NFL owners, fans were quick to abandon values in pursuit of Deshaun Watson | Opinion
Massive as the price tag for Deshaun Watson is, he’s going to cost the Cleveland Browns a lot more.
Their integrity, for starters. Their credibility, too.
The only consolation, if there is any, is that the Browns aren’t the only ones who have to pay the freight on this. The Browns, the Atlanta Falcons, the New Orleans Saints, the Carolina Panthers – they all tripped over themselves racing to ingratiate their franchises with a guy who is very likely a sexual predator.
But hey, why bother with the high ground when the gutter is the quicker route to the Super Bowl?
The recruitment of Watson, which culminated Friday afternoon with news that the quarterback had done an about-face and picked Cleveland, has been yet another case study in how little regard society has for women. Along with a reminder that self-interest will trump basic decency at every turn.
Watson is being sued by 22 women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. He has denied wrongdoing, but the stories are troublingly similar, with the women saying Watson either exposed himself or caused improper touching.
If Watson were anything but an athlete, prospective employers and co-workers would be trying to get as much distance from him as possible. But because he’s a special talent, in a league where quarterbacks are king, and at 26 has another decade or so left to play, there is almost nothing he can do that won’t be forgiven.
Except kneel in protest to call attention to police brutality of Black and brown people. That’s simply a bridge too far.
The Browns didn’t care if their pursuit of Watson alienated Baker Mayfield. While Mayfield might not be the answer on the field, he has never brought shame or embarrassment to the franchise. Nor, apparently, did they blink at giving Watson a whopping new five-year, $230 million contract, with all of the money guaranteed.
You would think Panthers owner David Tepper would have more empathy than most for those who have been abused, having spoken movingly about the domestic violence he experienced as a child at the hands of his father and the impact it made on him. Yet Tepper went all-in on trying to get Watson.
And then there was Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who just last month nearly dislocated his shoulder patting himself on the back for always letting his principles be his guide and not putting success ahead of doing the right thing.
“Our framework isn’t about how to maximize revenue or profit,” Blank said during a speech at the University of Georgia. “It’s about how do we take care of the people that we serve — our customers or our guests and our associates.
“It’s not complicated, but it means you have to (follow your principles) with intensity. You have to do it with purpose, and you can’t compromise.”
Unless there happens to be a guy available who’s been accused of sexual misconduct by 20-plus women but is also a hell of a quarterback who might put butts in the seats. Then all bets are off!
All of these teams, along with many members of the media, tried to pretend that Watson was just another high-profile player available in the free-agent frenzy. As if Watson’s legal problems were simply some challenge he’s had to overcome.
There has been little time spent on the very serious accusations against him. Or that he is facing suspension, possibly for a good chunk of the season, for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. And spare me the bluster about how a grand jury didn’t indict Watson last Friday.
Not being indicted is not a declaration or even an indication of innocence, legal or factual. More often, it’s a reflection of whether a prosecutor wants to actually pursue a case, and cases involving gender violence are rarely reported and even more rarely prosecuted.
The New York Times reported that while several women who made complaints against Watson were in the courtroom and ready to testify, prosecutors called only one before the grand jury. Jenny Vrentas, who has reported extensively on Watson’s case for Sports Illustrated and now the Times, said on Twitter that police investigators deemed the 10 women who made criminal complaints “credible and reliable.”
The Browns and Falcons and everyone else who has excused and ignored Watson’s misdeeds did so because they didn’t consider them to be a big deal. Because they view Watson’s ability to make plays with his hands and feet as more valuable than the health and dignity of women.
Because the chance to win a Super Bowl is worth whatever it costs. Even if your integrity is included in the price.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.