From the Basement | Cleveland Browns sold their souls for Deshaun Watson

Mark Keplinger, Sports Editor

Deshaun Watson
Shivani Bondada

Content Warning: The following article contains subject matter pertaining to sexual violence. 

When the 2022 NFL season kicks off, I will be rooting against Deshaun Watson and the Cleveland Browns in every game they play. Of course, it is easy to root against someone who has 22 active civil lawsuits of sexual assault or sexual harassment and the team that gave him a new contract with the most guaranteed money in NFL history, $230 million dollars over five years, despite knowing these claims. 

To quickly recap the situation, the Houston Texans sent Watson and a sixth-round pick to the Browns in return for three first-round picks, a third round pick and two fourth-round picks. Days before the trade, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas declined to criminally indict Watson on March 11.

I will not look at the football side of this issue in depth, as both the Texans and Browns got what they wanted.

Quick disclaimer, I am a Texans fan and Watson used to be my second favorite player on the team behind only JJ Watt. The contrast between Watson and Watt could not be larger. Watt stuck by the Texans through thick and thin and helped raise over $37 million dollars as part of his relief fund following Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Houston in 2017.

Watson is accused of indecently exposing himself, forcing women to give him oral sex, touching women with his genitals, making veiled threats and sexual harassment. All of these accusations occurred during massage sessions. The timeline of the incident ranges from March 30, 2020 to March 5, 2021 across four different states. 

Following the trade, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center recieved more than 1,700 donations, while calls to the center have increased by 130%.

What the Browns did was unethical and a slap in the face to the women accusing Watson. Besides sports teams, which other organization would hire a man with 22 accusations of sexual assault, much less give him a significant payraise?

Browns owner Jimmy and Dee Haslam released a statement vaguely acknowledging the situation but emphasized how their conversations with Watson revealed that he was “humble, sincere and candid.” General manager Andrew Berry’s statement mentioned that the Browns did an extensive investigation into the situation.

However, the lawyer who represents the 22 accusers, Tony Buzbee, mentioned that no NFL team ever reached out to either him or any of his clients, putting into serious question how extensive the Browns investigation actually was.

The truth is, the Browns do not care. This is the same team who employs running back Kareem Hunt, a man who was cut by his last team because he shoved and kicked a woman on camera. The Browns gave Hunt a second chance for the same reason they gave Watson a new contract, because both men are good at football and can help the team win a championship.

The worst part about Watson’s new contract is that the base salary for next year is only $1.035 million dollars while his signing bonus is $45 million dollars. If the NFL suspends and fines Watson, it will only come from his base salary and not from his signing bonus. Essentially, the Browns structured Watson’s new contract to protect him from a likely suspension.

The whole story sends a message that talent triumphs over morality. There are not many silver linings to this story, but Watson will most likely face a suspension for next season, making it much harder for the Browns to have immediate success. Watson still faces 22 lawsuits, so maybe the civil courts can give at least some justice to the victims.

Finally, this is still the Cleveland Browns, the same team that managed to go completely winless in 2017 and was once called the “factory of sadness.” I will be hoping that the team will continue their legacy of futility, especially knowing the character of the quarterback they gave away six draft picks and their souls for.

Resources are available for Tulane students who are victims of sexual violence. Contact Sexual Assault Peer Hotline and Education‘s 24/7 Peer Run Hotline at 504-654-9543 if you need help. 

Tulane Emergency Medical Services can be reached at 504-865-5911. TEMS is a free, student-run service. In addition, Tulane University Police Department’s non-emergency Uptown number is 504-865-5381.

You can also reach out to Case Management and Victim Support Services at 504-314-2160 and they can offer support and help you file a report.

RAINN: Rape Abuse + Incest National Network provides resources that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and can be reached at 800-656-4673.

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