Jameson Williams’ story is a long way from over with Detroit Lions. Cut him some slack.

Detroit Free Press

Let’s give Jameson Williams a break. Or at least some time. And if he gambles where he isn’t supposed to again, or if he likes a tweet suggesting the Lions should trade for say, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, or tweets that Jared Goff is a bum?

Then don’t worry, the Detroit Lions will run him out of town for you.

Until then?

Remember that he’s 22, that maturity arrives at different times, that learning the adult world is a process — a difficult process — and that not everyone learns the same things at the same time.

Williams broke the NFL’s gambling rules. He got suspended. He liked a tweet about Lamar Jackson being a Lion that was read as a dig at Goff. He took heat on social media.

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Yes, he most certainly has a lot to learn. Yet there is nothing wrong with having a lot to learn … if he is showing he is learning. And if Thursday afternoon in Allen Park is any indication?

He is.

Not just on the football field, where his coach, Dan Campbell, said the second-year receiver looked crisper on his routes at this week’s organized team activities. But off to the side of the football field as well, where players stop and talk with reporters after practice.

Williams took a spot against an outside wall of the Lions’ headquarters and fielded questions for almost 10½ minutes Thursday afternoon; he didn’t duck one of them. Nor was he curt, impatient, or trying to hide behind canned responses.

The Lions asked him to talk. He did, saying he was “sick” when he found out he would be suspended six games and that he has a lot to prove to himself. 

As for his late-night Instagram Live sessions?

“I live a regular lifestyle,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I live a very special lifestyle. I’m not the only person in the NFL that posts on Instagram or things like that, so I would just say that’s my — that’s just me. I wouldn’t change anything, though.”

It’s a matter of perspective, of course. Williams’ “regular” lifestyle is in relation to other 22-year-olds who can run 4.3-second 40-yard dashes, shave the top off the defense and afford to pass out $100 bills on the streets.

So, to him, putting a camera to his station in life isn’t different than what hundreds of other young NFL players —and professional athletes in general — do from time to time. Is it wise to spread that kind of cash? Or carry that kind of cash at all?

That’s a loaded question, frankly. And none of my business. He was trying to show some good faith, I’m guessing. And give back to a place that isn’t that different from where he grew up.

Besides, Williams passing out hundies to kids in need while filming it is a blip compared to billionaires releasing press releases regarding their charities. If he hadn’t been suspended for gambling, no one would’ve cared.

But he did get suspended, and he did break league rules, and even though he said he didn’t know the rules — and therefore know that he’d broken them — it’s his responsibility to know them, especially considering the Lions told the players about the NFL’s gambling rules.

Here’s betting — no pun intended — that Williams won’t gamble again on team premises or wherever he is officially representing the Lions, like the team hotel. Those rules are simple. Now he knows them and knows what’s at stake: A second violation would cost him at least a year, and maybe more.

Navigating Twitter and Instagram, however, remains much trickier. And when asked about liking the tweet suggesting the Lions go get Lamar Jackson?

“It wasn’t no shots at Jared Goff,” he insisted. “I love Goff. We out here. We got a perfect relationship, it’s just social media.”

No doubt he’s sincere about his love for Goff. And sincere about his love for Jackson. And sincerely naïve about why so many figured he was throwing shade at his teammate.

Consider the last four words of his explanation above: “it’s just social media.”

His tone was dismissive, though not necessarily in a negative way. To Williams, liking the tweet meant some version of this:

Lamar Jackson is an exciting player. He’d be a cool teammate. There’s no hidden meaning in liking a tweet suggesting that. It’s not real.

Look, I get Williams’ inclination to say, “It was just social media.” Ask others his age, others who have also grown up sharing thoughts and photos and memes and GIFs, likes and dislikes, and they’ll tell you they think they’re having a conversation on social media, and often a private one.

Not private as in behind closed doors with a deeply trusted friend or colleague, but private as in not splashed across newspaper pages … or broadcast on ESPN.

In other words, Williams wouldn’t tell a reporter at a news conference that he likes the idea of Jackson becoming a Lion. He understands how that would play. To him, that is a public setting.

The problem is the word “social.” It doesn’t strictly mean public. It can mean friendly. Or fun. Like a group of friends, or acquaintances, or even strangers that you want to gab with.

Williams liking a tweet about Jackson, then, is similar in tone and expectation to the casual chatter between young friends a couple of generations ago, when one might share a story about an annoying little brother, or like a group talking trash on a corner, or chatting at a video arcade.

For so many, social media feels “social” but not public, even though it’s obviously public and very much “media.” Understanding the difference can take time. It also takes maturity, and as much as Williams has to learn in the huddle, he has more to learn outside it.

The second-year speedster has had a rough start to his professional career. This doesn’t mean he can’t — or won’t — find his way.

On Thursday afternoon, he took another step on that journey and took responsibility for breaking the rules. And while he may not be savvy enough yet to understand the full power of “social media,” he knows the ultimate arbiter of success while playing a professional team sport:

“I got goals that I’ve set that I just want to accomplish … like getting on the field. So hopefully once (that comes), the fans will be pleased on how I play football, what I do, (and) things like that.”

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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