'What the hell happened?': 'Crimson Cowboy' Sherman Williams opens up after shocking prison stint

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

MOBILE, Ala. — How? Why?

These are the questions that trail and define part of Sherman Williams’ history. But they are also the words that illuminate his path forward in life. Beyond Blount High School and the University of Alabama, where he defined himself as an elite running back. Beyond the Dallas Cowboys and his memories of a Super Bowl win in 1996. Beyond a pair of White House visits. Beyond his personal glory and public acclaim, and into a story that is as inexplicable as it is rare. A story that has become a tool he shares as boldly and fearlessly as any play in his football career.

In the midst of what should have been the prime years of his NFL career with the Cowboys, Williams was arrested and incarcerated for his role in an interstate drug-trafficking ring. To those who traced his career with the Crimson Tide and Cowboys, this story is old news. They went through the shock of Williams’ arrest and trial in 2000 when he was 26 years old and only months removed from his fifth season in the NFL. Some can recall the stunning details – over 1,000 pounds of marijuana seized in Alabama and Texas, and charges that Williams had arranged the sale and transport of the drugs to supplement income he lost after being cut by the Cowboys early in the 1999 season. And surely, some remember Williams being sentenced to slightly less than 16 years in federal prison for his role in the trafficking.

Former Cowboys and Alabama star Sherman Williams is the guest on this week’s Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast

Listen to Sherman Williams on the Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast
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Sherman Williams played five seasons in the NFL, all with the Dallas Cowboys. (Getty Images)

But as with most life stories, this one has layers. It has questions that sometimes go unanswered. It has a peak in his NFL career, a valley in his incarceration and then a redemptive turn that has taken Williams to the completion of his college degree after 14 years of incarceration – and the opportunity and willingness to talk about his experience. That latter part is unquestionably valuable. Largely because professional athletes who fall into cratering mistakes rarely want to conduct a self-audit in front of the world. It’s too mentally taxing, too embarrassing or too hurtful to recount and explain.

In at least one respect, that’s what makes Williams so unique. Since being released from prison in 2014, he has spent the past four years being open about his rise and fall, and life reclamation. He wrote an autobiography – “Crimson Cowboy: The rise and fall of a three-time champion” – that is a raw account of how it all went wrong. He has sat for interviews with reporters. He founded the Palmer Williams Group with former Alabama teammate David Palmer, engaging in motivational workshops in which he explains the details of his failures and successes with anyone who wants to listen.

In the truest sense of the cliché, his life is an open book. So much so that he was one of the first players contacted for the Senior Bowl’s newly minted Ambassador’s Club – an initiative from director Jim Nagy aiming to unite Mobile-area football alums with an investment in the surrounding community. Nagy, who lives in the Mobile area and was previously a southeast area scout for the Seattle Seahawks, was long familiar with Williams’ football exploits. What he didn’t know, until doing some research, was the remarkable tale Williams had to share.

“You want a guy with a life story to tell, it’s Sherman Williams,” Nagy said. “Imagine what he can offer some of these kids in the community. He has been through the worst of it.”

That’s what brought Williams to the attention of “The Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast” this month. Not only did he have a stunning story to tell about life after the NFL, he was determined to share it in the most direct way possible. When asked if he would be open to a straightforward interview that didn’t dance around his drug-trafficking, Williams didn’t hesitate.

“Ask me anything,” Williams said. “Let’s do it.”

So we did. Starting with the most obvious question: What the hell happened?

The result was Williams giving us a look into a man who is showcasing that the end of an NFL career – even when it occurs in one of the worst possible ways – isn’t the end of everything. There’s more. There’s a postscript. Sherman Williams is living it. He’s speaking it. And most impressively, he’s unafraid of it.

With that in mind, we hope podcast listeners will enjoy the interview.

Listen to Sherman Williams on the Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast
Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle Play

About The Yahoo Sports NFL Podcast: Terez Paylor and Charles Robinson take you inside the front offices and locker rooms of the NFL for an engaging discussion about the game of professional football. New episodes are posted every Sunday night and Wednesday morning and can be found on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you download podcasts. 

(Yahoo Sports)