From the Super Bowl to Prison

From the Super Bowl to Prison

By Seth Ferranti 10/20/15

Sherman Williams went from the NFL to a 15-year sentence for a drug conviction. Now he's trying to help others.

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From the Super Bowl to the Penitentiary
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Sherman Williams knows football. He won a state championship at Mattie T. Blount High School, a national title at the University of Alabama and a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys. Football brought him a life of fame and fortune but Sherman Williams also knows prison, drugs and addiction.

When a promising football career in the NFL faltered, Sherman turned back to the streets. His involvement with drugs led him to believe that being a drug dealer was a viable career. And it was, only for a minute, but it didn’t last and he ended up in prison serving a federal drug sentence for conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

He finally got out in March of 2014, after serving a 15-year sentence. He came out with a mission to help youngsters so that they don’t make the same mistakes he did. By telling his story and using his life as an example of what not to do, Sherman hopes to help others avoid the consequences that he faced. To that end, he wrote a book, Crimson Cowboy, which chronicles his rise and fall, his battle with drugs and his recovery. He hopes that through his book, readers, especially kids, can navigate the pitfalls and obstacles that life holds with far more success than he did. To Sherman, it's not about his past glory, it's about the events and circumstances that led to his troubles; it's about recognizing his faults and downfalls.

“I first started having an issue with authority, getting suspended from school and acting out after my parents were divorced when I was 8 years old,” Sherman tells The Fix. “It led to behavior problems and then when I was in junior high school I got into marijuana, alcohol, sex, crime, drugs, everything. By the time I was 12 years old, I was using marijuana regularly. I was suspended from school in the seventh grade for drinking and distributing alcohol. I developed a criminal behavior at the early age of 12 years old, being disobedient and disobeying authority.”

But, at the same time, Sherman had a dream to play football.

“I had a conversation with my mother when I was 10 years old and I told her that day that I would grow up and learn the game of football and play for the Dallas Cowboys,” Sherman says. “She always loved the Cowboys and Tom Landry. The first player I ever recognized was Tony Dorsett and I wanted to emulate Dorsett in the neighborhood, when I was playing the streets. My dream as a child was to grow up one day and play for the Dallas Cowboys.” A dream that came true but not without consequences. 

Life wasn’t easy in the neighborhoods of Prichard, Alabama, where Sherman grew up. Poverty was rampant and crime was around every corner. Sherman had a dream to play football, but his ties to the street were strong. It's a predicament that a lot of young, talented black men find themselves in, whether it be sports or entertainment. Keeping it real while rising above your circumstances at the same time is a delicate tightrope to walk. With boundaries crashing in on both sides, chaos can ensue, if you’re not careful.

“When I got up in age and went to high school, I had developed such bad associations,” Sherman tells The Fix. “I was influenced by negativity. I was using drugs and selling drugs and in the streets. I was known in the sports world and my notoriety for that and for being in the streets and selling drugs was conflicting. Crack was an epidemic at the time and I was selling crack and using marijuana. I was always very interested and very passionate about the sport of football, which gave me everything I needed at the time. To sacrifice, be disciplined, be motivated, to try and make it in life and see a better way than the life that I was living at the time was my goal.”

Sherman had lofty ambitions but no matter how high he soared, as long as drugs were a part of his life, he would remain shackled to the negativity of his upbringing. He knew football was his way out but the reality of his situation almost caved in his dream before it even had a chance to start.

“Being a football player and being popular and being recruited by schools all over the country, people knowing me and knowing my name, being interviewed on-camera and on the news allowed me to get very popular to the point where schools were very interested in giving me a scholarship to play football,” Sherman says. “I saw football as a way to escape the reality of what was around me everyday. Seeing murders, being accused of an attempted murder and going to trial at 16 years old. Being involved with the courts and seeing how it was all put together. Getting lawyers and paying for bail and getting out and all these criminal behaviors and criminal activities.”

Sherman was being exposed to all of that at the same time. He was learning two ways of life at an early age: The criminal side and the professional side. These experiences followed him all the way through college and eventually into the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys drafted him in 1995 in the second round after a stellar career at the University of Alabama. He backed up the legendary Emmitt Smith and won a Super Bowl in his rookie year. It seemed he had reached the pinnacle of success, but the warning signs were all around. And due to his inability to breakaway from the drug world and the streets, he finally landed in federal prison after a downward spiral that saw him immersed deeper into his addictions.

“That was a natural thing to get involved in that,” Sherman tells The Fix. “The alcohol and the drugs and the women. The White House was the legend of the Dallas Cowboy party house. It was a true story and I talk about it in my book. I talk about all that. Going to the White House and all the drugs and all the partying and winning the Super Bowl, but also being a criminal and living a criminal existence at that time. I was having the time of my life. We was partying. Having orgies. Any type of drugs. Any type of alcohol. It was right there. Multiple sex partners. We was all participating. Some guys were restraining from the activities, but the majority were all participating. It was a roller coaster.”

A roller coaster of addictions that eventually led to the demise of Sherman’s career and resulted in his 15-year sentence in federal prison for drug trafficking. Sherman had always set the bar high for himself. He wanted to exceed all expectations and when he didn’t he started to feel a little depressed, his self-esteem and confidence in his ability wavered. He started to look at other alternatives in case his NFL career didn’t work out. The dream had fizzled and as the reality of failed expectations and financial concerns collided, Sherman looked back to Prichard and his childhood influences who were still running the streets and selling drugs. It was an easy transition back to that life.

“I had gotten out of the drug game and streets, but now I was thrust back into it due to circumstance,” Sherman says. “Being thrust back into the drug game after feeling the lows of depression and going from one high to the low, it was just a timing pattern and I didn’t prepare myself for those times. I was influenced by my past in the present time and it affected my future. I had left the dope game alone, but I got back into it. The drugs, partying, and all that, it ended up being the detriment to my career.”

Sherman’s career had derailed and he was back in Alabama dealing and using drugs. The lifestyle was as addictive as the marijuana he used to smoke daily. He was on a crash course for prison, though. He didn’t know it but that was the only eventual outcome. Crime and drugs only lead to jail and death. A lesson that Sherman learned the hard way when he was indicted by the feds.

“Having a 15-year sentence, there was no way to recover from that and come back to play in the NFL,” Sherman tells The Fix. “What I do now is I use my message to combat what I went through. Through the Crimson Cowboy, I use my message to talk about the bad times, the prison, the negative influences, all the things that happened to me.”

But Sherman also talks about his recovery process and the changes he had to go through to get where he is today—going on talk shows, doing book signings and, most importantly, holding clinics and camps for the kids. 

“I had to change my associations and change myself and become more spiritual,” Sherman says. “I learned more about Jesus Christ while I was in prison than I did my whole life. I really developed a spiritual life in prison. I started hanging around the right people in there. Going to prison benefited me in those ways. It was a hard, painful situation but I made it through.”

Seth Ferranti has been a regular contributor to The Fix since 2012. He most recently wrote about crystal meth becoming the new crack. He also writes for Vice. He has a book out—The Supreme Team.

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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