CLEVELAND — Browns Chief of Staff Callie Brownson has found herself in a trail blazing role—a role that at one point in her life she didn't think was possible.
Brownson first fell in love with football as a small child, bonding with her dad over the sport before telling him she not only wanted to watch it, she wanted to play.
“I always loved football. I used to watch with my dad when I was a kid, and it was something that really brought us together," Brownson said. "I remember being nine years old and knocking on my dad's door and saying, 'Hey, I want to play,' and I'm sure he took a big, deep breath that his only daughter wanted to go out and run into everybody.”
While it may have been a bit nerve-wracking for him, Brownson's dad signed her up for pee-wee football, where she learned the fundamentals of the game and became even more passionate about the sport.
Unfortunately, as Brownson got older, opportunities dwindled for girls.
“I tried to play in high school, couldn’t, which was really kind of heartbreaking for me,” Brownson said.
Brownson's Virginia high school didn't allow girls to play football, so she had to shift her focus to playing softball. But as soon as Brownson graduated and went off to college at George Mason University, her football journey began again.
“When I got into college, I found out about the D.C. Divas, which is the women's professional team in D.C. and got to play there and I think that's really where the fire ignited for me,” Brownson said. "I was an adult at this point, learning football at a high level, loving it."
The spark Brownson felt watching football with her dad and playing as a child was instantly rekindled.
After Brownson played eight seasons with the Divas and earned two gold medals in the International Federation of American Football's Women's World Championships, she began thinking about her future and how she could keep football in her life even after her playing days were over.
“I knew that eventually, my body would not be able to do it anymore. So I always loved the coaching aspect of it, so I think at that point, I knew I wanted to coach," Brownson said. “This was 2010, 2011, and women—you weren't seeing that representation of women coaching on the sideline."
Representation for women coaches in football is still a work in progress, but 10 years ago was even less prominent. Brownson had a trail to blaze for herself. Getting a job at her former high school in Virginia coaching football felt like a dream come true for Brownson, and was a position where she thought—momentarily—was her peak.
"I honestly thought that was the peak. I was like, 'I'm going to work a nine to five, I'm going to coach high school football, and that's the dream,'" Brownson said.
But Brownson kept pushing, and after participating in the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum, she found herself at the pinnacle of football—working in the NFL.
With her first job working with the New York Jets as a scouting intern, Brownson's ceiling continued to rise and she moved up through the ranks in the league.
"I remember walking in the building there in Florham Park and saying,' I want to do this for the rest of my life,'" Brownson said. "There's no question, and I wasn't quite sure how I was going to pull it off, but I knew I wanted to do it, and that really kind of planted the seed for me."
The planted seed quickly blossomed into bigger opportunities as Brownson put in the work to move up the ranks, joining the Buffalo Bills as a coaching intern and then landing with the Browns as the Chief of Staff, where she continues to thrive.
Brownson was hired by the Browns in January 2020, joining head coach Kevin Stefanski to work in a role similar to the one he held when he worked under Brad Childress in 2006 with the Minnesota Vikings — a role that put Brownson in a position about which she had always dreamed.
“I remember my conversation with coach Stefanski when I interviewed and what he wanted to do here and what his goal and his vision was for the Browns. It was kind of one of those things where I got back on a flight and I was like, I want to be a part of this. You know, there's going to be something really special happening in Cleveland, and I want to help them build it,” Brownson said.
In her time with the Browns, Brownson has already made history—becoming the first woman to serve as an interim positions coach, making her the highest-ranking female coach in NFL history. And with her latest opportunity— named head coach of the U.S. Women’s Tackle National Team for the 2022 championship in Finland—Brownson is ready to continue blazing trails in her coaching career.
“I am going to become an even better coach because of these women and because of this staff. I think that is a huge benefit to my role here with the Cleveland Browns, as well. Just like every opportunity that I have taken, it is going to get 110% of me, and I am going to make sure that I come out the other side of it better than I started,” Brownson said.
As she has proven to herself and all those watching her—the sky is the limit for Brownson, and for women everywhere pursuing their dreams in the world of sports.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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