There are moments in life when we are at a crossroads. The “fork-in-the-road”, the rock and a hard place, whatever analogy you use, people are defined by the choices they make. The same can be said of businesses and corporations. Ultimately, we as a society must understand that the mighty dollar in most cases dictates the decision-making. The Deshaun Watson situation is a crossroads decision for the NFL.
They have a multitude of complaints of sexual misconduct/coercion and even sexual assault. They have allegations of his ex-team’s employees assisting this behavior in ways more egregious than just looking the other way. The NFL is in a really bad situation, one that I do not envy, but let’s not get it twisted, this is a very easy decision. Before giving away the solution, however, we must first diagnose the problem.
Two Questions and a Solution for the Deshaun Watson Situation
Q1: Why do we care about Deshaun Watson?
Watson experienced success very early in his athletic career, achieving records playing for Gainseville high school in Georgia starting as a freshman. In this era of football, most notably the dominance of southern high school football and football in the SEC, this meteoric rise didn’t go unnoticed and he was ESPN300’s top quarterback in 2014 and verbally committed to Clemson.
Once at Clemson, Watson helped establish the Tigers as one of the premier football schools of the 2010s. And, as a freshman in his first career game, threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns. He went to back-to-back national championships including winning the MVP of the game. Watson went out on top and after his junior season, he entered the NFL Draft.
Watson was drafted 12th overall by the Houston Texans and made his first career start on his 22nd birthday. He amassed multiple rookie records and awards including a five-touchdown game and a 16-touchdown month and was the rookie of the month in October before being injured.
In his second year, he led the Texans to an 11-5 record and an AFC South title, although they ultimately lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Colts. The following year, Watson won another AFC South title and a playoff game against the Bills. His last full year of playing was 2020 and Houston didn’t make the playoffs despite Watson finishing first in the NFL in passing yards and was second all-time in NFL passer rating. Deshaun Watson was well on his way to defining his legacy as one of the league’s best players.
The NFL is a results-driven job. Just like in most industries, the best employees get the most compensation or leverage in negotiation. This rang true for Watson who signed a four-year, $177.5 million contract in 2020. There was a $111 million guarantee making this the second-largest guaranteed contract ever behind only Patrick Mahomes. Watson not only proved he was one of the top performers with stats but he was also compensated as such. So, what went wrong?
After a disappointing end to the 2020 season, Watson asked to be traded from Houston due to coaching and philosophical changes within the organization. Houston was adamant that they would not trade him leading to what most felt like a sad end to an underdog team story.
That was until the first serious allegation of misconduct.
Watson wasn’t squeaky clean prior to the first allegation. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he, among other teammates, was fined for not following protocols the NFL felt necessary to have in place. While this may pale in comparison to the allegations forthcoming, it will follow a trend of behavior from someone in a leadership position. He didn’t feel it was necessary to follow this rule, however small it was.
Q2: What charges are against Deshaun Watson?
On March 16th, 2021, Watson had his first case against him. By April 5th, 2021, he was up to 22 total lawsuits for reasons all stemming from sexual misconduct, harassment, and/or assault.
Now, it is important to note that Watson vehemently denied these allegations and was unwilling to settle outside of court initially.
On March 11th, 2022, a grand jury declined to indict Watson.
Despite this ruling, Watson was still facing 22 civil lawsuits. One week later, on March 18th, Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for six draft picks, three of which were first-round picks. He then signed a new, fully-guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract. The largest contract AND most fully-guaranteed money in NFL history. Since this news, there have been two additional lawsuits filed, but 20 have been settled outside of court confidentially.
Plaintiffs attorney announces 20 of 24 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by Browns QB Deshaun Watson have been settled. pic.twitter.com/a3k6DM0gkL
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 21, 2022
This has been mostly information about Deshaun Watson, but this is in no way all the information we have available that changes circumstances and ultimately should determine NFL action. It has since come out that Houston Texans’ employees helped Watson in providing NDAs to some of these women and even received complaints about Watson’s alleged behavior and did nothing about it.
So, now we have a billion-dollar franchise that, at minimum, employed individuals who knowingly tried to get Watson out of this or try to cover his tracks preemptively.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
Solution: Roger Goodell Must do the Right Thing
— New York Post (@nypost) June 29, 2022
This is a problem that has a very simple solution: the NFL needs to nullify this trade for both parties and Deshaun Watson shouldn’t be allowed to play until this is 100% put to bed.
Houston had some knowledge of this and instead of doing the right thing, they tried to move the problem somewhere else. Cleveland set an embarrassingly bad precedent that morality isn’t a factor in high-level decision-making for their organization by guaranteeing this man an exuberant amount of money.
Hypothetically, let’s say that 15 of these weren’t valid. That still leaves nine cases where individuals had harm done. This shouldn’t even be a discussion within the world much less the largest grossing American sports league.
We have many examples of the NFL levying large suspensions for a multitude of rules/ethics violations. A great example of this was the most recent suspension of Atlanta Falcons receiver, Calvin Ridley, who knowingly placed a wager on his team to win a game when he was away from the team and was suspended indefinitely.
This was a legally placed wager in a state that allows this activity but was against NFL bylaws, therefore, resulting in disciplinary action. I understand the whole “innocent until proven guilty” adage, but let’s not be naïve; Watson hired 40+ women in five years for massages and then gave some of them NDAs facilitated by his team’s employees and changed his stance on never settling to settling confidentially.
This doesn’t even factor in his attorney saying, “I don’t know how many men are out there now that have had a massage, that perhaps that occasionally there was a happy ending”, and “I do want to point out that if it has happened, it’s not a crime. Unless you are paying somebody extra to give you some type of sexual activity it’s not a crime”.
The NFL is at a crossroads with the Deshaun Watson situation and they need to set a hard example that athletic prowess and money do not trump morality and people’s rights.
These women were minimally made to be uncomfortable in their working environment, but I believe that more happened than accidental touching. When a team has employees gathering information and ultimately coming up with solutions to predatory behavior, we must hold them accountable.
Do the right thing, Roger. Show the NFL that two historically dysfunctional franchises aren’t worth the reputation hit you would take if you side with this player.
Do the right thing.
Eliminate this ugly situation swiftly, effectively, and most importantly, correctly.