How Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns Exposed the Hypocrisy of the NFL


(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

By Max Lepore, Sports Writer


On March 18, Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns highlighted an already eventful NFL Season. The Houston Texans traded their three-time Pro-Bowl quarterback to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for three first-round draft picks and additional picks in 2022-2024. Watson immediately signed a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed deal with the Browns, making it the biggest contract and largest guaranteed contract in NFL history. The blockbuster trade concluded Watson’s Houston saga, which included him sitting out of the entire 2021 NFL season after requesting a trade. However, the trade request was not the primary reason Watson sat out the season.

In March of 2021, following the 2020 NFL season and Watson’s trade request, a massage therapist located out of Houston filed a civil lawsuit against Watson, claiming that Watson had sexually harassed her in March of 2020. Watson immediately denied the allegations, but it only continued to blow up from there.

On March 17, just a day after the first allegation, another massage therapist represented by the same attorney, Tony Buzbee, alleged that Watson has also harassed her in August of 2020. The next day, another lawsuit was filed, this time from a therapist claiming an incident that occurred in December of 2020.

Eventually, Buzbee announced that a total of twelve civil suits had been filed, and he requested that the Houston Police Department get involved. By April 5, 22 total lawsuits had been filed against Watson.

Watson would eventually miss the 2021 NFL season, and on March 11, 2022, a grand jury declined indictment against Watson on sexual harassment charges. However, the civil suits still stood, and the situation is far from resolved.

While Watson being free of initial criminal charges may be enough for some people to see him as innocent, it is really hard to ignore the testimonies of 22 women, especially those that have talked of anxiety resulting from their experiences with Watson.

Whether Watson is innocent or not is one conversation, but what happened to him is quite another. Watson, facing 22 civil charges of sexual misconduct and after missing the entire 2021 NFL season, bailing out on his team, signed the largest NFL contract of all time. The Cleveland Browns told the world that they valued the quality of the player over the quality of the human being. This is disappointing to see from the Browns, disappointing to see from the NFL and disappointing to see in the sports world as a whole.

What is even more disturbing is the fact that this is not the first instance of this situation. Whether it be Ben Roethlisberger and his rape chargers, Tyreek Hill and his domestic assault or Ray Lewis and his murder charges, there exists no shortage of NFL players who have been accused of horrendous things and continued to play in the league. Many of these NFL players have been able to reach settlements outside of court with the victims, which by no means justifies their actions. Even more problematic, many of these players face a suspension of just a few games from the NFL, if any suspension at all. However, some players have been permanently banned from the NFL for use of substances, which most would argue is nowhere near as flagrant as some of these other offenses. The NFL has shown the world that player stardom often correlates with player privilege, as these players have been able to escape serious reparations for their wrong-doings.

While the NFL has shown incredible leniency with star players on many controversial issues, the saddest part of this whole story isn’t about a player who was shown leniency, but rather one who was indirectly banned from the league.

Colin Kaepernick is a social justice warrior, but he was a tremendous football player prior to that. He was a controversial no-call on an end zone pass away from winning a Super Bowl in 2013. He holds multiple NFL records, including the most rushing yards for a quarterback in any game ever (181). While Kaepernick may have seen his play regress a bit, he still posted a 90.7 quarterback ranking in his final NFL season in 2016, with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, far from a poor mark. The fact that Kaepernick was not given a contract offer from any team following the 2016 season was outrageous, when he could have served as an average starting quarterback or the best backup in the league for any team.

Kaepernick was blackballed from the league because he took a knee. Throughout the course of the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick would kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial oppression in the United States. Kaepernick got a lot of hate for it, but he kept doing it throughout the whole season, sometimes joined by teammates, and sometimes joined by players from other teams. He started a movement in sports, and it was quite incredible to see.

Unfortunately for Kaepernick, after his contract expired with the San Francisco 49ers following the 2016 season, he was never signed to another team. To this day he has stayed in shape and worked out for various NFL teams and scouts, but there is no denying that his decision to kneel during the Anthem has cost him his chance of playing in the NFL.

So the issue with the NFL has now become clear. Watson, an alleged harasser by 22 women, is rewarded with the largest contract in NFL history despite his lawsuits not being settled. Kaepernick, a man who kneeled during the National Anthem for an important and just cause, harming not a single person, is blackballed from the league by its owners. The National Football League can release all the public statements and post all the graphics they want, but actions speak louder than words. Watson, a harasser, is rewarded for good play, while Kaepernick, a social justice warrior, is not allowed on another team because of the attention he brings with him. Sure, Watson may be a better player than Kaepernick, but in a league desperate for quarterbacks, it is indefensible that Kaepernick has not been signed to a team.

If the NFL truly wants to be as progressive as they claim to be, a team must sign Kaepernick to a contract at some point, and they must start bringing the hammer down on the harassers and abusers in the league. Until then, the National Football League will exhibit some of the most hypocritical behavior in sports.


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