Deshaun Watson’s case is a test of what the NFL stands for

Deshaun Watson’s case is a test of what the NFL stands for

Twenty-two accusers. No, it just happened, make it 23. Wait, now it’s 24.

Should the NFL suspend Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who landed a $230 million contract with the Cleveland Browns, even though he’s been accused of harassment and assault by an ever-growing list of female massage therapists ?

Of course, the league could, and given the bucket of allegations, it wouldn’t be surprising if it did. But should he?

If you go to the Browns message boards, scroll through Twitter, or just talk to some women, a lot of people argue that Watson, the former Houston Texans quarterback, should never throw an NFL pass again.

A suspension for a set number of games this coming season, they say, is not enough. Nor is there a season, or even two, apart. If America’s most popular sports league is to deliver on its promise to support women and victims of abuse, Watson must be left out.

Watson “shouldn’t be playing in the league at all,” says Brenda Tracy, a prominent victims’ rights advocate who travels the country advising colleges and professional athletes to address harassment and abuse. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand how far these leagues will go to protect these men. He has to go.

Of course, such a move would be unprecedented. Watson strenuously proclaims her innocence, especially now that two Texas grand juries have decided not to pursue criminal charges — although that’s not uncommon in cases where women file sexual harassment claims.

If banned, he would surely lobby the league to be reinstated. Maybe even file a complaint. Let him try.

A signal would have been sent: the NFL is no longer willing to put games, myth and money before absolutely everything.

I write this with an uneasy stomach. I’m still digesting the latest revelations about Watson unearthed by The New York Times’ Jenny Vrentas, whose reporting this week showed the 26-year-old quarterback acting more questionably than anyone realized.

Watson, we now know, visited at least 66 female massage therapists over 17 months, from fall 2019 to spring 2021. Among them were strangers he tracked down on Instagram and women who worked at a spa at the side of a highway. .

Aware that their body is their lifeblood, the best NFL players usually find only a few experts to perform relaxing massages.

Having 66 massage therapists isn’t a crime, but it’s actually a galaxy away from the norm.

Of the 66, some defended Watson, saying publicly that he had done nothing wrong. But last week two more women filed charges in civil court, bringing the current count of female accusers to 24. Some women who massaged Watson did not call a lawyer or police afterwards, but even they said to the Times that Watson seemed to be looking for more than pain relief. The sheer numbers are head-spinning, and depictions of Watson’s aggressiveness and entitlement are frightening.

The woman who filed the most recent complaint claimed that Watson masturbated during a massage, ending in a way that made her feel satisfied and put her down.

A woman who decided not to sue or complain to police told Vrentas that Watson made repeated demands for sex during the massage, including ‘begging’ her to put her mouth on his penis .

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,'” the woman said.

Watson and his well-connected legal team have continuously denied any wrongdoing. They admit that sexual intercourse took place on three occasions, but only after the massages, and always at the instigation of the women. “I understand the seriousness of the allegations,” Watson said at a news conference in March. “I have never assaulted a single woman. I have never disrespected any woman.

His claims of innocence were bolstered when the Browns, a team once so proud of a championship it lost all dignity, offered him a better offer than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson: $230 million. dollars, every penny would have been guaranteed.

Meanwhile, NFL investigators are looking into the allegations and commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to decide Watson’s possible punishment soon. History is not encouraging.

In 2014, Goodell, under pressure after video evidence emerged, admitted mishandling Ray Rice’s domestic abuse case and vowed to do better. But what has changed other than empty promises and marketing campaigns aimed at appealing to female fans?

In 2018, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, then one of football’s most promising running backs, was filmed shoving a woman to the ground and kicking her. The NFL suspended Hunt for eight games even though the woman did not press charges. Guess who signed Hunt after Kansas City sent him packing.

The Cleveland Browns did. Obviously, mid-season suspensions send no real message.

It’s hard to see how anyone can take the NFL seriously when they say they care about women and the behavior of everyone associated with the league. Not after his sweet responses to Rice and Hunt. Not after letting Antonio Brown play for Tampa Bay and play in the 2021 Super Bowl as he faced sexual harassment charges and a trial accusing him of rape. Not when the league fails to appropriately punish Washington COs, a team riddled with harassment complaints that have even ensnared team owner Daniel Snyder.

The league must send the strongest possible message that sexual misconduct will not be tolerated.

I know that banishment may seem to some like a drastic and too harsh punishment. A significant portion of the NFL fan base says Watson shouldn’t be punished at all. Innocent until proven guilty, say these apologists, who are part of the club and care more about bread and circus entertainment than doing the right thing.

But the NFL can do whatever it wants.

Imagine that Watson manages a car dealership. Imagine his bosses find out he faces 24 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct. How long would he have a job?

Imagine that Watson was an NFL training mate that few had heard of. Would he get a second chance from the teams and the league? No. Companions don’t get a second chance. It’s different for stars (unless you’re a star who kneels during the national anthem and leads the protest against police abuse of black people).

If you really want to imagine something, imagine that you are a massage therapist who trusted a rich and famous client that you never met, and who ended up so hurt and humiliated that you left work forever. , as did one of Watson’s accusers. Maybe that’s all you need to imagine.

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