Brian Hamilton: Go ahead, cast the first stone
Mention the name “Ricky Williams” and what follows is a series of very predictable responses, usually led by a laugh.
Whether it’s sports columnists trying to one-up each other with the best one-liner – “Isn’t it ironic he went to Grass Valley?” – or whether it’s Joe Footballfan who found out I interviewed the former Heisman Trophy winner – “Didja get high with him?” – there’s no doubt his name carries quite a connotation.
But setting aside the laugh track for a moment, is it fair?
I decided to go and see for myself. After learning that he was teaching yoga classes at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm – and after four months of practicing yoga in the privacy of our home with the assistance of a video tape – I thought “Why not make my first actual yoga class a memorable one?”
Anyone wondering whether he’s serious about the work he’s doing down on the farm needs only to attend his class. His grasp on the topic is clearly a firm one. He leads in a calm, yet confident, manner with his soft voice soothing those in the room into relaxation.
He opens and closes the class with a prayer of foreign tongue and does so in unison with others who have studied yoga extensively; the result being a harmonious tone that washes away the stress of the day and pulls even a first-timer into focus.
“It’s very powerful,” he said. “This is something I’m just starting to understand about teaching, especially teaching something like yoga. Yoga is very broad and very abstract, you know.
“So teaching a class is difficult, but teaching like some of these lectures about the theory is extremely difficult, because you’re trying to take something very abstract that you still don’t completely understand and try to explain it to people whose lives are completely the opposite.
“So you have to develop some kind of strong belief in what you’re saying and you have to develop some kind of intelligible way to express the ideas. And it really develops you as a person in every single, possible way.”
Some people might say they’d rather he not be a teacher, especially as a role model to young athletes. Actually, he agrees, if you’re looking for the perfect role model.
“No one is perfect. That is not realistic,” he said. “A role model is someone who makes a mistake and they learn from that mistake and they rise above it. And they show people it’s OK not to be perfect. … To me that’s really what a role model is.
“And if they’re wanting a role model that’s perfect, no one is going to be able to really have that person as a role model, because it’s not real.”
He’s not only the potential role model for football players hoping to hit the big time someday, he’s also the parent of his own four children. And, as any parent can attest, the kids know that mom and dad sure aren’t perfect.
“The reality of life isn’t pretty,” he said. “That’s why we have this idea of role models. That’s why parents say ‘I don’t want to be the role model. The kids can see I’m not perfect.’ And that’s why we look to role models.
“The truth about life is that we all make mistakes. We all fall on our face. We all get in trouble. It’s just, how do you deal with it? How do you move forward?
“I won’t tell kids ‘Don’t do this.’ I’ll say ‘This is what I did and these were the consequences and this is how I dealt with them.’ As a role model, you don’t paint a picture that’s not true. You just show them the picture that’s reality and how you’ve dealt with it.”
Williams also has some insight on how some of today’s top athletes have become to look like little more than spoiled children. He was one of those youngsters who excelled at every level of every sport they played – he was also drafted to play Major League Baseball – and he knows how the support structure surrounding such young stars can become problematic. Many times, he said, coaches and parents play less of a supporting role and more of an enabling one.
“Most definitely,” he said. “At one level, people tell you how great you are, but at the same time you spend all your life working on a team. So it can go either way. What that might develop is a sense of separation. It’s a competitive sport, so there’s always me against you, especially in the NFL, even on the same team, fighting for the same position or the same roster spot.
“Instead of teaching them that strength comes from competition, I’ll teach them that strength comes from sportsmanship.
“Look at the big picture. What is life really about? Life is about being the best that you can be. You know, if you can be the best you can be there’s nothing more you can ask for. So you’re not competing against someone across from yourself, you’re trying to be the best you can in order to contribute to something greater than yourself.”
Ultimately, that was the one of the sharpest criticisms of Williams when he stepped away from the Dolphins in 2004. In his two previous seasons in Miami, the team had a combined 19-13 record. The year he stepped aside, the Dolphins finished 4-12.
He said he understands the anger of his departure and the disappointment in his violations of the league’s drug policy, which have sidelined him for the entirety of two out of the past three seasons.
But, ultimately, the consequences of his actions come back to himself. He says he understands that completely.
“That’s life,” he said. “This is the nature of life. … This is the reason we’re here. We’re here to fail so that we can stop the failing. We’re here to make mistakes so we can stop making mistakes.
“And that’s the bottom line. When you can live your life that way, then when pain comes or heartache comes to you, you can really start to be thankful.”
And besides, he’s the one who has been living with his name so often being used as the punchline, even though the truth is those often offering the stand-up act shouldn’t dare to cast the first stone.
“Everyone wants to be a comedian,” he said. “I don’t take offense to it. I really think it’s quite hilarious, because I think a lot of people, unfortunately, really believe everything that they see and everything that they read.
“And I think eventually the truth about me and what I’m doing will come out. And I think they will be able to see.”
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears Saturdays. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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