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Nothing has, and nothing ever will, stop SNY anchor Chris Williamson

Reaching success in any industry requires dedication. Just ask Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle who prophesied that the sum of dedication is simply hard work plus patience.

Much like rap, journalism is one of those fields that many view as fool’s gold — unattainable, not realistic, and out of reach, especially for a person of color. However, Chris Williamson has shown that through dedication, hard work, plus patience that it’s possible.

As a 27-year-old host for SNY, one of the leading sports networks in the world’s biggest market, he’s already been through the wringer and is well on his way to paving his own lane as a Black man in sports media.

Williamson, a native Washingtonian and a Newhouse School of Communication alum, has been cultivating his love for sports and reporting since he was 14. He’s always been passionate about sports, was an athlete himself, and played basketball, lacrosse, and football over the years. I had a chance to chop it up with Chris recently where he told me,

“When I couldn’t make the JV basketball team I had an epiphany. I realized I wasn’t going to the NBA. But I loved sports, memorizing the players and game stats, analyzing plays, etc. I’d been doing that for years. I decided I could report on what was happening on and off the fields and courts. I became involved in the student newspaper, got an internship at a local high school sports website where I did features and game recaps. I also made the varsity football team.”

After high school, Williamson wanted to attend the best school for broadcast journalism and have a chance to play Division I football, so he applied to Syracuse University. Accepted by the Newhouse School, Chris also made the football team. He was ecstatic. He was able to play as safety for the Orange as well as work for Citrus TV, the student station.

After a while, Chris was forced to choose between reporting for Citrus TV and playing football. He chose Citrus and credits his time there and classes at Newhouse with teaching him the skills and providing the foundation to strive to be the best in his profession.

 

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Orange All-Access here I come.

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However, honing one’s skills as a reporter requires work, patience and the ability to receive and respond to criticism. While Chris knew he wasn’t operating close to his potential, he thought his work was pretty good. His professor gave him the gut punch he needed. Williamson told me,

“One day I’m in a meeting with my advisor, Professor Nicholson. He looked at my reel and simply said ‘Yea, you’re not very good, you’re really not that good.’ I appreciated the honesty, but it was a hard pill to swallow. Looking back at my work, Professor Nicholson was right I wasn’t very good. However, his words motivated me to step up my game- to strive for excellence.”

After college Chris applied for numerous positions around the country as a sports reporter/anchor. Based back in D.C., he interned at Sports Entertainment Network, where he analyzed high school football players. That job allowed him to identify and interview the local high school football standouts, getting to know coaches and players. Here he began developing skills that would serve him well going forward.

Eventually, Williamson had to decide between two job offers, one in West Lafayette, Indiana and one as weekend sports anchor at WSAW in Wausau, Wisconsin. He took the Wisconsin position; it offered him the opportunity to report on professional, college and high school teams in the north and central parts of the state.

For two years he covered the Packers, Badgers, analyzed and reported on local high school and college games. He learned how to work under intense pressure when the station sent him to Los Angeles to cover the Badgers in the Sweet 16 after he had only been on the job four weeks. He increased his knowledge of curling, Ice Hockey, girls’ volleyball, PGA golf, and NASCAR.

Chris acknowledges it took him a while to find his voice as a sports reporter. Initially, he was criticized for sounding too much like an ESPN broadcaster or, as someone once described him, Stuart Stott 2.0. Once we got past that, his career went up, as he told me,

“Once I was able to find my balance and get comfortable letting my personality come through I was promoted to weekday sports anchor on our newly acquired Fox affiliate.”

In early 2017, towards the end of his time in Wisconsin, Chris lost his biggest fan when his father died from cancer. He found out just 15 minutes before his evening sportscast when he called his mother to see how his dad was doing and she told him the horrible news. It was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do but he still found the strength to do his job that night. Still, it was a loss which unsettled him; left him unsure of his path.

 

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I had a great time anchoring Friday night with high school wrestling and more. Unfortunately, I learned minutes before the show that my dad had passed away. It felt like somebody ripped out my heart, but I knew I needed to hold it together and be a professional despite the immense pain. I wasn’t perfect daddy, but I think you would have liked my flair and energy that night. I hope you were able to watch from heaven and that I made you proud. I will do my best to carry on your legacy of selflessness, helping others who are not as fortunate and so much more . I miss and love you so much. You taught me so many invaluable lessons life. From how to be a true gentleman with women and making others feel special to giving me daily nuggets or wisdom about pursuing my dream and how to be successful and happy in life, I owe so much to you and am thankful I had you as father for over a quarter of a century. You provided me with a great perspective on how to survive as a black man in America. You and mommy blessed my siblings and me with the most fulfilling life anybody could ask for. I listen to your voicemail over and over to hear your voice and it makes me happy and sad at the same time. Thank you for being such a wonderful father who was always there for me. You are my hero!

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With his contract up, Chris returned home to D.C. where he landed a job as a part-time sports reporter for a local CBS affiliate. After working there a few months he realized he had lost his passion and his drive for sports storytelling. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to continue as a sports reporter as he told me,

“I was mourning the loss of my Dad. I wasn’t doing what I needed to do in my work. It took me too long to complete stories and they lacked punch. I had a conversation with my Mom during which I shared that I was thinking about quitting both my job and the profession. She emphatically let me know that quitting wasn’t an option. She said, ‘You are a Williamson/Brazier; you do not give up because something is really tough. You have to figure it out. Rise to the challenge! Your dad would not want you to just walk away’”.

Over time, with his mother’s encouragement, a little tough love, and the support of his new boss, Darren Haynes, he started to feel that he was kicking back into gear. He was able to work on more stories to which he felt connected. But it was one assignment in particular that helped him get back on track.

He was able to work on more stories to which he felt connected. But it was one assignment

Williamson says he re-found his passion for storytelling while producing a video interview on local basketball phenom, Donavann Toatley, who battled depression before finding his ground and reaching his full potential. Chris told me,

“I did this story on a 5’7 high school basketball phenomenon who had no college offers at the end of his junior year. The kid became depressed. When he wasn’t working out he just slept. He told me that one day he read a quote in The Alchemist which said when you really want something the universe will conspire to help you get it. That idea flipped the switch for him and for me.”

Chris’ story was well-received and Toatley ended up getting a scholarship offer from Chattanooga the day after he read the book.  The story gained traction on the internet and was even reposted by a sister station in Greensboro, N.C. After that, Chris found his stride and began to consistently produce high-quality work for the station.

This moment here is what can be defined as resiliency. Despite hitting his lowest of lows, he was able to crawl out of the dark and understand that there’s more to life.

His agent pushed to get an SNY executive to watch Chris’ reel. From there he had an audition. Then he had a second audition, and finally, he was offered the job of his dreams. Today, Chris is an anchor, host, and reporter for SNY.

“Being in New York is an amazing experience. There are endless opportunities and a substantial amount of visibility in this position. I am humbled to be given this chance. It’s a new challenge; I feel I’m ready for it and want to make the most of it. I keep striving for excellence!”

In a matter of a few years, Williamson went from Wausau, Wisconsin, the 134th ranked media market in the U.S., to New York City, the number one ranked media market in the world. But that didn’t just happen overnight or without adversity. Just when he was on the brink of giving up, Chris stepped up to the plate and created an opportunity for himself to do what he loves at a higher level than ever.

From his humble beginnings at Cuse to perfecting his craft in small markets around the country, Chris is in a position now that he always dreamed of. Luckily, he never gave up, and if there’s one thing we know now about Chris Williamson, it’s that he’s not going to stop anytime soon.

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