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Setting Standards for the Self

Former NFL superstar Ricky Williams discusses his journey with Cannabis in a mind-expanding conversation with the Leaf.

A mind-expanding conversation with former NFL superstar Ricky Williams

Every once in a while, an interview creeps up in your blind spot and absolutely floors you before you can even hear the footsteps. 

I should have seen it coming when, as I was emailing a representative for Errick Miron – formerly known as NFL legend Ricky Williams – she asked me for the place, date and time of my birth. After all, it’s not every day one of the best running backs in history pulls your astrological chart before you link up to talk about weed and psychedelics.

As the co-founder of Highsman, a multi-state Cannabis company built with hopes of inspiring people to be their best selves, Miron brings wisdom and poignant experience to the discourse around Cannabis, entheogenic medicine, and internal versus external identity. Miron discussed his history with the plant, his personal journey of self-discovery, astrology, and his goals for the future of his company. 

On changing his name to Ricky Miron:

“It’s more of a statement of my wife and my son, and us establishing a family based on our own values – which includes a lot of astrology and a lot of Cannabis. It’s not that it’s 100% alien from sports and football and where I’ve come from because it can’t be. That’s all part of my story. But it is a new direction. I’ve come from a certain place and I’m moving in a certain direction, and all of my experiences on the journey have comprised who I am. And I think sometimes we outgrow things – we outgrow jobs, we outgrow relationships. And I think sometimes we outgrow names. … I think I’m outgrowing that idea. It’s still part of who I am, but it’s moving into a different direction.”

On Highsman, Cannabis, and athletics

“Our tagline at Highsman is ‘Spark greatness.’ This ritual of lighting up, and ‘What problem, what issue, internal, external, am I going to go after?’ It’s funny; we punish and we ridicule athletes when they get in trouble for consuming, but we don’t ever ask ‘Why are they consuming?’ or ‘What are they doing when they’re consuming?’ The nature of an athlete is that we have opponents, problems, skills – we have these things we have to constantly work toward. For me, when I used Cannabis, I didn’t change. I didn’t just become a different person. It just gave me more breath, and more space, and more insight in which to think about and attack the problems and the issues that were showing up in my life. And I found that extremely useful. There wasn’t anyone in my personal circle or around me that was talking to me about Cannabis in that way, so I had to learn the hard way. The really hard way. So a big part of telling my story and getting this brand out is so people have access to these ideas, and ways to think about and use Cannabis and other psychedelics and entheogens.”

On his journey with Cannabis

“I feel compelled to go way back. My earliest memories, I was with my Aunt Sheila, and I remember dime bags. Dime bags – little bags of grass. And when we stayed at her house, she had a Cannabis plant that she grew in the corner. And so that was my first – not good, not bad – just my cool, kind of hippie aunt. And she was cool – she was like my favorite person growing up. So there was a positive association. And then, as I go through school and D.A.R.E., and I start having ideas of being a professional athlete, there starts to be conflict. It wasn’t a big part of my life, but still, conflict. Then, when I was seven or eight, my mom’s new boyfriend is a Rasta from Panama. And part of his daily ritual was, after work, he’d pull out his little yellow tray and he’d roll up and smoke a joint or two. Most of our earliest associations in life come through the sense of smell. So the two people in my life I see using Cannabis are people that I like. Positive influences in my life. … My mom’s boyfriend, he introduced me to reggae and Bob Marley, and that became a huge part of my life. I was one of those kids where I had the green, yellow and red Vans, and almost every day I was wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt, the first book I read was ‘Catch a Fire’ – I got the fever. But still, I was an athlete, so I didn’t buy into the Cannabis side of it yet. My favorite album was ‘Kaya,’ and I literally had the album cover taped to my wall – and I didn’t consume Cannabis. I started growing dreads and everyone assumed I was a smoker. But I wasn’t. Underneath it all, I was straight-laced and trying to be a real follower. At least I thought so. Then the smartest kid in school one day said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to my house at lunch, and we’ll hang out?’ We had open campus at lunch, so we go to his house, and again, he assumes I’m a smoker – so he brings out his sister’s bong. And you know, peer pressure, I was like, ‘Ah, I guess this is it!’ When the medicine calls! So I hit the bong, and I have no idea what I’m doing, I don’t know anything, so I just cough. After lunch we had Physics, and I remember sitting in class and being really confused. So that was my first experience. …”

“Fast forward through a couple of experiences to my senior year of college. I came back my senior year to try to get the Heisman Trophy … The season starts off kind of rough. We have a couple of rough games, my girlfriend leaves me and starts dating the quarterback on our team. I was having a really rough couple of weeks. My roommate’s like, ‘Dude, you just need to chill.’ So he brought out his little bong and had me take a couple of hits, and that was the first time I experienced what I would call the therapeutic effect. Because I was in a bad place. Mentally, my mind was taking me to a really dark place, and I remember smoking that night and laying on my bed, and it was the first night in weeks that I wasn’t obsessing about the girl and the performance, and that cleared some space. And then I started thinking about the future and thinking about how I was going to bounce back, and how I was going to handle the next week and get myself right. I ended up having back-to-back 300-yard rushing games. That’s, like, some kind of record. I do attribute Cannabis with helping me get my mind to a different place, so I could get myself to a different place. After that, I started to realize, ‘This is useful.’ Even that reflective state of mind, where I had the desire to understand what was going on – that became something more appealing to me.”

On taking risks for greatness, and how that inspired the creation of Highsman

“When I came back for my senior year (instead of going into the NFL draft), people told me I was crazy. I was risking getting hurt and all of this stuff, because my junior year I led the nation in rushing and scoring. I would have been a top-five pick. But I came back because I wanted to win the Heisman Trophy. I thought, ‘There’s very few people who even have the opportunity, let alone the opportunity to be the front runner. … It was obvious that it wasn’t a given, but I was like, ‘I’m this close, why not take a shot?’ It was the Heisman Trophy, and also I was really close to being the all-time leading rusher in college football history. These big dreams that people would remember me by. Or I could just be a really good college running back who went to the NFL. It was a choice. Greatness, or pretty good and keep it movin’. And I couldn’t resist going for it. That requires the ability to dream. Some people, they dream these huge fantasies that aren’t realistic. Sometimes you smoke too much, and the dreams get a little too lofty. Excess, OK? But if you don’t enter that imaginative state some, your life is going to be lacking. … For me, I saw this opportunity to go for it. I put all my eggs in one basket and I said I’m going for it. The season started and it didn’t start well. Things went to shit. I lost that imaginative state. And that’s when I found Cannabis as medicine, and it helped me reengage. It helped me lift out of that, and do the impossible. I broke all the records, I won the Heisman, I did all of it! And Cannabis helped me. That’s the story, and it’s not just sports – it’s anyone. Going for it. Taking your shot. What do you really want to accomplish with your life? Because as you go and try to accomplish it, there’s gonna be obstacles. There are gonna be things that knock you down. And you’ve gotta have a set of tools where you can transform those obstacles into fodder to help you grow and achieve what you’re capable of. … My background is as a professional football player. Every day for 15-20 years there was a coach giving me these rah-rah speeches of how to inspire me and encourage me to overcome obstacles. For me, consuming Cannabis didn’t erase all that – it enhanced it. I was more creative in how to take on the linebacker, or how to read this run scheme. And I think in order for us to be truly fulfilled and happy and achieve greatness in our life, we need the help of our imagination.”

On the role of Cannabis in helping him learn more about himself, and who he wants to be

“I know that’s why it’s a part of my life. The story that I was told is that it’s a drug, and it’s a problem. My experience is that it’s a tool, you know? It’s a useful tool. And it’s something that I’m always thinking about – how to grow and how to become a better person – and really what that means is how to become more of myself. And I’ve realized the experiences I have in the world, they trigger internal things for me to learn about myself. So I go out in the world, and I experience the things that trigger stuff up in me, and I consume Cannabis and I sit with what’s up. In that process, I get to really learn about myself. – so the next day when I go out into the world, I can be a more authentic version of myself because I’ve learned more about myself. I’ve found it’s just a great tool to facilitate that cycle of growth and development. It’s been a necessity because early in life, I struggled with the conflict between my external responsibilities and who I was supposed to be, and how it felt to me. And I think that through this process, I’ve learned to lean into going out, and coming in – you know, the breath of life.”

On psychedelics as a tool

“Cannabis is my favorite go-to. Again, these are tools, and if we were talking to a shaman, he would consider them tools of the trade – things he would have to learn to master so he could learn to work more efficiently in the space.” 

On the importance of ritual

“What I’ve found, of course, in our culture it usually begins with experimentation. But I’ve found that some form of ritual around the use of psychedelics and entheogens, for me, is paramount. It’s extremely important. Not to get on a soap box, but that kind of is my soap box. Not to be, you know, ‘You have to get in a yurt.’ But I do mean some kind of mindfulness. It’s dangerous to talk about soul-revealing entheogens, like god-words, in a culture that doesn’t really believe in God. I think some kind of ritual creates some kind of container for the experience. …”

“I think the most important rituals are the unconscious ones. As I said that, the image that jumped into my mind was specifically around Cannabis use because it’s something that’s been taboo and something that’s been done in secret, in secretive ways, and a lot of the rituals which really induce us into the experience have this kind of seedy, ‘I’m doing something wrong, I might get caught.’ That’s part of the ritual. … A big part of what (Highsman) is about is starting to change that, to change the rituals and the mindset, the way we think about and consume Cannabis. And, more importantly, what do we do after we consume? That’s what it’s about.” 

On non-Cannabis entheogens and their relationship to the plant

“I can’t honestly say there are other things that I look forward to, or that I move towards. For me, it’s more like, when the medicine calls, I listen. But it’s not something that I seek out. I feel like Cannabis is that daily tool – the tool you use on a daily basis like brushing your teeth. You’ve gotta floss and brush your teeth on a more or less regular basis. Right? That’s just maintenance. But then every six months, you go in for the cleaning. You’ve got that pick, and you get that deeper cleaning. I feel like on those kinds of regular intervals that the more powerful medicine calls.”

“It’s interesting, the connection between what I’m calling more powerful medicine and more potent medicine and Cannabis. A lot of times, I’ve noticed people, when they try and consume Cannabis, a lot of anxiety and fear, and a lot of things come up for them. A really powerful, nice dose of psilocybin can help them in a more intense way release some things, so then as they consume Cannabis, there’s more space there. They’ve cleaned some things out. It’s like when you let the garage get really, really messy, and then you try to sweep it, and it’s like, ‘This isn’t doing anything! I have to devote my whole day to the garage!’ Right? And you go through it. Then, once you clean and you sweep, it’s like, ‘Ah, it feels good.’”

On meditation

“Probably my number one tool is meditation. In songs, Bob Marley talked about Cannabis and meditation, but from what I saw on the outside world, it didn’t seem like anyone else thought those two things went together. But that was my experience. I didn’t realize until I started doing yoga and started meditating that I was like, ‘Oh, I know this feeling. I’ve been here before.’ So that’s when I started putting the pieces together. Just through experiences, and making correlations between my internal experience and saying, ‘Wow.’ In a football game, I’m in the zone, and everything is clicking, right? It’s the same thing in meditation, same thing with the right ritual and the right mindset with Cannabis and other entheogens. This is at least my experience.”

On internal subjective experience

“What I’ve been thinking about Cannabis recently is that it helps us become more aware of our internal subjective experience. I think, internally, subjectively, we have much more in common. If we look external, we tend to be more attracted to what is different about us.” 

On astrology, Cannabis, and the internal self

“You look at someone with the eyes, right? And you see this is a guy, certain age, or this is a female, and you start to come up with all these ideas of who this person is based on something external. And then you say, ‘What’s your sign?’ ‘Oh, I’m a Gemini.’ Now you’re connected to something that’s more internal, where you see that someone is more than just, as my teacher would say, a bag of meat. The body. There’s something else there. And that’s, at least for me, one of the things that I love about Cannabis – because when we start consuming, especially with other people, we feel more comfortable revealing more of our inner self, to show people who we really are. And once people start to show you who they really are, the external part kind of fades away, because who cares?”

On choosing Cannabis regardless of the rules

“There’s a funny quote that comes out every 4/20 – it’s a quote from me and it says, ‘I got high and forgot I wasn’t supposed to get high.’ There was this thing where the biggest issue in my life became these drug tests, and the potential harm that might come. That became the biggest stressor in my life. And sometimes in order to not think about that, yeah, I smoked a little bit. In my imagination, I lived in a world where I wasn’t being piss-tested all the time. And I needed that feeling, and feeling like I’m not a criminal in order to maintain some kind of sanity. It was frustrating, but it led me on this journey. It forced me to make decisions about what was important to me. We talk about mental health, but if we look at the choices that people make in their lives, they keep choosing to do things that aren’t good for their mental health. And we have all these reasons and justifications. I was just someone who said, ‘I really am going to value my mental health.’ What does that mean? I’m gonna ask myself, ‘Does this feel good to me?’ I think as a football player, so much of the training was ‘it doesn’t matter.’ We still have to score touchdowns. If it hurts, all the better. My training was one way, and Cannabis really helped me create that balance, and realize that I gotta learn to listen to myself and take care of myself, and do what feels good to me – regardless of what the external world thinks.”

On plans to expand Highsman’s goals to include psilocybin and other entheogenic tools

“(Highsman) is really all of it. I’m wrestling with the guys, but eventually, we’re gonna find a way to squeak a little astrology in here. Because it really is about tools to help people achieve their greatness – not by chasing something externally – but from understanding internally what you are truly capable of. So, for us, really, Highsman is about anything. It’s a lifestyle. … To me, it’s more about, if you’re constantly – this is again, my football background – if in the back of your mind, somewhere, you’re constantly thinking about how you can be more yourself, how you can be more creative, then all the choices you make are going to be feeding and supporting that idea.”

highsman.com | @highsman

About Tom Bowers

Tom Bowers is in this with all of you.

This article was originally published in the August 2022 issue of All Magazines.

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