Mike Watkins Details Mental Health Struggles in Emotional Essay

By Eric Gibson on October 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm
Jan 12, 2018; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions forward Mike Watkins (24) during the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State defeated Nebraska 76-74 in overtime.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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With the assistance of Black Cager Sports's Delgreco Wilson, Penn State's Mike Watkins wrote an emotional essay Friday morning in which he detailed his mental health issues. Watkins had been making headlines for all the wrong reasons this offseason after multiple run-ins with law enforcement. In June, he was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia after police found a marijuana grinder and three .40-caliber bullets during a search of his apartment. Most recently, he was cited for disorderly conduct this month after allegedly punching a patron at McDonald's on September 29. 

Watkins also served a suspension last offseason that forced him to miss the team's foreign tour in the Bahamas and the season's first game. With all of his disciplinary issues piling up off the court, at what point would the Philadelphia native run out of second chances? It was a very fair question to ask, since Watkins will be one of the top returning big men in the Big Ten. Was Penn State going to keep excusing criminal behavior to keep one of its best players on the court?

It's easy to see how that has become the common perception from the public eye. At the team's media day on Tuesday, Mark Brennan of Lions247 justly pushed head coach Pat Chambers about Watkins after the program claimed they wouldn't answer any questions about the redshirt junior's legal situation. Chambers emphatically stood behind his player, as you can see from the opening moments of this press conference video via Blue-White Illustrated:

Chambers' staunch reaction makes a lot more sense after reading Watkins' essay. While we knew he hailed from one of Philadelphia's most impoverished communities, the lifelong issues that arise from that kind of rough upbringing are hard to fathom if you've never experienced it. Fortunately for all of us, Watkins summoned the courage to publicly admit his struggles with depression. He took ownership of his flaws and didn't excuse his actions, but he also credited Penn State with saving his life from the streets in Philadelphia.

There are numerous revelations about Watkins' background in the must-read article, but perhaps the most jarring was a recent hospitalization in June after expressing suicidal thoughts. He has been struggling with the trauma from witnessing the death of his best friend, presumably due to gun violence. With the support of Penn State's administration and coaching staff, Watkins has since sought out help from mental health professionals. 

He wrapped up his article with this public apology to Penn State's administration and community.

While I have improved in a lot of ways, every day is a struggle. Recently, my behaviors have once again been the focus of media attention. I was wrong. I impulsively made another poor decision. I truly regret placing President Barron, Athletic Director Barbour and Coach Chambers in a position where they are called upon to explain their feelings about my poor decision-making. They have done nothing but helped me through very trying times. In return, I have failed to uphold my end of the bargain.

I publicly apologize for bringing negative attention to Penn State University.

What I want the people at Penn State to understand is that this most recent episode and any of earlier negative behaviors are not reflections of my feelings toward the community.

I love Penn State. Penn State has saved my life.

Because I enrolled at Penn State, I have an understanding of the source of some of the sadness and pain I endure. Because I enrolled at Penn State, I understand the anxiety and impulsiveness that lead to my poor decision-making.

Because I enrolled at Penn State I am a better man.

Watkins will still face disciplinary action from his transgressions over the offseason, and rightfully so, but it's admirable to see him take public accountability and open up about a widespread problem in our society. 

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