Magazine article Ebony

Ricky Williams New Man, New Attitude New Beginning: After Casting His Demons Aside, Miami Dolphins Star Turns His Life Around

Magazine article Ebony

Ricky Williams New Man, New Attitude New Beginning: After Casting His Demons Aside, Miami Dolphins Star Turns His Life Around

Article excerpt

RICKY Williams--Heisman Trophy winner, first-round draft pick, symbol of power and strength--is one of the most bruising and punishing running backs in the National Football League, but for most of his 25 years, all 5-foot-10 and 228 pounds of him has been held in the strangling grip of social anxiety disorder, a medical condition that causes him to fear normal, everyday interactions with normal, everyday people.

And for a time, it was so bad that--with the exception of going to games and practice--Williams' life was primarily limited to the inside of his home. "There were times when I would get dressed with the intention of going out for the night, then I'd remember that I'd have to deal with people who might recognize me," says the former New Orleans Saints star who was traded to the Miami Dolphins this year. "Sometimes I was just too fearful to handle something like that."

As Ricky remained holed up in his home, his self-esteem plummeted, and he almost walked away from football. But his life began to turn around in early 2001 when he sought the help of a therapist and found out that he is one of the 10 million Americans who are victims of social anxiety disorder, the most common anxiety disorder and the third most common psychiatric disorder in the United States, after depression and alcoholism. Typically, the condition causes sufferers to intensely fear being scrutinized by other people in social and performing situations, and Williams' condition apparently got worse and worse as he got older.

For as far back as he can remember, the San Diego-born superstar says his painful shyness dictated his life, shaping his actions to the point that his childhood friends called him "crazy" and later his antics prompted football teammates to describe him as "a head case and just plain weird."

It was while Williams was with the Saints that his debilitating fear escalated and his reclusive, bizarre behavior shifted to overdrive. To avoid eye contact, it was customary for him to do interviews without taking off his helmet (complete with darkened visor); he was mortified to enter an occupied elevator; if it was mandatory to appear at public events, he'd hide in a restroom until the last minute; and at one time, he left the stadium in full uniform to avoid reporters.

"At that time, I didn't do a very good job of dealing with the media or fans," Ricky says. …

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