Don’t Separate the Act From the Athlete

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Jalen Flowers, Staff Writer

NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson’s five year career has taken a disastrous turn in the last 18 months. 

Watson walked off the field as a Houston Texan for the last time in 2020 following a January 3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.  Questions surrounding Watson were mostly focused on his contract situation, as his future was growing blurrier in Houston.

The professional football chapter of Watson’s life would reach a roadblock that spring after attorney Tony Buzbee filed a civil lawsuit detailing a massage that turned into a sexual assault excursion initiated by Watson. As a result, a disturbing pattern in NFL player and fan reaction was revealed. The football community assumed it was all hearsay.

A year and 21 sexual assault allegations later, Watson is now a member of the Cleveland Browns, and his reputation is still intact. Retired Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s dismissed sexual assault case in 2008 proved that any amount of sleaziness can be forgiven if you are a Pro Bowl caliber player, which should never be the case.

Morality has been swept under the rug in the NFL often. The same team that risked it all for Watson sacrificed its reputation for running back Kareem Hunt, who kept his job on the team after kicking a woman on camera. The pattern is not limited to the Browns, as Dallas Cowboy Ezekiel Elliot and former Baltimore Raven Terrell Suggs never lost a roster spot after their violence towards women.

“It’s important to remember that Deshaun is only 26 and is a high-level quarterback,” said Browns co-owner Jimmy Haslam when questioned about Watson’s allegations. Clearly the NFL’s moral compass malfunctions when you are an above average player.

At the very least, a fan maintaining any amount of integrity and dignity would expect a deep punishment for the signal caller, one that would set Watson back farther than he could recover. After nearly two years of speculation, Watson faced an 11-game suspension and a 230-million-dollar contract. The outcome served as a slap on the wrist to Watson and a slap in the face to every woman and family affected by him, but based on the NFL’s reaction to sexual assault prior to Watson, it’s hard to be surprised.

The state of the Cleveland Browns locker room following the news will be hard for any NFL fan to gauge. The reality for the league is that Watson will inevitably trot out onto the field in 11 weeks like the past 18 months never happened.

The NFL should have made a statement with the Watson case. The league had a chance to change the stigma that they are biased towards their best players, regardless of their actions. Instead, commissioner Roger Goodell let the deal with the Browns go through, gifting a repeat offender a quarter of a billion dollars over five years.

It would be wishful thinking to assume the suspension is a step in the right direction. While some fans have directed jokes and slander toward Watson, he is one highlight play away from his wrongdoings being forgotten.