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  Too Early To Judge Ricky
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Shock and dismay vibrated through Dolphin Nation this past week. A leaked report from a league source revealed that Ricky Williams once again violated the league’s substance abuse policy. If the news proves true it would be Ricky’s fourth strike, bringing a one year ban from the league and, quite possibly, the end of his career.

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I’m not going to pretend to know what substance Ricky Williams tested positive for. I’m also not going to pretend to know what will happen when his appeal is heard by the league in April.

 

What we do know is that three highly respected individuals have immediately come to his defense. That, in and of itself, should give us all reason to pause and consider the facts before throwing Ricky under the proverbial bus.

 

This may sound remarkable coming from me, someone who was a hard critic of Ricky’s selfish abandonment of the team in 2004. Apologists who tried to justify Ricky’s actions at that time carried no merit with me. They still don’t. As far as I am concerned, what Williams did was flat wrong.

 

Ricky returned to the Dolphins on a very short leash. If Ricky messed up again, owner Wayne Huizenga would likely push Nick Saban out of his way and lay the team’s $8.6 million federal court judgment upside Ricky’s head.

 

Certainly, Ricky’s motivation for returning was questionable. He had bills to pay and he couldn’t afford to shell out the $8.6 million he owed the Dolphins. Even with that, it seemed as though Ricky was resigned to declaring bankruptcy rather than returning under circumstances to which he deemed undesirable.

 

When he finally returned to the team, there was every reason to expect the worst.

 

Instead, Ricky surprised just about everyone. He took his medicine like a man. He apologized to his teammates, he worked his tail off, he played hard and well, and he was a positive presence in the locker room. In short, he did everything the Dolphins asked of him.

 

So how could Ricky fail another drug test? How could he allow this to happen? How could he let down so many who had so much faith in him?

 

Maybe he hasn’t. Maybe this is all a mistake, just a bad combination of herbs and supplements setting off the alarm. We do know that, if it was an herb, it wasn’t marijuana, the substance he tested positive for the last three times.

 

While this is an interesting fact, the really intriguing insight comes from three respected men who know Ricky better than most others.

 

At the NFL’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Saban was solid in his support for Williams.

 

“If I was going to say, ‘who are the five guys that you enjoyed coaching the most in your however many years I’ve been coaching, college, pro, it doesn’t make any difference in terms of being a good guy, being a good person, being a hard worker, being a good team player, being a great competitor, in my coaching career,’ he would be one of the top guys I have ever been associated with in that way.”

 

And this comment to the Sun-Sentinel from former Dolphin offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, now the St. Louis Rams head coach: “He came back and stood in front of that team he knew he'd walked away from the year before and said, `I'm going to make amends and do things the right way’. He did everything and more, and really helped our rookie back become a very effective pro and helped him get to the next level. I think the world of the guy.”

 

Finally, respected agent Leigh Steinberg in an interview he gave to ESPN-1400 in South Florida: "(Ricky’s) worked too hard to get back in a position where he was at one with his teammates. He loves playing for the Miami Dolphins and has an outstanding relationship with his teammates and Nick Saban. There's no way he would've jeopardized that. Whatever the problems were (they) are going to be fixed. I don't believe that Ricky Williams has used drugs since the point he decided to return to the NFL a year ago.”

 

Of the three men above, the one guy who would have the most cause to be angry and unsupportive is Saban. After all, it was Saban who stuck his neck out for Williams last year. Privately, he and GM Randy Mueller were hoping to receive a lucrative offer for Williams in a trade that could net the team high draft picks which could be used to solve the team’s pressing need for a franchise quarterback. That plan, somewhat of long shot to begin with, seems all but ruined now.

 

Nevertheless, Saban has been unequivocal in his support for Williams and his disdain for the person(s) who leaked the test results. Don’t think for a moment that his players aren’t taking notice of this. They understand now, more than ever, that Saban will treat them fairly and with respect. Little things like this tend to make players want to play harder and sacrifice more in times of need.

 

To many, Ricky Williams understandably remains on that proverbial short leash. Perhaps he’s guilty, perhaps not. If the NFL appeals board is indeed fair and objective in its assessment of the facts, we can be sure that this matter will be correctly settled.

 

In the meantime, we shouldn’t be in a rush to judge. If Ricky broke the rules again, he’ll get what he deserves. But if he’s innocent, we will have harmed a man who has worked hard to make things right.

 


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