I listened to Jameson Williams last week. Then I listened to Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell on Thursday. And now, with a week of careful consideration between the two, I have something to say.
Williams must do two things: He has to grow up — fast — and he should apologize to Jared Goff.
There’s simply too much at stake for Williams not to improve his conduct off the field, which has resulted in a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling rules and has raised questions about whether he’s a good teammate.
There’s definitely too much at stake for the Lions, who could use Williams’ dazzling speed and skill to take that final step and become an elite team with their first division title in 30 years.
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But there’s even more at stake for Williams, because in the limited time I’ve seen him play, it’s clear he has the potential to be a Pro Bowl receiver. But in the limited time he has been in the NFL, Williams has mostly been a sideline curiosity — first because of his ACL injury as a rookie and then turning into a distraction because of the drama created through his suspension and his social-media activity.
The gambling mistake was certainly costly, but it’s also more understandable, considering older players made the same error about the somewhat confusing rules of betting on non NFL-sports from an NFL facility.
The bigger transgression is actually his social-media faux pas. And the biggest came in March, when he liked a tweet that advocated trading for Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, which would mean getting rid of Goff — his current teammate from whom he presumably wants to receive a lot more passes — according to another liked tweet.
I waited a week to weigh in because I wanted to hear what Williams had to say, and I wanted to hear what Campbell thought about what Williams said.
If you missed Williams’ comments, he essentially said he doesn’t take social media seriously.
“Things that I like on Instagram and Twitter,” he said last week, “I hope those don’t lead people the wrong way, but it’s social media, you know? People take social media like it’s right here we in, this is real life. That’s social media.”
When Williams was asked about the pro-Jackson tweet he liked, widely perceived as throwing shade at Goff, his answer was worrisome because it spoke to his stunning lack of awareness.
“I’m not really sure why people are questioning me or anything like that,” he said. “I’m out here with Jared Goff, not Lamar Jackson, you know? I just think (Jackson is) a real good player and things like that, you know?”
So I started off Thursday’s news conference in Allen Park by asking Campbell about his level of concern over Williams’ maturity and understanding of social media. Keep in mind Williams isn’t a rookie. He’s a 22-year-old with a contract worth $17.5 million guaranteed, and one who has been a de facto pro athlete since 2021, when he signed a name, image and likeness deal with Bose for his final season of college.
Campbell explained that athletes are under historically intense scrutiny and added, “You’ve just got to understand that,” before issuing his take on Williams’ Twitter action.
“But I do believe it was harmless,” he said. “… And honestly, when I saw it, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, you know? Goff knows where he stands, the team knows.
“So I really, I don’t think it’s a big deal. I think he was just, more than anything, it’s like, ‘Hey, I like Lamar.’ More than ‘Hey, yeah, yeah, we’ve gotta have him!’ ”
Campbell likened the pro-Jackson like to a tweet Williams liked last year about having more catches.
“He’s not bitching about getting more balls,” he said. “It’s just like, ‘Yeah, OK, cool, I like that comment.’ So I just don’t think it’s a huge deal.”
It’s not a huge deal — at least not yet. Part of what makes Williams’ actions seem harmless is his easygoing nature. You can’t imagine him breaking the gambling rules because he doesn’t care about missing games with his team, or liking tweets in a mean-spirited way.
But that doesn’t mean his actions aren’t doing some harm. He’s harming his team by denying them his playmaking ability for more than a third of the season.
As for Goff, we haven’t had the chance to ask him how hurtful Williams’ endorsement of Jackson was, though I would imagine anyone would be hurt by a colleague’s veiled criticism. So I asked Campbell what he would think of Williams liking a tweet suggesting he be replaced by Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay.
“I’d be fine,” he said. “It’s fine, you know?
“Now I would probably go talk to him directly and be like, ‘Do you have a problem with me, is that why you said it?’ ‘No, coach, I like Sean McVay.’ I’d be like, ‘OK, I got it. I mean Sean’s won a freakin’ Super Bowl. I got it.’
Let me just say how much I love that Campbell not only answered the question but also came up with an impromptu hypothetical conversation that actually felt realistic.
But within Campbell’s answer about McVay is the roadmap to maturity for Williams, who should address the situation with Goff. A friend of mine happened to recently tweet a course of action to address any mistake, but one that certainly applies to Williams: Own it. Apologize. Fix it.
For the record, Campbell said Williams’ relationship with Goff is good.
“I don’t feel like there’s anything toxic or there’s any ulterior motive,” he said. “Yeah, I don’t see an issue. I think all of this is, it’s growth and development and baby steps.”
I hope Williams is reading this column, because one of the best pieces of advice I could give any high-profile athlete is to address a mistake and work to fix it, because fans, reporters and just about everyone else can’t resist a story about redemption.
And that’s what this is: A story about Williams’ redemption, because we really don’t know what or who he’s going to be as a player, let alone as a person.
We have a better idea about the former than the latter, because Williams has spent his life preparing to live on the gridiron. He hasn’t had the same time to learn how to handle all the rest that comes with the privileged life of a multimillionaire athlete who likes attention but doesn’t understand his audience.
“Now as far as the other (maturity) stuff),” Campbell said, “look, he’s a work in progress, you know? He’s got room to grow and develop, to continue to mature as a player or a person in this league.
“And I do see growth. I see growth, and that’s all you can ask for.”
It’s generous of Campbell to say this, and in most cases in life it might be true. But in the NFL, effort isn’t enough, because if the results aren’t there, every team will move on from a player — about as fast as it takes to like a tweet.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.