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Watson Struggles, But We All Suffer

“Watson struggles in season debut.”


That was the notification I got this weekend from the NFL. I wouldn’t have known any other way. I didn’t watch a single snap of this weekend’s slate of games. I couldn’t stomach giving my support, my attention, my energy to what was happening. Because sometimes, we need to remember what’s going on off the field.


This week, Week 13 of the NFL season, saw the return of Browns quarterback DeShaun Watson from his 11-game suspension. In March, 2021, Watson (who was then playing for the Houston Texans) was accused of almost two dozen sexual assault allegations from massage therapists, claiming that he inappropriately exposed himself and forced himself upon them while they were working together. The next 18-months brought a New York Times investigation, a lengthy legal preceding, and an even longer deliberation by the NFL about what to do with the star athlete. But that time also came with Watson’s request of a trade from the Texans, which the team happily granted when they shipped him to Cleveland. But Cleveland, for reasons surpassing understanding, thought it wise to give him a fully guaranteed five-year contract worth $230 million dollars. When all was said and done, Watson missed little more than half a season, lost $5 million, and got to dictate where he wanted to be traded for the next phase of his career.


This is hardly the first time that the NFL has failed to live up to the moral expectation of their power. Repeated incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, and racial abuse have gone almost entirely ignored, with players occasionally having to miss a little time and pay a small fine. (Small being a relative word in the industry of multi-millionaires) But, at the same time that Colin Kaepernick can’t find a job because he chose to take a knee in protest of police violence, it is unconscionable that DeShaun Watson gets to continue his career playing a game while he leaves a trail of devastation, pain, and abuse.


It's worth noting that I am not opposed to repentance and repair. An athlete who takes responsibility and works to fix their mistakes can deserve a chance to return to the field and prove they have improved. But we can’t have that conversation when there has been essentially no sign of remorse or apology from Watson, let alone a desire to change. He can’t have our forgiveness, because he hasn’t really asked for it. So I can’t be bothered to care whether or not he played well this week. Simply by playing at all, he proved that we haven’t done nearly enough to show the world that we care about the people he hurt along the way.


There is a common debate about whether or not athletes should be looked at as role models. I tend to think that if you make your money by being a public figure, benefiting from the financial investment of the public, then you at least owe a certain degree of human decency. DeShaun Watson isn’t a role model. And the NFL has shown they won’t do anything to put him in his place; the fact that he came back in Week 13 when his Browns teams just HAPPENED to be playing his former Texans shows a pathological desire to get attention. So for now, they don’t get mine. I can’t watch games without feeling sick to my stomach. I can’t set my fantasy lineup without feeling like I’m participating in the evil empire.


I love sports. I love football. But football so clearly doesn’t give a shit about anything but money and viewers. So I can’t give them either right now.

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