Two weeks ago, we were wrapping up a two-day affair in which Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams attributed the mantra "kill them or hurt them" to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, then backtracked a day later, with head coach Doug Marrone stepping in to make a public statement on the matter. We noted in the aftermath of the dust-up that Williams has emerged as the Bills player whose every public move is criticized to an insane degree - fueled largely by a $100 million contract - and that is continuing this week.
Tim Graham of The Buffalo News wrote on Thursday afternoon about Williams' Instagram account, where he not only poked fun at the brewing murder investigation surrounding former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, but also posted a series of photos of himself using several fancy guns.
Graham's article focused predominantly on the gun photos, pointing out that former NFL defensive lineman Tank Johnson spoke to league rookies just this week about the dangers of firearm possession. Exacerbated by the ongoing Hernandez issue, Graham argues that the photos Williams posted do the league a disservice on the image front, despite the fact that Williams is a licensed peace officer in Texas, has well-documented weapons training and owns all of his guns legally. (These are facts that Graham pointed out in his coverage.)
The Bills once again made a public statement on a matter involving Williams, telling the paper: "We discuss the NFL policy regarding guns with all of our players. Mario adheres to the policy and has taken the necessary steps to ensure that his guns are legal with the proper documentation. It has been well documented that Mario has promoted safe and legal firearm possession."
What isn't pointed out in the News article is the fact that the photos - which appear to have been taken in North Carolina, with guns supplied by Perry's Gun Shop in Raleigh (and which are not necessarily owned by Williams) - were posted to Williams' Instagram account on June 1, nearly four full weeks before the Hernandez arrest and Johnson's big rookie symposium speech. Graham may be right that there's an image problem here, but it's a retroactive situation; it's not as if Williams went to the gun range the day after the Hernandez arrest and pridefully posted these images.
His posting of a Hernandez spoof photo reading "Grand Theft Auto New England" - with the added hashtag "#craycray" - is something else entirely. That photo hit Williams' account yesterday, a day after the arrest, and falls into the same vein of athletes making missteps on social media as the infamous "Stevie Johnson tells North Korea to bomb Foxboro" tweet from earlier this spring. Unlike the stream of gun photos from earlier this month, this particular move from Williams seems less tactful, poorly timed, and strikes us as the bigger deal. How big a deal it is will be left to the court of public opinion, but it's worth pointing out that the backlash from Johnson's tweet died out fairly quickly.
It would not be surprising if Williams stepped in and removed the gun photos now, but it's worth re-iterating something that Graham pointed out: Williams was not in violation of either caveat presented in an NFL statement on the matter. From Greg Aiello: "We advise players not to own guns, and have a long-standing policy prohibiting the possession of guns by NFL employees at NFL facilities or while traveling on NFL business."
Graham covered Tank Johnson's gun-themed speech at the rookie symposium this week; you can read the full article here. Johnson warned rookies about these types of stories at this time of the football calendar:
"Be aware of the slow media market," Johnson said. "Just look at it right now. NBA championship just got done. Football doesn't start for another couple months. So these journalists are just looking for anything, traffic stops, anything to nail you to the cross.
"You guys should be training now anyway. ... Anything you do is going to be magnified times 10 because nothing else is going on.
July 28 cannot get here soon enough.