It’s better than before, but still pathetic.
The NFL has added to its suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback DeShaun Watson — but it’s still not enough to put a dent in the league’s problematic history of letting players get away with abusing women.
Over two dozen women had accused Watson, who was then the star quarterback of the Houston Texans, of sexual misconduct or assault during massage sessions over a 17-month period. Watson denied the claims, and settled with 23 of the 24 accusers in civil suits. Grand juries in two Texas counties decided to not charge Watson criminally, which led to a bidding war for Watson’s services, which the Browns won. But there is still the overarching issue of disciplinary action from the NFL at large for what appears to be a disturbing pattern of abuse.
The NFL seems to be aware of its reputation for not penalizing players accordingly for this area of misconduct. In 2020, the league and the players union agreed to the joint enlistment of a third-party disciplinary officer, retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, who would preside over decisions to punish players who violate its code of conduct. Watson was Robinson’s first case for the league, and she issued a paltry six-game suspension with no fine — tough based on the NFL’s pathetic precedent, but a slap on the wrist to anyone with common sense. After public backlash, the NFL appealed the decision, leaving it up to former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey, whom NFL commissioner Roger Goodell appointed to oversee the appeal.
On Thursday, an agreement between the league and the players union determined that Watson will now face an 11-game suspension without pay, incur a $5 million fine, and receive a treatment plan after being evaluated by behavioral experts (though no reports state what the treatment is actually for). Watson’s fine, as well as $1 million contributions from both the NFL and the Browns, will go to organizations “that educate young people on healthy relationships, promote education and prevention of sexual misconduct and assault, support survivors, and related causes,” according to a statement from the NFL.
In a statement released through the Browns, Watson took a shard of accountability, saying that he “apologizes ... for any pain this situation has caused” and that he “takes accountability for the decisions I made.” But he’s also repeatedly maintained his innocence, insisting that his settlements don’t equate to an admission of guilt.
While Watson’s 11-game suspension and fine are more substantial than the six-game ruling that was handed down weeks ago, it pales in comparison to the unofficial punishment that Colin Kaepernick took for standing up for what he believed in. Kaepernick famously protested for civil rights by kneeling as the national anthem played before NFL games, and had his whole career upended. Yet Watson allegedly engaged in a string of lewd and coercive sexual misconduct, and still signed the biggest contract in NFL history: a five-year, $230 million guaranteed deal. He also will be allowed to play for the Browns after his suspension, starting Nov. 28 in Week 13 of the upcoming season, where he will likely be put back on the field to compete against his old team, the Texans. The punishment still doesn’t match the seriousness of Watson’s alleged behavior. Players should not be allowed to habitually abuse women and continue an illustrious, monied career in sports. Period.