One guy told the truth, one guy didn’t and the result was another reminder that, when the NFL really puts its mind to something, it can be a spectacular pile of stink.
Let’s start with the honest guy, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who admitted Thursday that if Deshaun Watson were not the talented quarterback he is, the team would have looked at the mass of sexual-misconduct allegations against him and run like hell.
“I think in this country and hopefully in the world, people deserve second chances, OK?’’ Haslam said. “I really think that. I struggle a little bit. Is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself? That’s what we’re gonna do, OK?
“You can say that’s because he’s a star quarterback. Well, of course. But if he was Joe Smith, he wouldn’t be [in] the headlines every day. We think people deserve a second chance.’’
He means really gifted people deserve a second chance, and at least he’s forthright about it. That doesn’t make him any less a jerk for selling his soul to get a great quarterback. It just makes him an honest jerk in this particular matter.
Watson, on the other hand, is a serial assaulter of massage therapists who can’t seem to find it in himself to admit his transgressions. It’s either that or he’s the unluckiest person in the world, the victim of a massive conspiracy. Let’s go with the first designation, lying abuser of women. Here’s what he had to say Thursday after the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed that he’ll serve an 11-game suspension and pay a $5 million fine for his alleged mistreatment of 24 women:
“I’ll continue to stand on my innocence. Just because you know settlements and things like that happen doesn’t mean that a person is guilty (of) anything. I feel like a person has an opportunity to stand on his innocence and prove that, and we proved that from a legal side, and just going to continue to push forward as an individual and as a person.”
If Watson weren’t guilty, why would he accept an 11-game suspension and a big fine without a fight in federal court? The simple answer is, he wouldn’t. Watson’s argument that two Texas grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges sounds good, but anyone with the thinnest understanding of the judicial system knows that it’s extremely difficult to prove probable cause in a he said/she said case. What brings Watson to gutter level is the fact that this is a he said/she said case times 24. To believe him, you’d have to believe that this many people are all lying at the same time to get his money.
Or you can believe the obvious, that the man views a sports massage as a sexual service station.
That’s what makes his continued claims of innocence so despicable. He had a chance Thursday to tell the affected women that he was sorry and that he hoped continued counseling would help him with his problem. It’s what he started to do in a prepared statement, apologizing “once again for any pain this situation has caused.’’ But when he met with reporters later, he was in full innocence mode.
“I feel like through the whole process I’ve been trying to tell my side of the story,’’ he said. “But a lot of people just didn’t pay a lot of attention to it.”
It’s not that people don’t deserve a second chance. It’s that people don’t automatically deserve a 25th chance. The NFL pushed for a more severe punishment than the earlier six-game suspension because it knew the truth of Watson’s assaults and because it knew the uproar over his actions wouldn’t go away with a slap on the wrist. Eleven games and a $5 million fine did sound weightier – until the quarterback blasted it into irrelevance with his insistence that he was a blameless innocent.
So we’re back to where we often are with the NFL, watching the games while holding our noses. By no means are the Browns alone with their microscopic morals. Every team, including the one here in Chicago, has looked the other way when an extremely talented player with baggage has come along. It’s funny how many of them think they’re just the team to change a man.
After acquiring Watson from the Texans in March, the Browns gave him a five-year, $230 million contract, all of it guaranteed. They did it knowing what he had done and what the public reaction to his arrival would sound like. They needed a quarterback, not a saint. They ended up getting a quarterback and someone who does a decent imitation of a monster. And they’re OK with that because … have you seen the arm on this guy?