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Ricky Williams On Finding His Zen, Managing Social Anxiety, And The Inspiration Behind His Cannabis Lifestyle Brand, Highsman

The former New Orleans Saints running back explains his journey of using cannabis to heal his mind, body, and soul.

Even if you aren't a football fan, you've probably heard of Ricky Williams. Beyond his prowess on the field, the former NFL running back has worked hard to develop a persona that doesn't involve the brutality and competitiveness that football thrives on.

Williams, a runner-up in 2021 on "Big Brother: Celebrity Edition," is into numerology, yoga, meditation, counts Bob Marley as one of his personal heroes, and recently started a lifestyle cannabis line called Highman's, which launched in Oct. 2021.

Williams also has a biopic in the works, which he plans to co-write—"Ricky Williams in Australia." The film will focus on the Heisman Trophy winner's life and his year-long sabbatical in Australia.

In a recent interview with BET.com, Williams spoke about the road to finding the best parts of himself, how he copes with stress and some of the things he has been up to since he walked away from the game.

BET.com: I've heard that you study numerology. What got you into that?

Ricky Williams: I got into astrology because I was looking for answers. And for some reason, in this day and age, that's not seen as a macho or masculine thing to do. But in history and even in different cultures, it has always been there. I was lucky enough to go to India to study yoga. In India, the astrologers were the Wiseman. If someone in India says they've been studying astrology, everyone will get down and touch their feet. It's so respected that someone would invest their time and energy to seek truth. That's my journey–to seek truth and looking wherever I can to find it.

I met a woman who asked me if I knew when I was born. She put the information on the computer and started talking to me. There was more truth in what she said than I found anywhere else. I started reading and studying and comparing it to my life experiences. The whole time, I've been really motivated by the pursuit of truth.

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On some level, I think that same pursuit of truth led me to become a professional football player. As a kid, looking around me, the answer was to become rich and famous, so I put all my energy into doing that. I got there, and I realized this ain't it, and I kept looking.

My social anxiety and mental health were trying to wake me up and tell me what I was doing, wasn't it. When I was finally vulnerable enough to feel what I was feeling and come to terms with it, it became obvious to me that I needed to do something else.

BET.com: Were you officially diagnosed with social anxiety, or did you figure out on your own that you checked all the boxes?

Ricky Williams: Both. At first, I self-diagnosed, and then I went to get a more formal diagnosis. It was a big moment because I'm not a huge fan of diagnosis, but it is a powerful part of the process. It was so ephemeral that I didn't understand what was going on with me, and the fact that I could have something to call, it also meant that I had something that I could address.

Once I started going down that path and taking prescription medicine, it took me to that next step of my journey, where I realized something else was going on. However, I don't define anxiety the same way others do because, for me, it's information. Social anxiety is information that I'm not around the right people, and I recognized that as soon as I put myself around people with who I was more on the same level with, and once I did that, the anxiety disappeared.

BET.com: Sounds like you were a sponge, absorbing the energy of the people around you, like an empath. At that time, did the people around you have unclear intentions?

Ricky Williams: One hundred percent. I'm a healer, and the nature of healers is that we're empaths. A healer has to sense what's going on with someone to know how to heal it. I had to have a lot of experiences of who and what I wasn't to feel and understand what I was and who I am now. Once I recognized that I surrounded myself with people who appreciated that about me and not people who thought I should be something different.

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BET.com: Since you can't remove yourself from every situation, how do you protect yourself? As an empath and a healer, how do you restore yourself?

Ricky Williams: The first thing is the word protection. The first form of protection is to be positive. And I don't mean to be upbeat. I mean to be clear about your goal. It's like going to the grocery store with a list, and you know what you want and get it. But if you go into the grocery store without a list, you may wander around and get stuff you don't want.

I'm intentional in everything I do so that if I am being an empath, it's because I'm directing my attention to what I want to be empathic to. When I am neutral or negative —not bad, just open—I will absorb whatever is there. And when I can let loose, I do it around family, not just blood relatives but people who make me feel safe to let my guard down. And I have a wonderful family.

BET.com: You've been a passionate advocate for the legalization of cannabis for years, and now we are seeing more states around the U.S. finally catch up. Now, you have your cannabis lifestyle brand Highsman. Tell us more about Highsman.

Ricky Williams: I might sound conceited, but I realized that I tend to be a little bit ahead of my time, and I'm a visionary. I try to talk to people, and I assume that everyone sees things the way I do, but people look at me like I'm crazy. So, I had to find a way to meet people where they are and be able to honor their truth and also share my truth and experiences. I found that most cannabis users enjoy the feeling of consuming cannabis. There are many words for it, but it is typically said that people want to get high, but that's just the starting point, which is filtered through our conditioning that cannabis is bad.

Throughout my readings, I realized that there was a chunk of time in the 60s and early 70s when being high was considered positive. However, when I was growing up, I was told to stay away from it, and since I was a rule follower, I didn't try it. But then I had a personal experience that showed me that it feels good. And so, I had conflicting urges. I had one urge to follow the rules, but then I had another, much stronger urge to feel good.

I also realized that I performed better when I felt good. So, that urge to feel good and perform better was more powerful than the urge to follow rules. Also, as I started using cannabis, instead of pointing the finger and blaming other people, I was more introspective and began to appreciate where I could change things in my life. And so it's not about being high and partying and escaping. It was a completely different experience. It was about being high and reflective, which ultimately helped me become a better person.

When I smoke, I become aware of parts of myself that I tend to hide when I'm out in the world. As I become more reflective and understand these parts, I can deal with them. I realized [when I was playing football] maybe I should be doing something else, and if I had still pushed all that stuff down and focused on what I have to do, I wouldn't have been sensitive enough to be aware of what my soul and what my heart really needed. I think so much of toxic masculinity or just toxic capitalism is about pushing all your feelings down so that we can do what we're "supposed" to do.

BET.com: Part of your message with Highsman is to help change one's mentality through deliberate moments of greatness. Why is that a part of your mission?

Ricky Williams: When I try to help and inspire people to achieve their greatness, my experience is that they have to go inwards, and there are many ways to do that, such as Tai Chi, Yoga, meditation, and cannabis. And so the deeper meaning behind Highsman is realizing you have to go inside.

I've been saying this for a long time, and my idol Bob Marley once said, "[herb] is the healing of the nation." My goal is to get to the point where I can make statements like that from an authentic place and have people listen and take it seriously. If the people worldwide who are creating war, hatred, and harm were more reflective and understood that we're all in this together, the world would be a better place.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been edited and condensed for clarity

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