For years, Rodney Watkins was a fixture at area skate parks. With an eye for young talent, he would often invite boys in their early teens to join his skate team, called Powerfulnailya, promising the opportunity to hone their skills and win sponsorships. Those who signed on would travel with him to skate parks across the country and on out-of-state road trips.
Now, two men allege that almost a decade ago, when they were just 11 or 12 years old, Watkins sexually assaulted them, including performing oral sex on them and forcing them to touch his penis.
“He would say if I told anyone he would ruin my skateboarding career,” one of the men told police, according to case documents.
Watkins, 52, who was known by the nickname “the Ancient,” now faces charges including rape and corruption of minors. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has requested pretrial release conditions barring Watkins from contact with minors or access to skate parks. The office is asking anyone who has information to call the police Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3251, or the anonymous police tip line, 215-686-TIPS.
Reached by phone, Watkins referred questions to lawyer Jeremy Gelb, who said the allegations were unfounded. “We will vigorously contest these charges. They are not true, and we believe that Rodney will be vindicated,” he said.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw issued statements urging any additional victims to come forward.
“My office will do everything in our authority to seek justice for these two young men who endured horrific abuse at the hands of an adult when they were children,” Krasner said. “Reporting child sexual assault is often a re-traumatizing experience; we will also do everything we can to ensure they receive appropriate support throughout the criminal prosecution process.”
Watkins allegedly met the young skaters at Pop’s Skatepark in Port Richmond, Whitehall Skatepark in the city’s Frankford section, and Paine’s Park, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The two men said the assaults happened between 2011 and 2013, at Watkins’ home, in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia, and at a hotel during a road trip.
One of the complainants told police he also saw other skating team members being assaulted. He tried to block out what happened but came forward after years of grappling with anxiety and depression, he said. “I don’t want this to happen to another kid, what happened to me,” he told police.
Watkins was one of the founders of a skating school in Kensington called the Collective, and later was advertised as teaching lessons at the Skateboard Academy. A message left at the academy on Wednesday was not immediately returned.
One former Powerfulnailya team member, who spoke on the condition that his name not be used, said he had met Watkins as an 11- or 12-year-old at a skate park at the mall then known as Franklin Mills in Northeast Philadelphia. The man, now 23, said Watkins complimented his skating, and told him joining the team could open up new opportunities.
He described Watkins as a paternal figure. “I could tell that he loved us. He actually cared for us. He wanted to see us do better,” he said.
At the same time, he acknowledged that when Watkins would take the teens on road trips, the atmosphere was permissive and Watkins’ comments were often sexual. Kids would smuggle in alcohol and get drunk, or they’d sneak into a room and watch porn — but the former skater did not think Watkins was aware of that.
“Was he a little promiscuous? Perhaps. Have I ever felt that I was in immediate danger? No.”