It’s easy to throw around the word “bust,” but far too often there’s a story behind a player’s inability to perform on the field that’s either fallen on deaf ears or remains untold. In six NFL seasons, Kansas City Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins endured trade after trade and an endless deluge of injuries before finally becoming a Super Bowl hero this past season. Along the way, he kept one of his greatest inhibitors a secret—and now he’s ready to talk about it.
In a lengthy feature with Tyler Dunne of Bleacher Report, the Florida native opined on all kinds of wild shit, like supernatural forces and reincarnation. But for the first time ever, he also revealed how depression and alcoholism nearly derailed his career.
After the Bills mortgaged their future to take the Clemson product 4th overall in the 2014 NFL Draft—over the likes of Khalil Mack, Aaron Donald, Odell Beckham Jr. and other All-Pro caliber superstars—Watkins expressed his gratitude by turning “downtown Buffalo’s Chippewa Street into his own personal frat party.” He moved his homies from back home up North and fucked off his $12.8 million signing bonus on liquor, weed and God knows what else.
“I would go out and get wasted,” Watkins admitted. “Wasted wasted.”
“Every night,” he said.
Naturally, this isn’t exactly conducive to peak performance on the field, which in turn introduced the foot fractures, hip tears, bad hamstrings, strained calves and broken ribs that marred his career early on. And while he struggled to perform on the field, other players in his draft class blossomed into household names, which only added to his mounting frustrations.
His attitude deteriorated too. As other receivers in his class became stars—OBJ turning early success into full-fledged celebrity—Watkins’ irritation and isolation grew. In October of his second season, he demanded the ball 10 times a game and said the front office was making itself look bad by not force-feeding him. In came the sarcastic cheers from 70,000 fans the next game. In came the social media blasts when he inevitably got hurt again, and no, telling fans on IG to “continue working y’all little jobs” didn’t quite help his cause.
Watkins couldn’t ignore online trolls, just as he couldn’t ignore everyone in real life treating him differently. The general manager. Coaches. Teammates. Friends. He felt like he was toxic—to everyone.
This caustic work environment pushed him deeper and deeper into depression, and at one point Watkins’ routine consisted of retreating into his basement, drinking until 4 a.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. to do it all over again—all while refusing to talk to his teammates, friends or family and barely uttering a word to his then-girlfriend, Tala.
And just when things couldn’t get any worse, his step-brother Jari McMiller got caught up in an ugly RICO case and is currently facing a life sentence.
“I don’t think the world knows what athletes go through off the field,” Watkins said. “We have family. We have lives. You have good and bad in your family. I’m like fucking Jesus in my family. I was putting family before football. I wasn’t focused on football. I was like: ‘Fuck football. I have to figure out how I’m going to put my family in a position to be successful or not to get killed or not to get in a situation where they can go to jail.’”
He added, “I was fighting a war outside of football. [...] I went home into that dark place and was like: ‘Fuck. My whole life is in shambles.’”
After contemplating retirement, Watkins was eventually traded to the Rams in 2017, which enabled him to solidify his career. And while he has yet to become the transcendent talent that scouts and commentators had pegged him to be prior to the draft, he’s become a key contributor to the Chiefs—who now believes he deserves a much bigger role.
“I’m praying and hope they do right by me if I go back,” he said. “If they don’t, it’s going to be World War III. Seriously. Because I feel like I’ve been doing everything in my power to stay positive, to continue to uplift everybody on the team. To put myself last, to literally always put myself last.”
Far too often we look at players as stats in a box score instead of actual human beings with fears and personal challenges of their own. I commend Watkins for being so brave in sharing his battle with depression and alcoholism, and hopefully, it encourages other professional athletes to be more vigilant in seeking help in conquering their own demons.