Chris Jones, a writer for ESPN The Magazine, recently wrote an article making a case for Ricky Williams being enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame. Williams has 10,009 career rushing yards. He has rushed for 1,000 or more yards in 5 of 11 seasons and led the NFL in rushing in 2003 with the Miami Dolphins. His numbers are similar to other solid RBs like Clinton Portis, Shaun Alexander, and even Stephen Davis to a lesser extent. He currently ranks 26th in career rushing.
Williams also carries controversy with his suspensions for marijuana use and his abrupt retirement prior to the 2004 season. Williams was an enigma with his social anxiety disorder and created controversy with his NFL draft picture with Mike Ditka when he was dressed in a wedding gown. He even conducted interviews while wearing his helmet with the tinted visor.
It is hard to argue that Williams deserves to be in the Hall of Fame based on his play because his career wasn't exceptional. The issues with the abrupt retirement and the suspensions likely won't help his cause. Those reasons aren't why Jones thinks Williams should be in the Hall of Fame however.
Jones argues Williams should be in the Hall of Fame simply because he survived football, not because he played it exceptionally well. Because Williams was only physically built, but didn't have the typical persona or passion of other NFL players, Williams stood out among the rest because of his personality. Williams may have been physically superior to many players in the NFL, but his path was undoubtedly harder because of his depression and anxiety. Does the fact that Williams overcame such issues give him an advantage when it comes to who is inducted in the Hall of Fame? If we were to open that can of worms, where would we stop when it comes to inducting players though? By going down this path, you could have people supporting players for induction simply because they were high character guys or were involved with many charities. Likewise, we could look at withholding people from the Hall of Fame because of issues, whether it was NFL suspensions or legal issues.
I like Williams and I never criticized him for retiring early, but I was only disappointed at the timing of his retirement when the season was about to start. I had issues with his drug suspensions, but I have long forgiven him for the timing of his retirement and his suspensions. I have a great amount of respect for the way he came back to the NFL and with him being so open about his personal life. But as much as I appreciate Williams, I just can't bring myself to support him for the Hall of Fame. I simply go by what he has done on the field. I don't want to open that can of worms by inducting people for what they endured off the field. It's a dangerous path to go down. I know Jones has a unique understanding and appreciation for Williams as he traveled with him to Australia and got to see his life firsthand, but I think he may be letting his personal feelings about Williams cloud his judgement in whether he believes Williams is a Hall of Fame player. Williams is one of my favorite players and I will always have a great appreciation for what he has done, but it's just hard for me to support him for enshrinement. I just wish his career could've had just a bit more luster so I could make an argument as to why he should be in the Hall of Fame.