Ricky Williams Retires: A Tribute to a Misunderstood Man

Josh Herman@@JoshHermanPJSCorrespondent IFebruary 7, 2012

One of my favorite football players and even more, one of my favorite people of all time, Ricky Williams, announced today that he is retiring from professional football.

Williams will always be one of the most famous and misunderstood souls ever to throw on a pair of shoulder pads, and for that I want to thank him.

He was more than just a football player and in fact would probably rather be known as a person above all else.

In the ESPN 30 for 30 special Run, Ricky, Run, Miami Herald columnist and ESPN personality Dan Le Batard summed up Williams' mindset nearly perfectly.

“I still don’t know as I sit here talking to you whether this is a product of him being bipolar or mentally ill, or it’s a product of him being the only sane person out there and the rest of us worshiping all the wrong things," Le Batard said.

Williams was one of the most dominating forces on a football field during high school and at the University of Texas, where he holds or shares 20 NCAA records and won the 1998 Heisman Trophy after rushing for 2,327 yards and 29 touchdowns.

But what no one seemed to realize was that Williams was more than football. While people would worship his athleticism and ability to roll through 250-pound behemoths, Williams was worshiping the fact that he was a real human being who had been blessed with the gift of life.

Many thought that he was just a lazy pothead, but Williams knew that there was more to life than football, he just didn't know what that more was.

His early retirement in 2004 shocked the football world, but it was exactly what Williams needed. He was able to take his first break from the sport that he had become synonymous with and look inside to find who Ricky Williams really was.

What he found was what many who had been around him had already begun seeing; he was a lonely and distant soul who had been defined by a sport that he didn't even enjoy anymore.

Former teammate Joe Horn explained how others were seeing Williams.

"Ricky's just a different guy. People he wanted to deal with, he did. And people he wanted to have nothing to do with, he didn't. No one could understand that.

"I don't think guys in the locker room could grasp that he wanted to be to himself...you know, quiet. If you didn't understand him and didn't know what he was about, it always kept people in suspense."

Williams was a powerful force on the football field, but for his entire life, that's all he was to everyone but himself. He needed more from life and was willing to quit the one thing that made him a household name in order to search for it.

Eventually, he found himself and realized that he didn't enjoy football because that's what everyone wanted him to enjoy. Instead, he had to enjoy it for himself.

Ricky Williams was more than just a great athlete and football player. He was one of the bravest, and in my opinion, one of the most intelligent people to grace a football field.

For that, I will miss his famous tinted visor that he hid behind for years, but will always remember him for the time he spent away from the game that people thought he loved.

It seems instead that what he was really in love with was something much bigger than just a game: his life.