When I began the interview with Ricky Williams, I introduced the idea of coincidence. He told me there's no such thing as coincidence, that everything is tied to the past and the present connects to the future.
So I applied that to his situation. He has been suspended from the National Football League for his fourth substance abuse violation and failed to overturn the verdict in an appeal. Within hours the Argos placed Williams on their negotiation list -- beating the Montreal Alouettes, who also considered the move, in the process -- allowing them the exclusive right to try to sign him. After almost a month the Argos finally received approval from the Miami Dolphins, to whom Williams is under contract for two more years. The Argos are trying to promote messages of anti-violence, anti-bullying and anti-drugs and believe Williams can help. But none of this could have happened had the Canadian Football League had a policy to ban suspended NFL players.
To me, if this isn't a coincidence, I don't know what is.
"The thing about this whole situation is some really awkward things had to happen for me to be here right now," he says. "First, I had to get suspended for doing drugs, but I don't do drugs anymore. Secondly, someone had to have the balls to put me on the (negotiation) list. Thirdly, the Dolphins had to agree. Fourthly, I had to be willing to come here. If you go back a year, there's not any possible way I would be playing in Canada. It's so impossible. For things to happen for me to be here (it's) something that I need to do, I definitely believe that."
The Argos wanted him to cut off his dreadlocks and shave off his beard to present a positive role model image. Williams says he had no problem with that. In February while studying yoga in India, he cut off most of his hair and shaved off his beard when asked to do so by his spiritual instructor.
"I never felt that I needed (the long hair and beard)," he says. "One of the things that I've always been an ambassador of is you can't judge a book by its cover. The statement I was trying to make (with dreadlocks and a beard) was don't judge me because I don't shave; because I don't cut my hair. It has nothing to do with what's on the inside of me. By the same token, I understand where (the football establishment) is coming from. For me, my life is like I swing from outside to inside, inside the box, outside the box. What I have to learn is to integrate forward and not be too attached to this, not to be too attached to that; to understand where they're coming from and to understand where I'm coming from and trying to find a way for me to fit in those parameters."
Williams had been quite prepared for the Dolphins to not allow him to play in the CFL because of the risk of injury.
It has been suggested the Dolphins capitulated because Williams needs money. Reports have circulated recently alleging Williams has made $14 million US in pre-tax income since turning professional in 1999, but has whittled it away. Furthermore, playing football would give him income to help pay for child-support payments. He has fathered three children by three separate women and is expecting a fourth child, his second with his fiance.
"The way people's minds work is they value money, but I don't," he says. "I've never had to work for a living. I've always been fortunate to always have things placed in front of me. I've never looked at life as ever having to work for any reason. I've never been able to make a connection between work and money because I've never felt stressed about having money or not having money. I just go with whatever's in front of me and make it work. Fortunately I've always had money to do that, but I couldn't imagine worrying about money, it's just not my style.
"In life all you can do is the best you can do, whether it's $100,000 a year or doing the best with $10 million a year or doing the best with $50,000 a year. You just do the best you can. If you were looking from the outside or you were a person that thinks you need money, then you can say (I needed to play to make money), but I don't think I need money. I was going to volunteer myself for the year teaching yoga at a centre in San Francisco. I had already dedicated my year to do that. I would have made zero. I didn't need money to make it this year. I pay child support, but I have enough money to pay child support. I haven't made $14 million in my career, but I don't need to play football."
He says he is not looking at this experience selfishly.
"I'm just an instrument. I'm not doing anything," he says. "It's not me. I'm fortunate enough to have this attitude so that I can see and learn from it. It's not about me. It's not what I can get out of it or what I can experience from this. It's bigger than that. Happiness only comes when you're where you're supposed to be and doing what you're supposed to be doing. Basically it all comes down to your attitude and what you're doing. The attitude I'm trying to cultivate is an attitude I'm not here for myself, I'm here to serve something greater than myself. With that open attitude, you're supposed to serving, it will come to you.
"It's just about being open and surrendering to something bigger than yourself. It's very subtle and it's very vague and it's hard to understand and it's hard to see, but if you can focus your mind on that idea then it manifests for you. Everything is a process. I have a natural sense of surrender and I was able to be open and have room to grow -- a positive atmosphere -- and I was able to grow very quickly and learn a whole lot about myself and a whole lot about life. It was a progression there and even still I learn more on a daily basis. I spent the last five months turning inward and looking, searching and going deeper into myself. It's an on-going process that I will continue for the rest of my life. Once you understand what life is about, you'd be a fool not to put all your energy to going down that path.
"We operate on two different levels. We have this body that was born and lives, it grows, it decays and then it dies. More subtle and pervasive than our body are our minds. We have all these thoughts, all these ideas, all these emotions, all these instincts, all these feelings. Then deeper than that is where the spirit lies, and the spirit is the cause of the mind and is the cause of the body. So when you operate on this level of spirit, there's no black, there's no white, there's no male, there's no female, there's no, 'I like this, I don't like that.'
"It's something that's deeper and all of us have in common that's exactly the same. When you operate on a spiritual level, then there's nothing to ever get upset about, nothing to argue about it. It's just acceptance and love. When you live and you deal with people on the level of the body and the mind, it's always this or it's always that. The mind is so subtle and it's so fast, people don't know what they're thinking. They just know what they feel. They don't know what's going on. That's why I think we need to work and deal with people on a spirit level, then you're able to see what's really inside of them.
"People that understand me, it is because they look at me in more of a spiritual way. If people say they like me it's because they understand me. If people say they don't like me, they don't understand me. It's as simple as that. Once you understand what life's about, you have no reason to dislike anyone; you have no reason to judge what they do, what they think or what they feel because you realize we're all here to learn lessons and we're all here doing our very best."
As we're talking I notice a tattoo of reggae singer Bob Marley on his right arm. He had it done a couple years ago.
"I would say he was my first teacher," Williams says. "He resonated with me as a kid and I listened to his music every day, all day almost. I don't listen to him so much anymore because I've moved past that stage. I think people that appreciate Bob Marley for what he's worth, they'd be much happier; they'd find more peace in their lives.
"The one thing that people don't realize is they say you are what you eat, but in a broader sense you are whatever you take in with your five senses. It becomes who you are. If you watch violence on TV, you can't help but take in some of those violent images. If you listen to violent, loud disturbing music, you can't help but take on some of those disturbing tendencies. If you eat bad food, you're going to take on some of those attributes. If people are just more conscious about what they watch, what they listen to, what they look at, what they smell, what they're around, then they'll find they have no peace in their lives. I think on a positive level.
"Being around Bob Marley's music at a young age really helped me in dealing with a kind of peace and laid-back acceptance that I've always had."
I asked Williams, who had three positive tests in the NFL for marijuana use -- but claims to have not smoked pot in more than a year -- if he believes Marley smoked grass as part of the Rastafarian religion.
"Part of it is religion, they didn't see it as a drug," he says. "They saw it as a gift from God or as part of nature; that it was there to assist them in their lives, in their meditation. That's the way that he looked at it.
"Very few people in the West can approach it that way because we don't have a connection to the earth like people who are so close to the earth. When I was in Australia (two years ago) living in a tent, I really connected with something that I never knew; that we come from the earth. It's hard to explain. To go to bed when the sun goes down and to wake up to the birds at five o'clock in the morning and not have four walls and to be out there, it really awakened some things inside of me. You realize that literally our bodies are made of nothing but food. We live in high rises, we lives in houses, we drive cars all the time, we walk on the sidewalks. We don't have that connection with nature. We buy our vegetables in cans from stores, so we don't have that connection. I think a lot of kids think vegetables come in cans.
"I don't think we have the capacity to understand or the experience to really understand what Mother Nature or the earth is and what it really means to us."
I wonder if he had a chance to meet three people, either alive or dead, who would they be? His answer proves to be the most interesting response of all in our one-hour dialogue.
"It would be myself," he says. "Because I can sit in the past and I can see the future. We're all eternal."
Because he believes we are all connected to the past, the present and the future and there are causes and effects binding it all together, I asked him if he knew or was in touch with the person he was three lifetimes ago.
"I don't want to go to that because people will think I'm weird," he says. "But the person, the body and the mind are different, but the soul is the same. They say it's like clothes or like a car. It's like you drive a car, it's wonderful, it does good and once it breaks down and it can't work anymore, then you get rid of it and you get a new car and you move on.
"You're the same person driving the car, it's just a different car. Or you wear clothes. The clothes get raggedy. You take them off and you throw them away and you get new clothes. The person wearing the clothes is the same, it's just a different clothing."
He is now wearing the clothing of the Toronto Argonauts. Next year he will be back in the uniform of the Miami Dolphins. In a few years from now, who knows what his attire will be. We only know he will be Ricky Williams, body and soul and with an eternal spiritual belief.