. What happens if we use Gary Sheffield? Or what about a real asshat like A.J. Pierzynski?

3:24 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

But I think a guy like Sheffield (or Albert Belle) falls into a different catagory entirely. Whether or not Sheffield enjoys playing football, he has a duty, as a human being, to be civil towards the people who pay his salary. He doesn't have to love the fans, and he doesn't have to sign autographs for hours on end. But he does have a basic responsibility to be courteous to them.

If you choose to play pro sports, you have to accept the fact that the intense fan interest and media coverage is what generates those millions of dollars in salary. If you choose to abuse those relationships, then don't be surprised at the backlash. And if you don't want to be in the public eye, retire. I don't expect every athlete to be a saint. Hell, I don't want them to, sports would be pretty boring if they were. But on the other hand, I think it's fair to accept a reasonable level of decorum.

4:41 PM  

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