This is now the third story I’ve written on the Deshaun Watson trade, but I consider this to be the most important of the three. The Cleveland Browns not only traded for a player with 22 accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, but they rewarded him on top of that with the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. Financially and competitively, Watson is now better off than he was when those accusations were made.
The Browns actually became co-conspirators in finding a way for Watson to avoid consequences for his actions even if he’s guilty in all 22 civil cases. They did this by putting a salary in year one that was so low that the impact of a suspension or fine from the league would be negligible. Even if you disagree with me and think it’s ok that the Browns traded for him, I can’t imagine how anyone would defend that the Browns have helped him avoid one of the potentially significant consequences of his actions. As wrong as I think it is to have traded for him, this contract is intentionally structured to mitigate any financial consequences even if he is guilty of some or all of the charges. I find it completely indefensible and outrageous that an NFL team would be comfortable playing that role.
What does it say about a team, owner, and organization that not only trades for him but rewards him as if nothing ever happened? It is also interesting to note that Jimmy and Dee Haslam are partners in owning the Browns, and that she must have also been comfortable with not only signing Watson but creating a scenario where he actually benefited from these accusations.
It will also be interesting to see the language in the contract because the guarantee in most contracts voids if the player gets suspended. So, is he protected from that?
Note that despite being criminally cleared by the grand jury, this does not mean he didn’t do what he was accused of. It just means that a grand jury hearing only one witness wasn’t convinced it could be proven beyond reasonable doubt. We should also note that there were only nine women involved in the grand jury hearing and only one was allowed to testify. It’s hard to imagine 22 independent women making allegations, and that there is nothing there. Somehow the Browns have decided they are fine with that…as long as it advances their goal to win.
My sympathy goes out to all of the women and especially those who specifically accused Watson. I can only imagine how they must be feeling at this moment. They took the risk of going public, and with one exception, they weren’t even allowed to testify. Then Watson was traded to a new team of his choosing after being paid generational changing money last year for not playing. And now, he has actually received significant benefit since these 22 accusations were made. These women are going to feel like they went through all the pain and risk to come forward, and the result is to see the accused player better off than before these incidents occurred. There is not even any emotional satisfaction, as the accused has been partially cleared and rewarded.
In addition to the women who have accused Watson, this outcome impacts all women. Every woman who works in the NFL or aspires to will feel marginalized. For decades, women in the United States have been afraid to come forward, partially based on the assumption that people would not believe them and that they would be running the risk of having their past used against them. And now we have additional proof that people are capable of disregarding allegations, even when 22 women stood together with accusations that many would consider sexual assault.
The result is a massive financial reward for Deshaun Watson. Imagine again how all women will feel the first game Watson plays in Cleveland and is cheered by the entire crowd as he is introduced. I find it all repugnant.