The Cleveland Browns have relentlessly embarrassed its fanbase for going on nearly a quarter century. Most of the reason the Dawg Pound has been shrouded in masks made of paper bags and jerseys listing dozens of failed starting QBs as if they were KIA is the putrid on-field product. While the franchise has had a few off-field humiliations in its second go-round as an NFL franchise — nothing about Jimmy Haslam, owner and truck-stop billionaire, says stand-up guy — they haven’t had a patron saint of the problematic. Even though they sucked, the Browns were a proud franchise.
There’s no Ray Rice or Ben Roethlisberger or even Pacman Jones figure hanging over the team like those players loomed over the rest of the AFC North. Sure, Josh Gordon had a few substance-abuse problems, but addiction issues are minuscule compared to the accusations leveled at Deshaun Watson — the scheduled starter for Friday night’s preseason contest against the Jaguars.
More than 20 massage therapists filed civil suits saying the new Browns’ quarterback sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted them. All but one of the cases have been settled, and despite the legal “wins,” the NFL appealed Watson’s six-game ban, fine-free sentence handed down by the league’s disciplinary officer, judge Sue L. Robinson. Even commissioner Roger Goodell, who couldn’t pass an elementary school morality test if he took it twice, knew the punishment was as ill-fitting as the hand towel Watson wore to his appointments.
If Rog calls your behavior “egregious” and “predatory” then you must’ve done something extremely vile. Watson’s camp is now willing to accept an eight-game ban and a $5 million fine, though it sounds like the league is done letting him dictate the conditions of his penalty. That said, those terms are still being worked out, and in the meantime, the Browns are operating like they still don’t know right from wrong.
The thing about trading valuable assets for a QB and then signing him to the richest deal in NFL history for any player is you want to see what you paid for. So regardless of the impending suspension, the fan backlash, and the general uneasiness that should be growing in Haslam’s conscience had his body developed that part of his brain, we’re going to see Watson, in a Browns’ uniform, on a football field, playing in game action before he’s served one second of his penance, or show one iota of remorse. Watson has categorically denied all of the accusations against him.
Does anyone outside of Cleveland think this is a good look? It’s not about optics for the Browns though. They spent boatloads to bring Mr. Problematic to town and now have to pretend to be on his side because if they don’t, it’s an admission that that signed away their soul for football.
The fanbase is split over this notion that it’s loyalty to the team above all else. Some of those supporters have the ethical compass of a sociopath, a few impressionable idiots still toe line of ownership, and then there are the children.
I remember when I found out my then-new NFL team, the St. Louis Rams, drafted my then-favorite player Lawrence Phillips. My dad, a diehard Nebraska football fan who passed that dedication onto me, wasn’t as excited as I was. Only 10 years old, I didn’t know anything about domestic violence. All I knew about Phillips was what I saw on TV, and he was as electric as any running back I’d watched in my short life as a football fan.
I don’t fault my father for not filling in his young son about the horrific details of Phillips dragging a coed down flights of stairs by her hair, and I’m not going to blame any parent who doesn’t want Watson’s deviant behavior to be the jumping off point to a conversation about the birds and the bees.
Screaming, “Won’t somebody think of the children” always makes me think of Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, so I know I have a handful of pearls at the moment. Be that as it may, I’m so fucking over berating grown-ass Cleveland fans and front office execs, bereft of any moral standing, about Watson. So maybe appealing to their parental side will do what mounds of evidence have not.
I know I wouldn’t want my kid looking up to Ray Rice, Pacman Jones, Big Ben, or Lawrence Phillips. It’s difficult finding knowledge to impart from losing, but it’s a lot easier than trying to glean a life lesson from the Deshaun Watson situation.