The Deshawn Watson case is a test of what the NFL stands for

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

Should the NFL suspend Deshawn Watson, the quarterback who made a $230 million deal with the Cleveland Browns despite being accused of harassment and assault by an ever-growing list of female massage therapists?

Of course, the league could have done it, and given the heaps of allegations, it wouldn’t be surprising if it did. But should it?

Whether you go to the Browns’ message boards, scroll through Twitter, or simply talk to some women, many people argue that Watson, the former Houston Texans quarterback, should never throw an NFL pass again.

In their opinion, suspension for a certain number of games in the upcoming season is not enough. And this is not a season, or even two. If America’s most popular sports league is to make good on its promise to protect women and victims of abuse, Watson should be banned.

Watson “shouldn’t play in the league at all,” says Brenda Tracy, a prominent victim rights advocate who travels the country advising colleges and professional athletes to counter harassment and abuse. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand what these leagues will do to protect these people. He needs to go.”

Of course, such a move would be unprecedented. Watson vigorously proclaims his innocence, especially now that two Texas grand juries ruled against initiation of criminal cases – although it is not uncommon for women to report sexual harassment.

If he is banned, he will certainly require the league to restore. Maybe even sue. Let him try.

A signal would be sent: The NFL no longer wants to put games, myths, and money above all else.

I write this with a sick stomach. i’m still digesting latest revelations about Watson unearthed by Jenny Vrentas of The New York Times, whose report this week showed the 26-year-old quarterback is behaving more questionably than anyone thought.

Watson, as we now know, hired at least 66 female massage therapists in 17 months, from fall 2019 to spring 2021. Among them were strangers he tracked down on Instagram and women who worked at a spa on the side of the highway. .

Keenly aware that their bodies are the source of their life force, the best NFL players usually find no more than a few experts to give relaxing limb massages.

Having 66 massage therapists isn’t a crime, but it’s actually far from the norm.

Of the 66, some stood up for Watson, speaking publicly that he did nothing wrong. But last week, two more women filed suit in civil court, bringing the number of current accusers to 24. Some of the women who massaged Watson never called a lawyer or the police after that, but even they told The Times that Watson, seemed to be looking for more than relief from the pain. The numbers alone are dizzying, and the images of Watson’s aggression and rights are frightening.

The woman who filed the latest lawsuit alleged that Watson masturbated during the massage, which ended in a way that satisfied him and humiliated her.

The woman, who chose not to sue or complain to the police, told Vrentas that Watson repeatedly asked for sexual intercourse during the massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,'” the woman said.

Watson and his well-connected legal team consistently denied wrongdoing. They admit that sex happened three times, but only after the massage and always at the instigation of the women. “I understand the gravity of the allegations,” Watson said at a press conference in March. “I have never attacked any woman. I have never disrespected any woman.”

His plea of ​​innocence received support when the Browns, once a proud team now so desperate for a championship that it has lost all dignity, offered him a better deal than Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson: $230 million . every penny is reportedly guaranteed.

In the meantime, NFL investigators are investigating the allegations, and Commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to rule on Watson’s possible punishment shortly. History is not comforting.

In 2014, under pressure after the release of video evidence, Goodell admitted mishandling the Ray Rice domestic violence case and vowed to make amends. But what has changed other than empty promises and marketing campaigns to woo female fans?

In 2018, Karim Hunt of Kansas City, at the time one of the most promising running backs in football, was caught on video pushing a woman to the ground and kicking her. The NFL suspended Hunt for eight games, although the woman did not press charges. Guess who signed Hunt next after Kansas City kicked him out.

The Cleveland Browns did it. It is clear that half-season suspensions mean nothing.

It’s hard to see how anyone can take the NFL seriously when she says she cares about women and the behavior of everyone associated with the league. Not after his meek replies to Rice and Hunt. Not after he let Antonio Brown play for Tampa Bay and star in the 2021 Super Bowl as he faced sexual harassment allegations and a lawsuit accusing him of rape. Not when the league can’t properly punish Washington commanders, a team riddled with harassment complaints who even lured team owner Daniel Snyder into a trap.

The League needs to send the strongest possible message that sexual harassment is unacceptable.

I know that for some, expulsion may seem like a radical, overly harsh punishment. A significant portion of NFL fans say that Watson should not be punished at all. Innocent until proven guilty, say these apologists, club members who care more about bread and circuses than doing the right thing.

But the NFL can do whatever it wants.

Imagine that Watson runs a car dealership. Imagine if his bosses found out that he was facing 24 civil sexual harassment lawsuits. How long will it run?

Imagine that Watson was an NFL apprentice that few people have ever heard of. Will he get a second chance from the teams and the league? No. Apprentices don’t get second chances. It’s different for stars (unless you’re the star who kneels during the national anthem and leads a protest against police brutality against blacks).

If you really want to imagine anything, imagine that you are a massage therapist who confided in a rich, famous client you never met and ended up being so hurt and humiliated that you quit your job forever, as one of Watson’s accusers did. . Maybe it’s all imagination you need to do.