Browns' acquisition of Deshaun Watson proves one thing: There's no bottom for the NFL

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5 min read

The member teams of the NFL are morally bankrupt.

They were yesterday. They are today. They will be tomorrow.

Friday's Deshaun Watson-Cleveland Browns news was only the latest confirmation.

Still facing 22 civil suits for sexual misconduct after a grand jury did not find cause to charge him criminally, and having not played in over a year, Watson and his agent David Mulugheta engaged in a disgusting game of "The NFL Bachelor," telling teams to make their pitches and then slowly letting finalists know who was still in the running for the final rose.

The wilted, thorn-covered rose.

After once telling the Browns they weren't pretty enough, Cleveland got a lot more attractive when it offered the thing everything almost always comes down to: money. The Browns committed to a five-year, fully guaranteed contract that included a raise, and suddenly they became the apple of Watson's eye.

True love is always found in dollars. Just like the poets taught us.

What a disgusting, though disgustingly familiar, message this sends, to players and the public.

To players, the notion is reinforced once again that if you're talented enough, it truly doesn't matter what you do or what you're accused of. The league will always have a place for you.

Actually, let's amend: It doesn't matter what you do to women, the league will always have a place for you.

If you take a stand for the rights of Black people like Colin Kaepernick did, you will be summarily exorcised and have coaches like Pete Carroll say things like, "Well, I know we don't have a quarterback and I believe he deserves a place in the NFL, it just won't be with us." Which is pretty much the American stance toward equity for Black people at large for the last 150 years or so.

Kneeling during a song, an entirely legal, Constitutionally protected act, gets you banned for life.

Reaching out to dozens of professional massage therapists when players typically work with just one or two, demanding they be alone while they work with you, then allegedly exposing yourself to them, ejaculating on some and forcing at least two to put their mouth on your penis gets you a five-year, fully guaranteed, record-breaking contract.

That's the way of the vaunted Shield you claim to protect so fiercely, right Roger Goodell?

Deshaun Watson spent last season on the sidelines due in part to 22 lawsuits over varying degrees of sexual assault and misconduct. He was rewarded with a new team and the most guaranteed money in NFL history. What the hell kind of message does that send? (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)
Deshaun Watson spent last season on the sidelines due in part to 22 lawsuits over varying degrees of sexual assault and misconduct. He was rewarded with a new team and the most guaranteed money in NFL history. What the hell kind of message does that send? (Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports)

In case you weren't paying attention over the last week, not facing criminal charges does not mean Watson is innocent. It means not enough evidence was presented for a grand jury to decline to indict. Via RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence group in the country, of every 1,000 cases of sexual assault, only 310 are reported to police, and of those, only 50 lead to an arrest, and 28 of those end in a conviction. In that way, Watson's case is no different than nearly every single sexual assault case in this country, which underscores the fundamental problem our justice system has with believing women and prosecuting sexual crimes.

A woman in your life — more likely multiple women in your life — has been sexually harassed and/or sexually assaulted. Maybe it reached a level of criminality as defined by local law, maybe it didn't. But the mental and emotional scars have stayed with her for years since.

The Cleveland Browns are thumbing their nose at those women, reminding us why so few women come forward with accusations to begin with. Undoubtedly, the women Cleveland is insulting include members of their fan base and team employees.

But the Browns are no different than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who employed Antonio Brown even after he was accused of forcible rape in a lawsuit and domestic violence by two women with whom he has children.

The Browns are no different than the league itself, which continues to protect Washington owner Dan Snyder despite nearly 50 women detailing an office environment rife with sexual harassment for years, allegations that include Snyder himself.

Anyone who has paid even a modicum of attention to the NFL knew this day was coming. That some team would trade for Watson, accusations and Watson pleading the Fifth in depositions be damned. Because the last time he played, he showed that he was a franchise-level quarterback, the one thing every team needs for success.

To Cleveland, a quarterback with nearly two dozen sexual misconduct accusations is a better option than a quarterback who is immature.

To Cleveland, a quarterback it may not even have for half this season because of those accusations is worth giving up three first-round picks.

To Cleveland, structuring Watson's contract so that when he is suspended he'll lose only a minimum amount of salary was worth agreeing to, which is arguably the most vile detail in all of this.

Maybe if we're all really lucky, the Browns and NFL will pander to our righteous rage by making the avatars on their social media channels teal in April to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month. You know, to show us how they really, truly care.

Just like how it painted "END RACISM" in end zones last season, which totally prevented some white middle school students in North Carolina from recently holding a mock slave auction and selling Black classmates, and students at Brookline High in Massachusetts from posting videos to social media of them saying the N-word or screaming racial epithets in school hallways.

Oh, wait. The field paint didn't prevent those.

Eh, no matter. It's not like the Browns or the NFL actually care anyway. As long as the money keeps rolling in, they'll do anything for show.

What a league. We'd say this is a low point, but it seems pretty obvious at this point that there isn't really a bottom for the NFL.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, help is available. RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline is here for survivors 24/7 with free, anonymous help at 800-656-HOPE (4673) and online.rainn.org.