Deshaun Watson didn’t play a single down for the Houston Texans last season after multiple sexual assault allegations were made against him. In total, 22 massage therapists filed lawsuits against Watson, claiming that he had sexually assaulted them while they were giving him massages. Those are the facts that kept Watson away from the field for a whole year, and they are still the facts today, a day on which the Cleveland Browns have decided to tie their franchise to Watson for the foreseeable future.
It is impossible for an NFL franchise to be more invested in a single player. Five picks and fully guaranteed nine-figure contracts are not things that are handed over lightly in the NFL. This is an historic acquisition—the Browns just gave Watson the most guaranteed money over a single contract in NFL history—and one that clearly signals that the Browns are prepared to build their entire team and identity around Watson for years to come.
It’s also completely crazymaking. I find myself, even as a cynical, hardened NFL fan who understands perfectly well that moral conscience will always lose out to the pursuit of wins, somewhat dumbfounded by this news. It’s not that I ever expected Watson to forever remain an NFL pariah; I just didn’t think he would be embraced so enthusiastically. As soon as a grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against Watson last week—which doesn’t change the fact that 22 women have credibly accused him of sexual assault—the broader NFL ecosystem’s attitude toward Watson took on a quality that can only be described as voracious. In a split second it suddenly felt like everyone, from the teams who started courting Watson and submitting trade proposals to the Texans, to the reporters who breathlessly relayed every bit of news about where Watson might play next, was united in their hunger to have Watson back in the spotlight. It is perhaps not surprising to see a worm like Adam Schefter posting about today’s trade exclusively in terms of its Epic Dealsmanship and high rating in the Mark Your Calendar, Folks matrix, but it is no less deranging.
The question, as always, is: What ever happened to shame?