CLEMSON – Let’s say you read or heard something about Sammy Watkins in the last 72 hours. If you are either a) a casual fan, or b) not in the 864 area code, it’s likely that story associated the words “casino” and “skipped the Bills’ first day of voluntary workouts Monday.”
Then again, if you read or watched upstate South Carolina news, you knew Watkins, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft and a rising star in the league, was helping out his old quarterback, Tajh Boyd, at a youth football camp at a YMCA in Greenville on Sunday afternoon.
Which story tells the truth? The one crucifying Watkins for posting a (since-deleted) Facebook photo from a Harrah’s Cherokee casino in western North Carolina when most of his teammates were busy trying to bring Buffalo back to the playoffs? Or the one showcasing Watkins as graciously giving back to the community that adored him for three years in a Clemson uniform and serving as a positive role model to preteens idolizing him?
Answer: they’re both right.
(NOTE: On Wednesday morning, around the time this blog was posted, reporters tweeted Watkins has arrived to join the Bills’ offseason conditioning.)
See, this is a classic case of inside-out perspective ransacking the 24/7 news cycle where web clicks are held above all other standards. Particularly near a college town where fans want all news to be positive toward their local hero – and media tends to serve that purpose – there’s a desire to make sure the whole story is told. Particularly on the broader landscape where people don’t necessarily watch Watkins’ every move and gobble up salacious storylines, Watkins became a piñata for a day.
Here’s what happened: Boyd and Watkins headlined a local football camp in Greenville on Sunday afternoon, with help from other ex-Clemson players Roderick McDowell, Jacoby Ford, Brandon Ford and Woody Dantzler.
After the four-hour session, Boyd, Dantzler and Watkins spoke to the kids about making the right decisions and growing not just as a football player, but as a young man. Watkins was especially poignant about considering academics, admitting he didn’t take those seriously when he was younger and thus making his road a tad more difficult.
Then as the camp ended, Watkins stayed and signed autographs, greeted fans, and gave the local newspapers and television stations all the time they needed to give Clemson’s all-time leading receiver an outlet to speak directly to the local fans.
However, instead of jetting directly back to Orchard Park, N.Y., Watkins apparently stayed in the area and, according to reports, was at the Harrah’s during a World Series of Poker event. Not illegal for the 22-year-old Watkins, and generally a harmless act.
Except the Buffalo Bills were beginning voluntary workouts, and head coach Rex Ryan – friend to the Clemson program, who’s even borrowing the Tigers’ All In slogan for the Bills (and, unfortunately for Watkins, turning into an easy punchline given the photo) – was clamming up as to the reason why his star receiver wasn’t there.
Go ahead and Google “Sammy Watkins” and you’ll find the litany of websites – both in western New York and nationwide – focusing on the casino. Why? For three very good reasons.
One, Bills fans would rather see Watkins strengthening his chemistry with E.J. Manuel and Tyrod Taylor instead of spending time far away at a youth camp, even if that’s a benign act. When it bleeds over into recreation, that makes it worse.
Two, and this is not very fair to young professional athletes, but posting social media photos of any activity that a decent proportion of society deems uncouth (gambling, drinking, posing with Kim Kardashian, whatever) isn’t the smartest idea. Joe Schmo can do it, but famous people can’t, at least without getting scathed. Just the way the world is.
And three, the most important point: Watkins went off on his teammates last Dec. 20, telling the Buffalo News, “This needs to be a players-driven team. At the end of the day, the coaches, all they can do is call the plays. They can’t go out there and make plays physically for us. And we need more leaders. I need to step up and lead a little bit more and I put that on myself.
“We need to forget about anybody’s feelings. We need to call people out. If I’m doing something wrong, call me out. If the line is doing something wrong or messing up, call them out. If the defense is doing something wrong, the defensive line, the secondary, call it out. ... We’re grown men. This is our job. We get paid millions and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Forget the money. You’ve got to go out there each week and play for the guy next to you.”
Well, the western NY and national media are calling out Watkins. Meanwhile, Clemson and Watkins fans are calling them out for calling out Watkins.
I’m calling this out: everybody’s right. It all just depends on your perspective.