Ricky Williams: NFL Football Healer Begins His Next Chapter

At the Center for Pranic Healing, a small studio in a dull Davie office complex, Ricky Williams is cradling in his thick arms a middle-aged woman with bleached-blond hair. He's wearing Gucci loafers, basketball shorts, and an Under Armour T-shirt, which she is soaking with sobs.

She's crying about her job, her boss, and her distant children. She's crying, she says, because she can't find some aspect of the spiritual healing described by her teacher — a former NFL All-Pro fullback — in her instruction manual.

At 230 muscular pounds of yuppie-comforting sympathy, he gives her a pregnant look: Why are you even worried about the manual? "You can call me anytime, you know," he says.

"If I could kidnap you for a week," the woman bashfully tells Ricky while playfully pounding his massive chest, "I just want to glue you to my hip."

At 35 years old, Ricky is just five months retired from 11 seasons and 10,000-plus bruising yards rushed as a member of the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore Ravens. But he looks as fresh and clean as the day he was born.

His once-trademark dreadlocks — a shock to the sports world when he emerged as a football superstar but now standard issue in the NFL — were scrapped years ago. Also gone is the patchy, homeless-dude beard that grew on his face like dark moss during his "troubled" period, when he gave up football amid marijuana suspensions and disappeared to Australia in the middle of an eight-figure playing contract.

The former vegan, who found himself curiously eager to eat meat upon his retirement from the NFL, has always taken an obsessive dabbler's approach to spirituality and healing. He's been declared a "yoga master." He's amassed a guru's knowledge in ayurvedic medicine, pranic healing, and cranialsacral therapy — practices traditional doctors deride as pseudoscientific. He's studied massage therapy at a storefront college in Kendall and is a smattering of credits short of finishing his premed degree at Nova Southeastern University.

Tonight he's running a session in his newest passion, a spiritual practice called Access Consciousness, invented 20 years ago in California. His studio is full of people milling around massage tables. Ricky turns off the lights, and half of them climb onto the tables.

"Time to play, my unhappy friends," demands a voice from the stereo system in a corner, where Ricky has plunked in a CD. "You've been pretending it your entire life, that you're really as serious and unhappy as everybody else, but you're not... Beautiful people, we're here to change the fucking world!"

The unexpected profanity seems to set off a low clicking, like that of a baseball card in a fan, in the middle of the room. The sound becomes a long, pealing giggle. Ricky's laughter is contagious; soon everybody's chest is heaving.

Right now, having just retired from the NFL, Ricky is supposed to be beat up and afraid. In the past year and a half, two other recent NFL retirees, 43-year-old ex-linebacker Junior Seau — Ricky's childhood idol and later buddy from their time together on the Dolphins — and Chicago Bears Super Bowl champ safety Dave Duerson, fatally shot themselves in the chest, preserving their brains for postmortem testing for dementia caused by gridiron concussions. Thousands of former players have filed suit against the NFL, claiming the league concealed information about the long-term dangers of the sport. Ricky's middle-aged colleagues, such as his mentor and fellow former University of Texas legend Earl Campbell, walk like 80-year-olds. Each has a ticking time bomb in his skull.

But Ricky, who has never been conventional, says a decade-plus of spiritual healing has rid him of the ill effects of his career. "I don't feel anything," he says, "like it never even happened."

Now he wants to move on from the Whole Foods crowd that typically attends his classes and share his techniques with fellow former running backs and linemen. Ricky believes he can heal the NFL.

Everyone asks him if he's ready for the next chapter in his life. "No, this is the first chapter," he corrects them. "That football stuff, that was just the prologue."

Six years after he failed an NFL urine test for the fourth and presumably last time, Ricky Williams — who says he no longer smokes weed — will likely never escape the pothead label. He sees it every time he logs on to Twitter, where followers send him emoticons of marijuana leaves and pictures of South Park's stoned Towelie and, presumably while snickering, ask if he's enjoying himself on 4/20.

It's about the only thing that pisses off Ricky, who says he has virtually eliminated emotion from his life. "I get upset that they're too stupid to put that aside," he says of the obsession with his former pot use, "so that they can see that I'm really trying to give them something that would actually help their lives."

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Gus Garcia-Roberts