Think Out Loud

Grant High School journalists investigate social media accounts highlighting female high school sports

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Dec. 20, 2022 8:11 p.m. Updated: Dec. 28, 2022 9:34 p.m.

Broadcast: Tuesday, Dec. 20

Eric Watkins says he started the Instagram and Twitter accounts called “Elite Oregon Girls” to highlight female high school sports in the state.


But an investigation by student journalists at Portland’s Grant High School alleges that Watkins was using those accounts to send inappropriate messages to female student-athletes.

According to the report, the Elite Oregon Girls Instagram account featured a story in November that stated: “I’m stepping back from running EOG for an unknown period of time.”

The Instagram account is now private.

In a statement to OPB, Watkins wrote: “Grant Magazine deliberately withheld contextual insight regarding those messages, misleading the public to believe that it was done with inappropriate intentions. The article is being thoroughly reviewed and legal options are being weighed.

“EOG was proof that girls thrive when they are invested into and cared about. I gave every ounce of passion I could into them and I walk away successful, they have a brighter future ahead,” he added. “I have no regrets and that story was nothing short of a backstabbing hit.”

In a Twitter thread on Dec. 19 he wrote: “A new group awaits and a new adventure comes in 2023. Peace out Oregon.”

Veronica Bianco is an editor-in-chief and a reporter for Grant Magazine. Ava Siano and Claire Coffey are reporters for the outlet. They join us with details of their reporting.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. For the last couple of years, social media accounts run by Eric Watkins, a Salem man in his late twenties, highlighted girls’ high school sports throughout Oregon. But an investigation by student journalists at Portland’s Grant High School found that Watkins was sending inappropriate messages to student athletes who were as young as 13. They also discovered that the Salem-Keiser School District banned Watkins from all school properties and all school related events.

Claire Coffey is a sophomore at Grant High School. Ava Siano is a junior. They are reporters for the magazine. Veronica Bianco is a senior and an Editor-in-chief. All three join me now. Welcome to Think Out Loud.

Veronica Bianco: Thank you so much for having us.

Miller: Veronica, I want to start with the context here because it seems like it’s an important place to start, given that Eric Watkins has said over and over that the reason he did what he did is because there was a gap in coverage or attention paid to girls’ athletics, in particular. Can you give us a sense for what that disparity in coverage or attention looks like?

Bianco: Eric’s right in that there is that large disparity between coverage for female athletes and the athletes. The three of us are student athletes. We’ve all experienced it and felt the effects of it. I mean, it looks like how you think it would look. Female sports are disproportionately underrepresented in coverage. Larger accounts generally tend to cover male sports much more often, regardless of levels of popularity. And like we wrote, Eric’s account was one of the only all-girl accounts. So something like that is pretty rare and, and pretty important. And it’s extremely unfortunate that this was going on behind the scenes as well.

Miller: Before we get to the behind the scenes things that the three of you so helpfully uncovered, Ava, what did Eric Watkins do publicly with elite Oregon sports, with his various associated social media accounts?

Ava Siano: Eric would photograph games all over Oregon. He would travel miles and miles every day, every weekend to go and take photos. And he did a lot of coverage of larger schools, like 6A schools. But he did bring light to smaller schools like the 1A and the 2A which was probably really inspiring for girls all around.

Miller: So [he was] not only focusing on half of the athletes in the state who get less coverage, but focusing on some of the smaller schools or school districts, which also get less coverage, say, than in places like Portland Public Schools or Eugene or Salem-Keiser.

Claire, as Veronica noted, in addition to being student journalists, you are all also student athletes. Do you remember when you first became aware of this account?

Claire Coffey: Yes. I had seen it in the past. But this volleyball season, my coach had our team meet together and she told us to stay away from this man if he comes to our school. Because she had heard mixed things about him and his interactions with student athletes.

Miller: That’s a worrisome thing to hear. Did you get any more details than that?

Coffey: No. That’s all she gave us at the time.


Miller: Ava, was this something that was talked about among fellow female athletes?

Siano: Yeah. It was kind of like he had a bit of a reputation I’d say. Like when you would hear about EOG (Elite Oregon Girls) or Eric Watkins, you’d be like oh he’s kind of weird.

Bianco: I remember being at soccer practice a few weeks ago and I mentioned that I was working on a story about this and the reactions from my teammates around me were exactly that, like ‘oh he’s creepy.’ ‘Oh I’ve heard this….oh, I’ve heard that.’ So among female athletes, it was a known thing that this man was a little creepy.

Miller: Veronica, why did you decide to make a public records request?

Bianco: We heard from an anonymous student, who requested to be anonymous for their own protection, that he was banned from Salem-Keizer School District. And we knew that we needed to corroborate that information. So I actually reached out to Nigel Jaquiss at Willamette Week who I’d worked with. I’d never made a public records request before, so he kind of helped me through that process and helped me with what to ask for etcetera, etcetera. We just knew that those records were available and that was what was going to corroborate all the things we were hearing and that was what was going to make our story.

Miller: Instead of just saying there is gossip that this guy is creepy, you could actually get documents to explain some of the, for example, communication that had been captured and uncovered. What did the documents that were released to you show?

Coffey: The first two we received were a notice of trespass that the Salem-Keiser School District gave [that was] addressed to Watkins. And the second was a letter from the Salem-Keiser School Districts to OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) telling them that Watkins had been banned from their district and explaining the grounds of the ban. And OSAA had a media credential for Watkins, [so] they wanted to explain that to him.

Bianco: Then after that, the district sent over 50 screenshots of messages between Watkins and two students, ranging over two years, on a variety of topics. We essentially just had whole conversation threads. And then, in addition to that, we also obtained screenshots with three other female student athletes. Actually after the story’s publishing, we’ve had a number of other female student athletes come forward with screenshots of their own, many of which are, in my eyes, more severe than the ones that the district sent us.

Miller: For people who read your article already and saw some of those screenshots - or for those of us who [haven’t] seen some of the new things like this that have come in later - without breaking any trust with sources, can you give us a sense for the kinds of messages he would send to girls who were at the ages of 13 or 14 or 17?

Bianco: One of the ones that we received after the story’s publishing, shows Watkins asking the student if they need a hug later. And the context of the messages show that after he said that, the girl said, ‘only if you come take photos of JV sometime.’ And he said, ‘are you calling for a special favor?’ So that, to me, is a really stark representation of the way that he was using the power and the position that he had in order to manipulate young girls just for wanting the coverage that they deserve, regardless. That wasn’t the only screenshot we received that brought in that physical aspect of like a hug. There were at least two others who said that that was something he routinely did.

Miller: Ava, this gets to something that you all touched on in the piece, which I think is a really important part: the power dynamics here. Can you explain them as you understand them? What was at stake in the eyes of some student athletes in getting coverage, getting a photo or mentions on these accounts?

Siano: To start off, Eric had almost 10,000 followers, which is a pretty large platform. He’s well known around the whole state. Especially for girls who go to these smaller schools, getting noticed by colleges or getting filmed all is something really important if they want to go on to play past high school. Eric’s account really could help them amplify their voice and have other people see them. And he was very passionate about that, but in the end, he seemed to be using that to be able to speak to these girls because he knew that they needed and wanted that coverage. He used that in exchange to start conversations, to request to meet them, to request to go to their games.

Bianco: I also want to add real quick, I found another one of the screen shots that we were sent and it’s a message from Eric saying, ‘Fair enough, I’ll follow you back and make you feel like a big kid. All you need now is a hug from me to feel golden.’

Miller: I do want to read the statement that we got from Eric Watkins this morning. This is it in its entirety:

‘Grant Magazine deliberately withheld contextual insight regarding these messages, misleading the public to believe that it was done with inappropriate intentions. The article is being thoroughly reviewed and legal options are being weighed. EOG was proof that girls thrive when they are invested into and cared about. I gave every ounce of passion I could into them and I walk away successful. They have a brighter future ahead. I have no regrets and that story was nothing short of a backstabbing hit. The support from girls and parents in the wake of it has been plentiful. In the end EOG shines bright in a sexist Oregon high school sports landscape and I am grateful for the last three years.’

Veronica Bianco, what do you make of that statement?

Bianco: I’m not sure where to start. First of all, to the kind of legal aspect of things that he’s been posting about, we’ve had conversations with lawyers about his claims and we are extremely concerned to the side that he feels he has no regrets about EOG. I think the fact that he was banned from a school district really speaks for itself. He’s also shown no remorse for the things he’s done and for the girls who he’s harmed and made extremely uncomfortable.

Miller: What about that first part, which I’d love to get your response to. He says specifically that you deliberately withheld contextual insight regarding messages which could lead the public to believe that it was done with inappropriate intentions. How do you respond to that?

Bianco: I’m not completely sure what context Eric would have wanted with specific quotes, but I know that in the story when we um quoted one of his messages, we did our best to explain the context around it. I believe there was one where we quoted him sending a message to a player that was ‘you let me down girl.’ And we wrote after that this was after a girls team had lost a game that Eric was at. So we did provide context and additionally, for some of the messages standing alone, they are inherently inappropriate. For example, I think this is one of the starkest from Eric: ‘I will try and convince your dad to let me take you to Ohio with me.’ The context there is that he was moving to Ohio and he was going to miss this girl and her family. And he said that. Even with that context, that doesn’t change the fact that saying that to a young female student athlete is extremely inappropriate.

Miller: Veronica Bianco, Ava Siano and Claire Coffey, congratulations on this article and thanks very much for joining us.

Bianco: Thank you for having us.

Miller: Claire Coffey is a sophomore at Grant High School. Ava Siano is a junior. They were the two reporters on this article for Grant Magazine. Veronica Bianco is a senior at Grant and one of the editors-in-chief and a reporter for the magazine.

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