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Ricky Williams wants to make weed gyms a way of life

The former NFL star talked to SB Nation about opening a new gym in San Francisco, Power Plant, that he wants to make part of a movement.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

In July, retired NFL running back Ricky Williams is going to Colorado to hit the green for the Ricky Williams Laurel Rosebud Invitational. Once he’s done with a little bit of recreation, the former NFL running back will put his golf clubs down and speak about the benefits of cannabis.

Mixing sports with cannabis use isn’t exactly a foreign concept for Williams; he’s renowned for it. That association resulted in unfavorable consequences as a young adult.

"I think I’d be going into the Hall of Fame. No doubt about it," Williams said. Still, he’s finding more support as he gets older.

But instead of being part of a broadcast crew, Williams laced up his shoes for an athletic competition called the 420 Games. He was running and competing for WeedMaps, a website dedicated to reviewing cannabis co-ops, dispensaries and doctors.

If this idea makes you giggle, it should to a certain degree. The event is self-aware of the preconceptions of marijuana users, so much so that its signature event is the 4.20-mile run. But they’re glad that a few snicker at the sight of some potheads mellowing out and getting some exercise. It’s the only way they’ll have your undivided attention. It’s through this that Williams hopes change opinions.

Through the 420 Games, Williams met founder Jim McAlpine, who was looking to expand his cannabis-related ventures with a new gym in San Francisco called the Power Plant. The Power Plant will be just like any gym, really. You’ll have your cardio equipment on one side. On the other will be weights, and the facility will have lockers. But as you enter, you will be welcomed with workout treats -- baked goods that’ll get you baked.

Each treat will offer its own special sensation. Are you interested in a tranquil feeling to appreciate the time spent at a stationary bike? Chances are there will be an edible for that.  The pre-workout powdered mixture might be a thing of the past at the Power Plant.

"Another thing is training," Williams said. "I find that sometimes if I don’t feel like training and I can't get myself up, sometimes I’ll use a little bit of cannabis and I’ll have an amazing workout."

The idea of merging physical fitness and mental health isn’t unorthodox, though it’s something that might be overlooked. The same sense of unity that often comes through the peace and heightened senses of marijuana is downright analogous to a good workout.

A focused session at the gym can find you tuning out everything around you. You’re no longer at the park or your gym. You are in a vacuum and the only things to focus on are your body and your consciousness. Every deep breath and movement  --  though they initially appear to be individual functions -- become interconnected more so during a run. And during this, the conscious mind steps back and appreciates the autonomy. It’s a high of its own.

In many ways, it represents a sense of unity not found in many other activities. Williams himself has touched on this idea of unity in his 2014 TED Talk.

"It’s about fitness and wellness. How it affects your mind, your body and your soul."

Williams hopes to make that gym high even higher, though he doesn’t practice it himself much. He has always preferred to consume marijuana for recreational purposes. It’s what got him a four-game suspension from the NFL in 2004 and ultimately led to his early retirement from the game. He’ll be the first to admit that it has altered his life.

"I got myself in a bit of trouble," he said. "I probably lost out on several million dollars. Another way to look at it is that if it wasn’t a banned substance, my life would be very different. Similar to people who are incarcerated for cannabis-related non-violent offenses. Their lives would be completely different."

Since Ricky Williams was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 1999, four states  --  Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington -- have legalized it for recreational use. Twenty others have passed legislation for its medicinal use.

Still, Williams says there’s a distinction between his situation a decade ago and former Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil’s in 2016.

"He’s still a first-round pick," he said. "And after the season starts and he starts playing, it’s something that people will forget about really quickly."

That’s not to say that cannabis use is free from any sort of stigma, especially in the NFL.

On draft night this year, Tunsil saw his stock plummet when a video emerged on Twitter that showed him smoking pot while wearing a gas mask. He was projected to be picked in the top three spots and no lower than the top six, but ended up sliding to the 13th spot where the Miami Dolphins drafted him.

"Ten years ago, he wouldn’t have been drafted number 13," Williams said. "Twenty years ago, he wouldn’t have been drafted number 13. He would’ve been drafted in the third round."

The conversation regarding Tunsil could have steered to concerns over cybersecurity given that Tunsil himself didn’t post that video on his Twitter. (Tunsil’s attorneys believe his former financial manager posted the video, which was actually taken two years prior to the draft, and are investigating the matter). Critics could have also pointed to his first interview as a Miami Dolphin when he cavalierly admitted to receiving money from Ole Miss. But at that moment, the public was fixated on Tunsil wearing a gas mask to smoke.

Tunsil wasn’t the only player whose cannabis use affected his NFL career that month. A few weeks before the draft, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon learned that the NFL denied his reinstatement after testing positive for marijuana in March. He can apply for reinstatement in August.

Even recently, the Baltimore Ravens -- a team that skipped Tunsil with sixth overall pick to take another offensive tackle -- released starting left tackle Eugene Monroe. Monroe is vocal about the benefits of medical marijuana, and even penned an editorial at The Players’ Tribune urging the NFL to remove marijuana from its list of banned substances.

Still, Williams is more optimistic about the support he has been getting. And while taking an edible and working out sounds like a very lighthearted activity, Williams is looking further into social action.

"I feel like I finally found a cause that I’m passionate about," he said. "It's about raising awareness and raising money to push the initiative in this country to regulate cannabis, and get people out of prison [for nonviolent cannabis-related offenses]."

Williams has never been shy about who he is. That’s at the core of what he’s trying to accomplish with the golf tournament and with cannabis in general.

"We’re trying to start a movement," he said. "It’s not about cannabis to me, really. It’s more about people realizing that they have a voice and that they can change. But cannabis right now is a great example of how that works. Or how it could work."