I’m not sure Deshaun Watson understands.
Seventeen months and 24 accusers later, Watson has received what, on the face of it, appears to be a considerable sentence. On Thursday, the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that Cleveland Browns quarterback Watson would be suspended for 11 games and fined $5 million for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The penalty relates to allegations that Watson engaged in sexual misconduct and sexually assaulted women during massage sessions.
After reading Watson’s statement on Thursday and listening to his remarks, I’m convinced the suspension should have been longer — 15 games. That likely would have forced Cleveland to sideline Watson for the season. He needs time to reflect on everything that has happened since March 2021.
In a statement on Thursday, Watson said: ‘I apologize once again for any pain this situation has caused. I take responsibility for the decisions I have made.
It is very good.
But when he met with reporters on Thursday, Watson took on a more defiant tone.
“I have always defended my innocence and I have always said that I have never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone,” he said. “I will continue to stand on my innocence.”
Which is it? Responsibility for bad decisions? Or innocent?
Two weeks ago, Judge Sue L. Robinson found Watson had committed four instances of “non-violent sexual assault.” She found Watson’s conduct to be “flagrant” and “predatory” and imposed a six-game suspension. The NFL properly appealed the decision. If a price can be put on bad behavior towards women, six games was too low a price.
Yes, Watson is not facing legal action. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict him earlier this year.
But the larger question – the one that came to mind while listening to Watson speak to reporters – is whether he really believes he is not guilty, that he did nothing wrong, that it was all consensual, that he is being victimized, targeted and exploited. .
It’s hard to believe that everyone is making it up. Here’s what it comes down to: either you believe women or you don’t. I do.
I wanted to believe Watson when he first and categorically professed his innocence.
In March 2021, I suggested in a column that Watson may have been a victim of the Houston Texans rematch. Prior to that, Watson was becoming an emerging face of the NFL. He was a franchise quarterback and, as far as we know, a paragon of virtue. (I took the “paragon of virtue” part with a grain of salt because, who really knows.)
But Watson had taken a principled stand against the Texans, saying he had been promised to be included in personnel decisions and was not. He then demanded a trade and vowed never to play for the Texans. That’s when more than 20 women came forward, using a lawyer, to accuse Watson of sexual assault and misconduct in connection with regular massages.
It was as if the franchise had protected Watson and withdrew its protection once Watson said he no longer wanted to play for the organization. One does not excuse the other: Watson could have behaved obnoxiously and the Texans could have closed their eyes until he bit the hand that fed him.
Anyway, the Cleveland Browns, supposedly after doing their due diligence, signed Watson to a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million after acquiring him from the Texans. as part of an exchange in March 2022. In the months that followed, other allegations emerged. There were 24 complainants, the league interviewed 12. Of those 12, five were presented to the hearing officer. One was rejected. The stories of four women were presented by NFL investigators and the accounts were graphic, compelling and similar.
I’m more convinced than in March 2021 that Watson may have crossed several lines.
The most important part of Thursday’s settlement between the league and the NFLPA isn’t the suspension — Watson will play football again — but the order to receive counseling. Under the agreement, Watson will undergo a mandatory professional evaluation by behavioral experts.
Will Watson take this opportunity to emerge from this scandal as a better person? He said he wanted.
“My goal going forward is to work towards becoming the best version of myself on and off the pitch,” he said in a statement. If that’s true, Watson should embrace therapy and explore his mental health in ways he may never have.
Equally important is how Watson’s inner circle reacts to this turn of events. Watson is a rich young man. He is entering the first year of his new contract. Many of those around star athletes don’t really care about them – not enough to tell them the truth.
It’s not nothing, because I wonder if this punishment will be enough to scare Watson – especially when he doesn’t seem to believe he’s done anything wrong.
Will Watson’s inner circle stick together and also insist on his innocence? Or will someone step in and tell him the truth?
From what I’ve heard so far, I don’t think he understands.