Oprah Winfrey gave ex-NFL star Ricky Williams the best advice he ever got — and anyone can follow it

Ricky Williams
Real Wellness

Sometimes you just have to listen to Oprah.

Former NFL running back Ricky Williams tells CNBC Make It that the best advice he ever received actually came from Oprah Winfrey during his appearance "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2002.

"I did Oprah's show a bunch of years ago and she said, basically, to follow my heart," he says.

During the former Heisman Trophy winner's 11 season career, he received quite a bit of criticism, both for his unapologetic marijuana use (which resulted in multiple suspensions for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy) and for his demeanor, which was described as "aloof" and even "weird." He was sometimes reluctant to speak to the media and did things like refusing to remove his helmet for locker room interviews.

Williams has since revealed that he suffered from depression and social anxiety disorder, but on Winfrey's show in 2002, he explained his unusual behavior by telling Winfrey he was "shy."

That's when Williams says Winfrey told him, "[D]on't pay too much attention to what other people think or say about what I'm doing," he recalls to CNBC Make It.

Oprah Winfrey poses backstage with her Cecil B. DeMille Award, January 8, 2018.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

So, how has Williams fared with following the billionaire media mogul's advice?

"When she said that it really was like a seed that started to grow. And, I think as time has gone by, I've been able to live up to that advice more and more…" he says.

"Obviously, I still have a long ways to go, but I feel like I'm doing a much better job than I was then."

Williams, who retired from football in 2011, says he's definitely become more comfortable being himself in public settings, as he's now a far more open and willing participant in media interviews. In fact, he's now technically a part of the media himself, working occasionally as an analyst with ESPN. Williams also appeared as a contestant on NBC's "The New Celebrity Apprentice" for last year's season hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Williams was "terminated" in the show's fifth episode).

Billionaire sports tycoon’s $45 million California mansion for sale

Meanwhile, Williams' own words today clearly mirror Winfrey's early advice when the former NFL star talks about walking away from the game that made him famous.

Williams tells CNBC Make It that, after he briefly retired for one year in the middle of his playing career, "the story was 'football player retires to go smoke pot.'" However, he adds: "Part of that was true, but it was much bigger than that. I was really redefining myself and figuring out what I want to do with my life...."

Williams eventually realized, "I wasn't just a football player and that there was more to me," he says.

Williams has spent much of his post-NFL life studying everything from psychology (he earned his undergraduate degree from UT two years ago) to herbalism and holistic medicine. And, over the past few years, he's also become an outspoken advocate for legal cannabis and was actively looking for investment opportunities in the rapidly growing marijuana industry.

In March, Williams launched his own brand of cannabis-based products, called Real Wellness.

Now, says Williams, "I'm a healer."

Don't miss:

Ricky Williams says his pot-smoking in the NFL cost him $10 million — now he's making a business out of cannabis

The incredible rags-to-riches rise of self-made billionaire Oprah Winfrey

Here's what makes self-made billionaire Oprah Winfrey angry—and how she stays grounded

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook!

Here's how successful people de-stress

Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.