ESPN 30 for 30: Run Ricky Run (2010)

Directed by Sean Pamphilon & Royce Toni

The symptom of the celebrity is often fleeting and forgotten. Such is the case of Ricky Williams. Say his name today and some will recall a time when he was running over defenses either at Texas where he won the Heisman Trophy, college football’s highest honor, or in the NFL where he won the rushing title with the Dolphins. Others still will recall the loss of talent to the evil of extracurricular interests. I have two questions to pose before entering fully into my review of the subject of Ricky Williams. The first is do people even know that Williams still plays in the NFL? It seems as though he has been quickly forgotten. The second question would be do you believe in fate or free will? Destiny or you pave your own path?

I ask this question because there was much controversy surrounding Ricky Williams when he decided to retire early from the NFL. Barry Sanders and Jim Brown also did this and each of the three received their critics, but “when is the right time to quit football?” asked Williams. I guess the fact that he dropped off the face of the earth, moving to rural  California to smoke pot, practice Yoga and learn the ways of Holistic medicine may have also alienated those who felt walking away from millions of dollars was insane. But I ask of you, what is the difference between Williams walking away and another famous football player who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract in the NFL, Pat Tillman? I would say the only difference is perspective.

And on the point of perspective, the film I think bears with it some basic bias based on the fact that one of the filmmakers was/is a friend of Williams. But what is also refreshing given that fact is the approach of the film, which stems from Williams’ own personal philosophy, which is a presentation of warts and all. Pat Tillman went off to fight for his country, Williams went off to fight for himself. I think there is nothing more admirable than standing up for what you believe in, especially in the face of tremendous media pressure. Who are we to call him the villain when it is us, the fans, who pay him money to go out there and punish his body alongside 21 other players?

The issue with Williams is that we are never sure whether he is insane, or in fact the sanest person we know, as friend/journalist Dan LeBetard put it. Why did he give up everything? We never really know. He proclaims his love of the game, even in the absence of it. But when a man takes an entirely incentives based contract when he didn’t have to, simply so he could “earn his money”, his sanity comes into question. But why? Doesn’t that make sense? Isn’t that how most of us make our money, based off of performance? Money is not important to this man, just his joy and pleasure, so why knock him for that?

The film is as much a spiritual journey taken with Williams as it is a story about him. For me, I had a great time contemplating the societal conundrums Ricky was living under his alternative life path chosen by his heart instead of his bank account or PR man. It is refreshing to see somebody pursue their passions and follow their heart when faced with the criticism he experienced. Is Ricky Williams the perfect example to follow, absolutely not. He made mistakes and his choices may not have always been that wholesome or All-American, but we should not be pressured by society to live a life other than the one we want to live. Is this review a little over inquisitive and biased towards my own personal feelings? Absolutely, but honesty pays.

*** – Good

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