Commentary by JASON WHITLOCK | July 27, 2021
In the new woke NFL, the Deshaun Watson story is quite incredible.
Despite more than 20 civil allegations of sexual misconduct hanging over the Houston quarterback, Watson reported to training camp, business as usual, and the Texans are weighing options to trade him to another team. Watson is drawing a paycheck, and demand for his future services remains strong. That’s incredible.
According to a story on ESPN.com and Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin, 10 women have filed criminal complaints against Watson with Houston police. The lawsuits and criminal complaints should have Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list, a tool Roger Goodell uses to sideline players charged with or under investigation for violating the league’s personal conduct code. The exempt list is a paid leave of absence until the player settles his legal matters.
The fact that Watson isn’t on the list is baffling at first glance but understandable upon further review. The left-wing website Deadspin published a column Monday asking, “Why isn’t Deshaun Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list?” Funny that Deadspin would ask this question when the site is part of the reason Watson isn’t sidelined.
Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Houston Texans are playing racial politics. They fear attack from the identity politics police on the left. They’re afraid to discipline a high-profile black quarterback. Deshaun Watson can’t be treated like Pittsburgh’s white quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Eleven years ago, Goodell suspended Big Ben for six games because he faced a relatively small number — in comparison to Watson — of sexual misconduct allegations. Prosecutors declined to bring charges against Roethlisberger after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexual assault. That did not stop Goodell from punishing Roethlisberger and requiring him to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Big Ben faced discipline long before the #MeToo movement and long before Trump Derangement Syndrome politicized every aspect of American life.
My point is, given the tenor of the country now, Watson should be facing a harsher scrutiny and punishment than Roethlisberger did a decade ago. Watson is not because the league fears a racial backlash. Black privilege is the only explanation for the league’s hands-off approach to Watson. It’s the only explanation for Watson not being totally radioactive and untradeable.
I’m not arguing Watson’s guilt or innocence. Some of — or even all of — his accusers might be motivated by money. Maybe he had a series of innocent sexual misunderstandings with personal masseuses he contacted via Instagram. I’ve heard that requesting a rub-and-tug from an amateur does lead to misunderstandings.
Whether miscommunication or criminal assault, 22 allegations in this climate should lead to Watson sitting in a corner somewhere until his legal matters conclude. A strong push from Goodell could compel Watson to financially settle with his accusers. That push doesn’t appear to be coming. Goodell has prioritized Black Lives Matter above #MeToo. Given the racial dynamics and gender of his employees, Goodell’s pragmatism makes sense.
So does Watson’s reluctance to settle with his accusers. A settlement could provoke more accusers. How many massage therapists has Watson negotiated a happy ending with? This is starting to feel as if a fast-food drive-through employee sued me for misconduct. By the time the allegations finished rolling in, I would need a Dream Team of lawyers twice as large as O.J. Simpson’s defense team.
The left constructed a safe space for Deshaun Watson. I’m not sure they’re happy about it.