By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
By Terrence McCoy
By Terrence McCoy
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By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Munzenrieder
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"I was in my corn state," Ricky says he realized. "I had dumped football and left my life behind. I was starting fresh."
He received intermittent calls from Kristin. "She wasn't even my girlfriend at the time," Ricky says. "She thought I was crazy. I think she was just calling to make sure I hadn't killed myself or whatever."
After hanging out for a month or so, the two new buds planned an Asian tour on Ricky's dime. The idea was to fly from Bangkok to Beijing to India. But once in Thailand, the pair got separated for a couple of days. Ricky couldn't get a visa to visit China because he had washed his passport in his pants.
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So he trekked to the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai looking for a particular pair of jade chopsticks. But while he was waiting in a bar lobby for a shuttle to the jade factory, the bartender switched on a little TV set and there was an NFL football game: the Oakland Raiders versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"All these feelings came back," Ricky says. He got Kristin on the phone: "Can you get me on the next flight going home?"
He ended up bidding adieu to Steve in Bangkok and catching a ride on a private jet with the musician Lenny Kravitz, who was on a world tour.
When Ricky returned, Pamphilon said the film project was bigger than he expected. The monthlong contract turned into a multiyear enterprise. The director filmed as Ricky studied the holistic medicine of ayurveda in the hills of California, returned to the Dolphins to fulfill his contract, and was suspended for a season after a fourth positive drug test. Pamphilon trailed him as he did a mercenary stint for the Canadian league Toronto Argonauts, returned to the Dolphins, where he was redeemed in the eyes of Miami fans, and finally married Kristin in 2009 — and, apparently, did a lot of brooding in dark rooms throughout.
Pamphilon sold the resulting film to ESPN with Ricky's permission. Run Ricky Run aired as part of the network's "30 for 30" series and was loaded with bombshells. Chief among them was the accusation, made by Ricky's mother, Sandy, that his father had sexually molested him before abandoning the family. (Errick Williams Sr., who denied any recollection of the incident in the documentary, couldn't be reached for comment for this story. He declared bankruptcy in 1990 and 2004 and now dabbles in the ministry. According to property records, he and his new wife, Patricia, filed for ownership of God's House of Deliverance Church in Roanoke, Texas, this June.)
Kristin and Sandy say they had no idea the film would be publicly broadcast. "If you had told me that this was going to be on ESPN," Ricky's mom says of her participation, "believe me, it wouldn't have happened."
Ricky also takes issue with the documentary's portrayal of him as depressed and grappling with social anxiety disorder. "I thought it would be one summer where I never even had to see him," he says of Pamphilon, "and it turned into this long, drawn-out five-year project where he got to blame me for everything in his life that wasn't going well."
Shown a working version of the movie, Ricky says, he demanded that Pamphilon remove his mother-in-law's conjecture that he might kill himself.
"Sean, suicide never, ever crossed my mind, not for one millisecond, during the whole process," Ricky remembers telling the filmmaker. "If someone else can't understand what it's like to be free, and they think that's killing themselves, that has nothing to do with me, so don't put that in the film."
Pamphilon allows that he removed talk of suicide. But he stands by the documentary, calling Ricky's protests "revisionist history."
At times, Pamphilon says, even he wondered if the exiled football star might be plotting his own death. "He wants a video library built for him so his kids know who their father is, and I'm thinking, Why the fuck don't you tell them yourself?" the filmmaker says. "Is this dude having me do this because he's going to kill himself?"
Ricky also appeared in a Pamphilon-produced segment on Fox in which he discussed having an anxiety disorder, and he once had a $500,000 contract to promote Paxil. But now he says he doesn't believe he ever had any such disorder or needed the drug. He was just confused by his inability to adapt to the NFL.
And he wasn't smoking weed to self-medicate, either. "I was using marijuana because I liked the way it felt to be high," Ricky says. "I mean, isn't that why everyone uses marijuana?"
He and the filmmaker — who recently made headlines when he controversially released audiotapes of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams putting an injury bounty on opponents — have a strange relationship. Kristin calls Pamphilon Ricky's "girlfriend" because he calls so often, and they get into bickering fits.
They're currently not on speaking terms because of an argument about the effect of concussions, Pamphilon says. Ricky believes that thanks to his spiritual training, he is safe from dementia caused by football's hard helmet hits. He even posits that former NFLers effectively will the deterioration of their own bodies and brains to solidify the only identity they know: as former football players.