As the NFL moves forward with a new CBA, one of the major overhauls of previous agreements pertains to marijuana use. Since its inception, the NFL has infamously villainized several players, from Ricky Williams to Josh Gordon, over failed drug tests resulting from the use of marijuana. Now, with a new provision that takes away marijuana-related punishments, it’s time to look back at one player who would have benefited from such rules during his playing days.
The Bernard Williams story
Williams came to the NFL after a successful career in college as a Georgia Bulldog. As a left tackle, Williams impressed scouts with his movement and football instincts. This is why the Philadelphia Eagles had no problem drafting him midway through the first round of the 1994 NFL Draft.
At 6’8″ tall and 317 lbs, Williams was built like a brick wall, and the Eagles thought that having such a presence on their offensive line would bring nightmares to the other teams. That type of size combined with skill at the position is a luxury to this day, and Williams had the potential for a long career in the NFL.
This began to take shape, as Williams made a difference on the football field. While tackles historically have a job that doesn’t necessarily reflect on a stat sheet, Williams immediately made his way into the Eagles’ starting lineup. He started every game during his rookie season, but would soon find his career short-lived.
One and done
Unfortunately for Bernard Williams, this proved to be his only season in the NFL. As much promise as Williams had on the field, the NFL’s strict anti-drug policies meant that every time he failed a drug test, he would be suspended. Those who were caught more than once would also face stricter punishments with each ensuing incident.
“This was a test that I failed a while ago,” Williams said (per UPI). “I smoked marijuana. I don’t deny it. It’s something I’m ashamed of. Everybody makes mistakes. Nobody is perfect.”
While society as a whole is more relaxed on marijuana-use, the NFL was not until recently. Williams went on to fail 15 drug tests. The result of this was a lifetime ban from the NFL. He tried to keep his football dreams alive in arena football, the XFL, and the CFL of Canada, but now Williams is viewed as a cautionary tale and a sign of how things have changed.
Bernard Williams looking back
Williams has spoken candidly about what happened with his NFL dreams. Now in his 40s, his football days are behind him, as are his chances at making it in the NFL. Williams put some perspective on his life in a 2019 interview with Rivals.com.
In the interview, Williams candidly shared how a slew of family deaths and his aunt’s incarceration led to his marijuana use as a means to relax. Furthermore, the NFL’s rule changes in 1994 helped make him a sacrificial lamb.
“I didn’t drink or take drugs while in high school, and smoked [marijuana] some in college when, honestly, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Williams said.
“There was no drug policy during my rookie season in the NFL, so I picked up the habit of smoking pot. Marijuana was my way of dealing with the pain and the stress of football.”
Williams has stuck to football, coaching at local Atlanta high schools and training his nephew, Eric Berry, who has his dreams of football glory. All in all, Williams is not one of history’s villains. Instead, he is a look at how past views on a complicated subject might have cost him a true NFL career.
Now, everyone from Joe Montana to Ricky Williams is in the marijuana business. With the new rules, Bernard cannot get back on the NFL field, but another generation of players will be able to do so without having the same trajectory. This, in itself, is a victory for professional football.