Watson Returns After His Slap on the Wrist

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since his 11-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy by sexually assaulting numerous women, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson returns to practice. Watson had not been permitted to practice until last week following the terms of the settlement reached between the League and the NFL Players Association following an appeal of Watson’s initial six-game suspension. [1]  In issuing Watson’s six-game punishment in August, disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson wrote that, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” Watson, alleged by more than 20 women to have committed sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, engaged in “sexual assault; conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person; and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.” [2] To follow that sentence and write that he is allowed back in the League after a mere 11-game suspension is not only a slap in the face to the women that were involved, but to all women who watch and support the NFL. How can anyone in the League allow this? How can women not feel as though the NFL does not care about anything but a stream of revenue? What this suspension did is set a precedent for anyone in the NFL who realizes they can continue a playing career following a heinous crime, or any crime for that matter.

The $5 million dollar fine and mandatory treatment from professional behavioral clinicians is nowhere near equal to Watson’s behavior and actions. How can women watch him start on December 4th without thinking of the massage therapist who told Sports Illustrated that Watson “begged” her for oral sex, or the woman who said he was constantly “thrusting the air” before ejaculating during another massage session? [3] How can we watch him continue his career and forget his actions just as the NFL, the Cleveland Browns, and the networks and the streaming services paying billions of dollars to broadcast his games, his teammates, and Watson himself are counting on us to?

One of the stars of last year’s Super Bowl was Bengals running back Joe Mixon.  This was eight years after Mixon almost wasn’t drafted into the NFL, despite his obvious talent, after he assaulted a woman so hard he fractured her facial bones. [4] Jameis Winston, when he was a Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback at Florida State, was involved in one of the highest-profile rape cases in recent memory, which was memorialized in an entire documentary.[5] No one even mentions that now; his previous actions are overshadowed by the fact that Winston is a successful quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. [6]

These cases are only a handful of the harsh reality of the truth.   There are hundreds of NFL players who have gotten away with crimes due to their ability to play football. If that sentence doesn’t make you angry enough, just think about how these spread across all professional sports. Some of the highly broadcasted scandals throughout professional sports generally end the same way, a slap on the wrist and a continuation of a playing career. What is worse? We all eventually forget about it because it gets overshadowed and swept under the rug by all of the leagues, but why? Because most of them are men. That might not be the only reason, again, who wants to get rid of one of their players because of a scandal? What network wants to lose millions of dollars in revenue because they took a stance against a team who chose to continue allowing a player to participate despite criminal behaviors? The answer is no one, and the cycle will continue.  If you can play a sport and make others profit from it – you are above the law.

[1] https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/browns-deshaun-watson-returns-to-practice-taking-first-team-reps-in-preparation-for-week-13-start/

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[3] https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2022/08/the-nfl-expects-you-to-forget-the-deshaun-watson-allegations.html

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