Ricky Williams Takes The Highsman Road

Former NFL football player and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams recently launched Highsman, a cannabis lifestyle brand created to empower professional and everyday athletes as well as sports enthusiasts alike. Highsman offers premium quality cannabis as well as a collection of apparel and accessories designed to complement an active lifestyle on and off the field. Highsman cannabis features three strains curated by Williams to compliment moments in the day and put you in the zone. Pregame are sativas for an energized boost; Halftime are hybrids for focused awareness; and the Postgame indicas offer a relaxed mood.

Green Market Report had the chance to speak with Highsman leaders CEO Eric Hammond and Ricky Williams during the MJ Biz conference in Las Vegas in October.

 

CEO Eric Hammond:                        The company was established in January as a corporation, really as a concept. I got connected with the guys around April or May and saw that they had something so magical here that had such potential. Then when we started discussing what this could be, I immediately was interested andI joined in July. I was previously at Greenlane (NASDAQ: GNLN) and I was super happy there, but an opportunity to have to build a community and a cannabis brand like this with Ricky and build this team was too great to pass up. So the company’s been in existence for a couple of months. But pre-revenue, our merchant apparel just launched on Monday of this week and our cannabis will be launching the California market next week. We are literally just hitting the ground. We’ll be coming to market in Oregon the first week of November. And we’ll be entering the Nevada market the second week of December.

Green Market Report Editor Debra Borchardt:          Ricky, how involved are you in choosing the cannabis?

Highsman Founder Ricky Williams:                   I’m very involved. It’s probably one of the most important parts of this because we’re a brand. If we’re putting our brand on something, it needs to resonate with who we are. And the beautiful thing about our team is, we are pretty much connoisseurs and so I really enjoyed the experience of choosing strains. Consuming the samples and having a conversation and then coming to consensus of what we want to go with.

GMR:          Different people want different types of cannabis experiences

Williams:                   There’s such a broad range like you’re speaking of and I think part of this brand is that we are connoisseurs. We’re doing the hard work and we can share that the cannabis we provide to people who vibe with us, is something that we resonate with. And that is its top quality. I think it’s a subtle kind of education that… And what I mean by that is people haven’t experienced it and it piques their curiosity until they want to learn more. So like one of our strains, cherry rice, okay? And again, we’re sports and cannabis. And so a lot of know who Jerry Rice was so get a kick out of the name, but actually when they open the bag, there’s a smell of cherry comes out. And people making that connection of cherry rice. And it smells like cherry. Terpenes.

Getting people interested in terpenes. The culture is so vast and rich that we want to be an introduction to people who might not know a lot about cannabis in the industry, but love the plant and want to learn more. Because that’s been my experience and pretty much every single athlete I’ve spoken to that has gotten into the cannabis industry, most of them didn’t consume when they played, but as soon as they retired and there wasn’t punishment, and most of them said, I wish I would’ve known about that earlier. Then they all get fascinated about wanting to learn more about the plant.

GMR:           There’s been a lot of discussion around cannabis and CTE and of course, the professional players suffer through so many injuries and some of those injuries have a long tail of continuing effects. And to your point, I’ve had a lot of athletes say that cannabis helps them for these injuries that they’re still dealing with years after the injury actually happens.

Ricky Williams:                   All of us. Because every single person that’s played one down in professional football has injuries they’re going to have for the rest of their life. What they’ve noticed from – what they found from all the autopsies is a hundred percent of the brains they’ve looked at football players have some CTE. And so we know that we’re all dealing with pain and until we are allowed to do research, we’re not going to be able to say definitively what is going on. But I know from my personal experience, getting off of the opioids and NSAIDs and making cannabis and yoga and meditation part of my wellness regime. I’m 44, which isn’t old but I played football very, very rough, and I’m still able to play softball on Mondays and use my body. And I feel really, really good.

GMR:                  How involved were you with the company on a day to day?

Ricky Williams:                   Day to day, like big decisions, right, they’ll check with me. But I’m actually running my own company.

Eric Hammond:                        He’s intimately involved in kind of the directionality of the strategy for business. Obviously, he brought me on and we built this incredible management team around me to take his vision and bring it to fruition.

Ricky Williams:                   So I’m like the GM that hired the best head coach I could find. Well, I mean realize just to playing sports, it’s really about the team. You find a leader and someone who has direction, you used to support him with the team. I feel my major role is to help Eric be successful and make sure that people give him the space to be able to do that.

GMR:           There’s been so much conversation around celebrity brands. A couple have been successful like you mentioned Cookies and-

Eric Hammond:                        Very few have been successful.

GMR:           What makes you think you will be successful?

Ricky Williams:                   Well, I mean I understand I’m a celebrity, but I get a little offended when I get lumped in a celebrity brand. Because it’s not like I’m tagging my name onto something. This is my life. So I think we epitomize what a celebrity brand should be. Those other examples, it’s people trying to, it’s a money grab. People trying to get in. But even, to me, I think of a brand, right. You put a brand on this, so people know. This is my life. And it’s my life, the whole story of being in that position where everyone told me, you just threw your life away for a drug. It was everywhere. And everywhere, 99.9% of people would agree. This guy just threw his life away. And I had to sit with that and say, “Am I really throwing my life away?”

What am I going to do about this? And I said, “Well, I’m not buying that story. I’m going to do me.” I just kept trusting myself and moving in that direction and it’s come full circle. And I think, you spoke of Texas, they just put mine and Earl Campbell’s name on the University of Texas football field. And most people, if you go back to 2004, right, people can’t even imagine that that was possible. It just shows like you’d be willing to be yourself and stay the path, good things happen. I’m known as a football player, but anytime you see anything written about me as a football player, or you talk to anyone about me as a football player, cannabis is always the next topic. So for me, they’re intertwined.

I’m not like a celebrity coming in. I’m just showing up with the brand and for me, it’s using my celebrity to create, to open doors. To create a safe place for people, to be honest about their cannabis use. It’s about all the parts of themselves. I think certain people that if they wore a shirt with a weed leaf on it, right, their parents would give them a hard time. Right. Those same kids come in wearing a Highsman shirt, right. It could turn into a good conversation between a son and a father. Right.

GMR:           It’s a great play on words too. I mean, that-

Eric Hammond:                        The brand new is incredible. To pick up what he said, why we will be successful and I feel like others have struggled is the authenticity. Kind of everything Ricky just talked about. This isn’t, you know, it’s one thing for a celebrity to smoke weed and think that that’s enough for them to be an authority and to put their brand on it. And just hope that people will buy it because it says their name because that’s what our culture is into. But the cannabis industry is not every other industry. It’s still a bit of a vice it’s still very cultural driven. It seems like the cannabis industry is seeing through those surface-level enforcements and it’s just not working.

We haven’t even really been able to get out and yell it from the top of our lungs because we’re so new but people feel it and they get it and they know that this isn’t a celebrity putting their name on something. This is more than a guy that just smokes weed. This is his life. And we’re hoping that we’re now utilizing that to be able to develop this community and this platform that is positioned at the intersection of sports and cannabis.

Ricky Williams:                   I’m guessing you can relate to this, but what I’ve started to realize is that pretty much everyone that’s open about their cannabis use has had to go to through the same thing I’ve had to go through. Is realizing you’re doing something that most people have decided it’s not a good thing. And having to be public about that. And so when I look at this brand with the feedback that I’ve gotten from so many people that I met is how inspired they were in their own personal life. By me standing up and not lying about my cannabis use, and how it’s helped them be themselves. That’s what Highsman is about. In that Highsman is about that feeling that you have when you, like, you feel good because you trusted yourself. And you see it, right. Because to me… I’ll just rant a little bit. But to me, like in my life, I realized-

So like through the whole thing, you know, me using cannabis was something was the thing I was most ashamed about. I was most afraid if people found out that I used cannabis, like my life is going to be over. That’s why I really honestly thought that. I really… I had that moment where I realized my life’s not over and I actually felt better. There was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulder.

GMR:           Like you could be yourself.

Ricky Williams:                   Like I could be myself. And that’s when I started to enjoy my life more. And I started to achieve my achievements, my accomplishments personally, and professionally. Were more meaningful. Everything was more meaningful.

GMR:           Maybe. I mean, do you feel, because you were able to own who you were and not have to kind of hide or feel like you were kind of hiding.

Ricky Williams:                   Yeah, exactly.

GMR:           Now all of a sudden it’s like, this is me and I’m good with it.

Ricky Williams:                  And playing on words here, I mean my spiritual belief is we all have some kind of higher purpose. But if we are too concerned with what other people think, we’re never going to even be aware of what our higher purpose is.  I learned that the hard way. But so grateful that I did because if that hadn’t happened, if 2004 hadn’t happened, and I had just been hall of fame football player. First of all, I probably wouldn’t be here and most of the people that come up to me and interact with me, they would just want to talk about football. Which football is great, but it’s not that interesting to me anymore. But now the people that I meet and things that I’m doing are…. I’ve learned so much about business. Right. Before as a football player, business was like it’s so boring, it’s for someone else. But this has really got me engaged and I’ve learned so much in the past five years and all of this because I failed a drug test.

I really have found a higher purpose. The people that I’ve touched. When I retired aside from the cannabis, the real reason I retired is, when I was a kid and I, when I decided I wanted to be a professional athlete, is because there was something transcendent about professional sports. At least from my little 12 year old mind. Okay. And then when I got to professional sports, I was like, eh, like this isn’t it. But after everything happened with cannabis and I started and I got into the industry and I started to connect with people, have this light bulb like, oh, this is what I was looking for.

Something that’s bigger than just me that I can, that we can all share. And that’s our experiences. And so it is just a whole story to me, is what Highsman is about. And this idea of not just a brand, but a living story that everyone can engage in. Everyone can reflect on their lives in times where they believed in themselves and it went well. And that feels really good. The more we can do that’s… And even for me, when I put on these clothes, I feel something.

Ricky Williams:                   When I was in college… there’s a tradition in college football. Where the NCAA drug tests the athletes randomly once a year. So maybe five guys on a team randomly will get drug tested. But inside the team, the coach has the ability to drug test guys as much as they want or not. Okay. And so for the most part, the coaches know who on the teams smokes and doesn’t smoke. And if there’s ever a guy because teams only have 85 scholarships. So if there’s ever a guy that the coach wants to run off. Right. And he knows that they smoke. He’s getting tested. Because the university policies, you fail drug test, you’re expelled. So the universities would use that to get scholarships back. Okay. And it had happened to a player, a good friend of mine when I was at Texas. And it really left a mark on me. But when you see the bigger picture, you realize what was going on. And more than that, there’s so many great athletes that we’ll never know about because they’re run off because of the stigma. And it’s so ubiquitous in sports that the coaches say, “If you smoke pot, you’re going to be a loser and we’re going to run you off.” Right. It’s like a campaign against it. You know? And so I think, I feel like one of my legacies here, because that almost happened to me. Almost happened to me.

But I was good enough. I was good enough that they kept bringing me back. Right. I was the one that made it. So I feel like I have a responsibility to create a space for guys like me. More open-minded guys that like cannabis and love sports. Or there’s room for that in this world. Because to me, knowing myself and I’m not perfect, but I’m a really good guy. And for someone like me to not be able to do what I love and playing the NFL because they found THC metabolites in my urine. There’s something amiss by that. It’s not only a loss to me, but it’s a loss to professional athletes and it’s a loss to the NFL. We need to change that.

GMR:           I love the name. I think it looks amazing. I really like, I like the simplification. I like just the font and the H’s.

Eric Hammond:                        Everything is done with intent too. If you look in the H, there’s a hidden 34, which is Ricky’s number.

GMR:           Oh my goodness. I didn’t see that.

Eric Hammond:                        It’s like a FedEx arrow, once you see it, you can’t unsee it. We play off like a nice heritage kind of varsity font. So it has that authentic feel.

Ricky Williams:                   What I love is the H because when we were working with our designer, he didn’t have the whole Highsman. He just created this H. So I saw the H and it reminded me of Mighty Mouse because it has this like uplifting move. It was the first time that I’d ever looked at a logo and felt something. It was this like uplifting feeling and just looking at the logo, I felt uplifted. I said that that’s the feel that I’m looking for. And then I said, can you build out the rest to spell Highsman in the varsity font. And he worked on it and we saw him and I said, that’s it.

GMR:           And it’s interesting what you were saying was with the initial issue with cannabis. And people’s thinking that you had just screwed your life and messed up your career and blah, blah, blah. And instead it sounds like it’s really actually allowed you to tap into so much personal potential that maybe you might not have tapped into had you never gone there.

Ricky Williams:                   That’s Heisman. You got it. That’s Heisman. You got it.

 

 

Debra Borchardt

Debra Borchardt is the CEO, Co-Founder, and Editor-In-Chief of GMR. She has covered the cannabis industry for several years at Forbes, Seeking Alpha and TheStreet. Prior to becoming a financial journalist, Debra was a Vice President at Bear Stearns where she held a Series 7 and Registered Investment Advisor license. Debra has a Masters degree in Business Journalism from New York University.


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