The Straight-Ahead Runner

Ricky Williams was always more powerful than shifty as a runner, and his intellectual style was straight-ahead, too. He’s now back with the Miami Dolphins, off marijuana, and just as honest as ever. The first question Williams got asked by reporters after attending practice Nov. 12 concerned his “motivation for returning.” Williams didn’t feign any great love for the game. “I’m at a place now where it’s easier for me to appreciate being a football player,” he said. “I hated being a football player before.”

Williams said he needed to support his family and get an education that would enable him to make a living. “My motivation is to get my life going again. Being out of football in the situation I was in makes it difficult, you know? I want to create a better life for myself and for my family, and being a football player, for me, is a big part of that… I’m not necessarily looking for it to end on a high note. It’s just going to help me get to where I want to be. I want to get on with my life. I want to go back to school and pursue a profession outside of football. Playing football is the best way for me to get there.”

The NFL made him go through five and a half months of “treatment” for his marijuana use. Dolphins’s coach Cam Cameron used the occasion of Williams’s return to direct a few kisses towards the butt of commissioner Roger Goodell. “I have a lot of respect for the commissioner and how he has handled a lot of situations in this off-season, and this situation in particular,” Cameron told reporters. “I know how thorough everything was done as it relates to Ricky. For him to be reinstated by our commissioner, knowing what he stands for, that impacted me tremendously.”

The Dolphins have an 0-9 record this season and haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, when Williams was suspended after testing positive for marijuana. His teammates wanted him back, which is what coach Cameron meant when he jibbered, “you rely on the leadership of your locker room and quality professionals like we have, and you get their input, and that was the major part of the decision.”

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a column about Williams’s return that made some good points. The man is 30 years old and has missed three seasons of his prime, “it’s inconceivable that he could return to his peak as an athlete, when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row, including a league-leading 1,853 in 2002…. We’ll never know what Williams might have achieved if the NFL testing program stuck to its real purpose. Few people would argue that pot gives a football player a competitive advantage, or… represents a threat to public safety. So why does the NFL poke around an employee’s body fluids for this stuff?

“Lawbreaking isn’t sufficient explanation. In other matters, the commissioner reacts to criminal activity after the police have filed a report. He doesn’t dig up the dirt himself. But for recreational drug use, the league has the equivalent of a blanket search warrant. Foolishly, the union signed it.

“The tests for marijuana and cocaine -also performed by the NBA- are social pacifiers, nothing more. They don’t clean up the game. They spit-shine its image.”

Knapp errs in generalizing that marijuana use by NFL players is “recreational.” Marijuana is an anti-inflammatory, analgesic and relaxant -exactly what’s needed after getting banged up. The line between medical and recreational use can be thin as air, invisible even to the user.

A. Mitchell Palmer

“Never trust a man who parts his name on the right.” -Herb Caen

“Young J. Edgar,” a new book by historian Kenneth Ackerman, is about the Palmer Raids, the huge round-ups of radicals and immigrants that took place in the U.S. at the end of World War One under Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Young John Edgar Hoover, an ambitious 24-year-old running the Justice Department’s investigation division, orchestrated the round-ups and subsequent deportation efforts. The atmosphere in Washington, D.C. was so much like the present that Ackerman doesn’t have to make a point of it.

Palmer was a friend and ally of Woodrow Wilson. He had started out as a Pennsylvania Congressman, lost a bid for a Senate seat in 1914, and was named “Alien Property Administrator” in 1916 when Wilson led the U.S. into the war in 1916 (after winning a second term under the slogan “He kept us out of war”). German companies owned almost $1 billion in U.S. assets at the start of the war. Palmer charged that they were all threats to national security.

“In a dazzling display of raw executive muscle,” writes Ackerman, “he quickly seized dozens of major German firms, thousands of patents, and millions of dollars in financial assets: the Bayer Company, where his agents found 23 trunks of alleged German espionage files; the railroad-industrial giant Orenstein-Arthur Koppel Company; 18 branches of German insurance companies; the Bosch Magneto Company; the Hamburg-American shipping line; and the German-American Lumber Company, among others. He sold each of these companies to new American owners, often at bargain prices, raising charges of cronyism and fraud. He seized over 4,000 German chemical patents and conveyed them to a new American company. By the war’s end, he had built a staff of 300 employees spread out across four office buildings… In Berlin they called him ‘the official American pickpocket.’ In America his nickname was ‘the Fighting Quaker.'”

The large-scale confiscation of German property fanned the flames of national self-pity (the emotional basis of fascism) and set a precedent of sorts for the Nazis’ confiscation of property owned by Jews.

Ackerman’s book makes it understandable that young J. Edgar Hoover could get credit for his role in the Palmer raids when they happened, then deny his level of involvement when their illegality was exposed; hit it off with Palmer’s Republican successor (an Ohio lawyer named Daugherty, who soon went down in the Teapot Dome scandal) and then to Harlan Fiske Stone (brought in by Coolidge to restore some semblance of integrity to the Justice Department); build the investigation division into the FBI; and ultimately get retained by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who also retained Harry Anslinger as head of the Federal Narcotics Bureau).

The only other job young J. Edgar ever had before coming to the Justice Dept. was at the Library of Congress, where he learned the power of file cards for information retrieval. When Hoover was shining on Harlan Fiske Stone, he didn’t tell him that he already was keeping tabs on 450,000 Americans.

Hoover’s father, who had worked 42 years for the federal map-printing office, was dismissed without a pension after coming down with a mysterious mental illness. He was committed to an asylum, then spent his remaining years at home, non compos mentis. One wonders if the disease wasn’t syphilis, and the cause of young J. Edgar’s odd physiognomy, that “bulldog” look. What is it, exactly -a malformation around the bridge of the nose?

Proactive Clean-up

In the days following the Golden Gate oil spill, residents of Stinson Beach were cited for trying to lay out a line that would block the tarry crude from reaching the shore. In San Francisco hundreds of people took it upon themselves to clean up oil globs on Ocean Beach, ignoring law enforcers’ orders to desist. This kind of direct action is what my friend Tod Mikuriya used to call “proactive structuralism.” In the conversation that still goes on in my head (like playing tennis against a wall) I tell him that it was also an example of “temporal chauvinism” (Tod’s phrase) because the Coast Guard commandant’s excuse for or seven hours of inaction was: “the fog was too thick for our helicopter to assess the extent of the spill.” Couldn’t a couple of boats with radios have assessed the size of the slick? The superiority of rowboats to helicopters for certain rescue operations was also manifest in New Orleans after the levees broke … Similarly, San Francisco firefighters prefer old wooden ladders to the fiberglass ones that replaced because wooden ladders fail by burning, which gives the firefighters time to climb down; fiberglass melts and collapses.

California’s Department of Fish and Game has an “Office of Spill Prevention and Response” that, after five days of proactive clean-up by the ocean-loving masses, held an emergency training session for volunteers (something they hadn’t seen fit to do for 15 years). In order to get a “Disaster Service Worker” card entitling them to pick up globs of crude oil, the volunteers had to be photographed and sign a loyalty oath swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The card is good for this disaster only.

FRED GARDNER will be opening for a band called Lake Street at the Rockitt Room (formerly the Last Day Saloon, Clement St. off 6th Ave.) Sunday, Nov. 25, 8 p.m. He can be reached at fred@plebesite.



Fred Gardner is the managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s. He can be reached at