Former Orange Leader writer blazed her sports journalism trail to Hall of Fame

Published 12:20 am Friday, February 24, 2023

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After nearly three decades of being a woman in the testosterone-fueled world of pro football, Charean Williams has seen it all.

From being a little girl giving play-by-play of Cowboys games, to covering 28 Super Bowls and earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there’s nothing she hasn’t done.

Special honor

For accomplishments like these and a whole lot more, Williams is being inducted Saturday into the Museum of the Gulf Coast Sports Hall of Fame. Also joining her is famed Lamar Unversity and NFL star Johnny Fuller.

Rockin Sidney Simien and Slim Harpo are being inducted in the Music Hall of Fame.

All are invited to the event, which is scheduled from 2-3 p.m.

Call 409-982-7000 for more information.

Local roots

Williams, a Beaumont native and former Orange Leader writer, said it’s an honor to cement her place among Southeast Texas’ sports heroes.

“I grew up there,” Williams said. “The area’s still special to me, because it’s home and it always will be, no matter where I go or whatever I do.”

She credits her passion for football to her grandmother, whom she grew up watching Dallas Cowboys games with. Cheering for Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson on Sundays became their weekly tradition, and the pair would talk for hours about the team’s performance afterwards.

Not every kid knows what they want to do when they grow up, and even fewer spend their younger years preparing for their future career. However, Williams was certainly the exception — she was determined to cover the Dallas Cowboys for a living.

“I would use my tape cassette recorder to record my sister and interview her,” Williams said. “We had a framed swing set that was metal, and I’d pull up the little plastic cover on it and do play-by-play so it would reverberate in the middle of the swing set. I practiced and played football with the boys, too. I just love the sport.”

The first big sports story she ever wrote was in high school when the West Brook Bruins won the 1982 Texas state football championship. Williams was a member of the school’s first graduating class in 1983 before going on to attend Texas A&M. She graduated with a journalism degree in 1986, then began her professional career at The Orange Leader in 1987.

After a stint at the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Williams took a sports position with the Orlando Sentinel in the early 1990s. She eventually was assigned to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat, and followed the team for six years.

In 1999, her childhood dream was finally fulfilled — she took a job with the Fort Worth-Star Telegram covering the Dallas Cowboys. She worked there for 17 years but was laid off in May 2017. Not even a month later, NBC Sports offered her a job with ProFootballTalk, a nationally-acclaimed NFL publication that she still writes for today while also filling in as a guest analyst on their weekday morning show, PFT Live.

“It was a blessing to get laid off,” Williams said. “I didn’t look at it as a blessing at the time, but it was because we’re one of the most-read sites in the NFL with millions of hits a day. It’s just really cool that people care, and read it and comment on it.”

The climb to the top of her profession wasn’t always easy. When she entered the journalism field, she was one of few women working in a traditionally male-dominated space. Williams is thankful for the female journalists who came before her, but there were still hurdles to cross before she got to where she is today.

For instance, she covered a college football game early in her career but was barred from entering the locker room after the game. The team’s media coordinator promised to bring the players she needed outside so she could get quotes for a story, but after nearly an hour of waiting, the players never showed up. Instead the team was long gone, having slipped out the back door.

Williams has dealt with her fair share of ignorant comments and naysayers throughout the years. She’s always kept her cool though. After all, she’s the real expert.

“Some fans think that a woman can’t possibly know anything about football,” Williams said. “I’d challenge them to a trivia contest or to dissect the Tampa-2 defense. I can handle that. But now, the players and coaches fully respect me and my peers, and that’s really all that matters to me.

“I just hope perhaps what I went through made things a little bit easier for all the women who want to do this now — and in the future, that they won’t have to go through some of the things that I did to get here.”

Williams became the first woman selected as a Pro Football Hall of Fame voter in 2007, and also became the first woman to serve as president of the Pro Football Writers of America in 2009. In 2018, she won the Bill Nunn Award, a prestigious honor presented to only the best professional football reporters. That accomplishment is enshrined on a plaque in the journalism wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Williams does not think of herself as a trailblazer in her field.

“People have called me that, but I probably wouldn’t use that word myself,” she said. “In some ways though, I think I have been, just because I’ve accomplished so many firsts.“

Williams has attended more than half of the Super Bowls that have taken place — she has 28 of them under her belt, and they’re one of her favorite events each year. She’s also covered seven Olympic games, six of which she traveled internationally. She’s taken a ride in the Goodyear blimp and once rode in a Black Hawk helicopter for a fly-over before a game.

Her story came full circle, too. She helped present Drew Pearson for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — the same Dallas Cowboys star she spent so many Sundays watching with her grandmother as a child.

“I know my grandma would be really proud,” Williams added. “She would be so amazed that I’ve gotten to do some of the things I’ve gotten to do.”

— Written by Keagan Smith