TEXAS — Ricky Williams and his business mentor, Chris Ball, hope shared interest in cannabis “cultivates a culture” that other businesses will follow. 

The former All-Pro NFL running back is finding his footing as a cannabis company owner. Williams is leaning on Ball’s experiences as a successful business owner and messaging that aligns with his own. 

“Chris and I are both African American and owners of a cannabis company. He has a head start in understanding this industry and this business, so I’m looking to him for mentorship and guidance. And I’m able to share whatever insights I can,” Williams said. 

“We are strength in numbers. I firmly believe that. It’s why I partnered up with Al Harrington of Viola. I’m following that same protocol with Ricky,” Ball emphasized.

Both are working to improve the number of Black and brown people working in the space. According to a recent Business Insider survey, 70% of executives at over a dozen of the largest cannabis companies in the U.S. are white men. Black executives make up just 7% of the industry. Those numbers are alarming to Bell because so many Black Americans are incarcerated for non-violent marijuana offenses. 

“It doesn’t sit well with me, because I am one of those people, but fortunately for me, I’ve been given this opportunity. And you see if given the opportunity what I’ve been able to do with it. There are thousands of Chris Balls sitting in prison right now,” Ball said. “Just go get some of these guys, who had similar success as I had, and rehabilitate them, and plug them into this legal framework, and watch them grow.” 

Black Americans are three times more likely to be arrested than their white counterparts for the same marijuana crimes. Some states with legal cannabis have implemented social equity programs in attempts to combat the negative effects the “War on Drugs” has on communities of color. These policies are meant to promote hiring practices that invite formerly incarcerated people into the space. Ball is a beneficiary of such a program. 

“Once I get out of here, I’m going to try to do this the correct way and grow it for myself,” Ball said. “After about a year or so of growing and failing, all of those failures wound up leading to success. I learned about the Social Equity Program in 2018 and Ball Family Farms was born.”  

Ball and Williams believe education is an important aspect if there is going to be a more diverse industry. 

“There needs to be an educational piece where we’re helping people catch up and feel in those opportunities. What I’m learning as a businessman in this industry is necessary,” Williams said. “I think what we’re creating right now is planting the seeds and tending to them, so what comes in the future is something we can all be proud of.”

“Teach young people of color how to get into this business. Maybe you can go to school and learn how to be a cultivation specialist or a director of cultivation,” Ball said. 

Ball Family Farms and Highsman plan to continue working together to ensure growth in these areas.  

Each company is part of a growing number started by former athletes who are pledging to help improve the divide in employment and ownership.