When I was newspaper sports writer covering the 49ers beat, tight end Jamie Williams was someone I relied on for deep, philosophical answers on a wide range of subjects related to the team.
Williams shattered the stereotype of the tunnel-visioned pro athlete who rarely thought of issues beyond the playing field or locker room.
Some 14 years since retiring from the NFL, Williams is still busting stereotypes and dancing to his own unique beat. Make that, Dr. Williams. After playing his final NFL season with the Raiders in 1994, Williams went on to earn a masters degree in mass communications from San Jose State and his doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco.
Williams now has the perfect job for someone who likes to go against the grain. He’s the athletic director at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, building an NCAA Division II program from the ground up. This is the Urban Knights’ inaugural year.
NCAA sports at a private art university may seem like an odd mix to many. But to Williams, it’s a perfect match.
“Personally, I’ve always broken the mold,” Williams said. “Somebody just came up and showed me a picture of when I had dreds (in the NFL) before anybody did. I’m smiling in the picture like no problem.
“When I was in college (at Nebraska) I was doing the creative, artsy thing. Everybody thought it was different, but I was the top cat in my class in terms of that field of study (broadcast journalism). At the time, I was chasing linebackers in the Big 8.
“That’s my big problem, people putting restraints on others because of what they don’t believe. I think that’s the wrong answer. If a kid loves art, has a passion for it, but is also proficient in a sport, who are we to take that opportunity away from them?”
On the school’s athletics web site, Williams has his mission statement. It reads: “I seek to inspire through the three A’s: Academics, the feeder of intellect and wisdom; Arts, the emancipator of spirit and expression; and Athletics, the builder of physicality and courage.”
The university has six men’s teams (baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, soccer and track and field) and seven women’s teams (basketball, volleyball, softball, cross country, soccer, tennis and track and field). And yes, these teams offer scholarships.
Not surprisingly, as a new program the Urban Knights are taking their lumps this year, and Williams said he has experienced some dark days.
“But the highs outweigh the lows for sure,” Williams said. “Because there’s a there there. There wasn’t before I came and put the (program) together.”
Former Warrior Peter Thibeaux is part of the coaching staff that Williams hired. Thibeaux coaches the men’s basketball team while ex-Stanford and WNBA guard Lindsey Yamasaki leads the women’s team.
Williams credits university president Dr. Elisa Stephens and her father, former president Dr. Richard A. Stephens, for the decision to create an athletic department. According to Williams, they’re both “huge sports fans” who want to include a few traditional college touches to their non-traditional university as a way to bring students together.
“They understand that athletics can kind of break down inherent fragmentation that you find at schools that have a lot of different disciplines,” Williams said. “Sometimes there’s a disconnect there.”
Of course there are plenty of students who question the move.
“People inherently don’t like change,” Williams said. “The athletics part is not just about going to a game and cheering. It’s also about intramurals and living a holistic life with wellness. That’s all part of it, too.”