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Deshaun Watson’s Case is a Test of What the NFL Stands For

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Twenty-two accusers. No, this just in, make that 23. Wait, now it’s 24.

Should the N.F.L. suspend Deshaun Watson, the quarterback who got a $230 million deal from the Cleveland Browns despite the fact that he has been accused of harassment and assault by a steadily growing list of female massage therapists?

Sure, the league could do this, and given the slop bucket of allegations, it wouldn’t be surprising if it did. But should it?

For those who go on Browns message boards, scroll through Twitter or simply discuss with some women, a number of individuals are making the case that Watson, the previous Houston Texans quarterback, should never throw an N.F.L. pass again.

A suspension for a set variety of games this coming season, their pondering goes, is just not enough. Neither is a season, and even two, off. If America’s hottest sports league is to honor its pledge to face behind women and victims of abuse, Watson must be barred.

Watson “shouldn’t be playing within the league in any respect,” says Brenda Tracy, a outstanding victims’ rights advocate who travels the country counseling college and skilled athletes to face against harassment and abuse. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand the lengths these leagues will go to guard these men. He must go.”

Sure, such a move could be unprecedented. Watson vigorously proclaims his innocence, particularly now that two Texas grand juries have decided against proceeding with criminal charges — though that’s not rare in cases where women make sexual harassment claims.

If barred, he would surely press the league for reinstatement. Possibly even sue. Let him try.

A signal would have been sent: The N.F.L. isn’t any longer willing to place the games and the parable and the cash ahead of absolutely every part.

The Cleveland Browns quarterback has been accused of harassment and assault by a growing list of female massage therapists.

I write this with a queasy stomach. I’m still digesting the newest revelations about Watson unearthed by The Latest York Times’s Jenny Vrentas, whose reporting this week showed that the 26-year-old quarterback engaged in additional questionable behavior than anybody realized.

Watson, we now know, hired not less than 66 female massage therapists over 17 months, from the autumn of 2019 to the spring of 2021. Amongst them were strangers he tracked down on Instagram and girls who worked at a spa on the side of a highway.

Keenly aware that their bodies are their lifeblood, top N.F.L. players typically find not more than a number of experts to offer limb-loosening massages.

Having 66 massage therapists isn’t any crime, however it is, the truth is, a galaxy away from the norm.

Of the 66, some stood up for Watson, saying publicly that he did nothing flawed. But last week, two more women pressed claims in civil court, bringing the count of current accusers to 24. Some women who massaged Watson didn’t call a lawyer or the police after, but even they told The Times that Watson gave the impression to be on the lookout for greater than a relief from soreness. The sheer numbers are head-spinning, and the portrayals of Watson’s aggression and entitlement are chilling.

The girl who filed essentially the most recent suit claimed that Watson masturbated during a massage, ending in a way that satisfied him and demeaned her.

A lady who decided to not sue or complain to the police told Vrentas that Watson made repeated requests for sex acts through the massage, including “begging” her to place her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically needed to say, ‘No, I can’t do this,’” the girl said.

Watson and his well-connected legal team have continually denied any wrongdoing. They admit sex occurred on three occasions, but only after the massages, and at all times at the ladies’s instigation. “I understand the seriousness of the allegations,” Watson said at a news conference in March. “I’ve never assaulted a single woman. I’ve never disrespected any woman.”

His claims of innocence got a lift when the Browns, a once-proud team now so desperate for a championship that it has lost any dignity, gave him a greater deal than those of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson: $230 million, every penny reportedly guaranteed.

Meantime, N.F.L. investigators are looking into the allegations and Commissioner Roger Goodell is anticipated to choose soon on Watson’s possible punishment. The history is just not encouraging.

In 2014, Goodell, under pressure after video evidence was published, admitted mishandling the Ray Rice domestic abuse case and vowed to do higher. But what has modified apart from empty guarantees and marketing campaigns geared toward wooing female fans?

In 2018, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt, then one of the vital promising running backs in football, was videotaped shoving a girl to the bottom and kicking her. The N.F.L. suspended Hunt for eight games despite the fact that the girl didn’t press charges. Guess who signed Hunt next after Kansas City sent him packing.

The Cleveland Browns did. Clearly, half-season suspensions send no real message.

It is tough to see how anyone can take the N.F.L. seriously when it says it cares about women and the behavior of everyone related to the league. Not after its meek responses to Rice and Hunt. Not after it let Antonio Brown play for Tampa Bay and star within the 2021 Super Bowl as he faced accusations of sexual harassment and a lawsuit accusing him of rape. Not when the league fails to appropriately punish the Washington Commanders, a team riddled with harassment complaints which have even ensnared the team owner, Daniel Snyder.

The league must send essentially the most potent message it may that sexual misconduct won’t be tolerated.

I do know banishment might sound to some like a radical, overly harsh punishment. A good portion of the N.F.L. fan base says Watson shouldn’t be punished in any respect. Innocent until proven guilty, say these apologists, a part of the club who care more about bread-and-circus entertainment than doing the proper thing.

However the N.F.L. can do because it pleases.

Imagine that Watson managed a automotive dealership. Imagine his bosses came upon he faced 24 civil suits alleging sexual misconduct. How long would he have a job?

Imagine Watson were a journeyman N.F.L. practice player whom few had ever heard of. Would he be getting second possibilities from teams and the league? No. Journeymen don’t get second possibilities. It’s different for stars (unless you’re a star who kneels through the national anthem and leads the protest against police abuse of Black people).

For those who actually need to assume something, imagine you’re a massage therapist who trusted a wealthy, famous client you’d never met, and ended up so hurt and humiliated that you just quit the work eternally, as one among Watson’s accusers did. Possibly that’s all of the imagining you have to do.

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