As an Alabama football fan, the NFL mostly only garners my attention for two reasons: University of Alabama alumni Julio Jones or Derrick Henry did something amazing, or somebody else did something really dumb.
Too bad that right now it’s the latter.
Deshaun Watson, one of the most promising quarterbacks in the NFL (or so I’m told), began his career with the Houston Texans. It was during his time in this role, between 2019 and 2021, that he allegedly engaged in sexually explicit and lewd behavior with women he hired as massage therapists.
The NFL is no stranger to bad behavior. From domestic abuse, to dogfighting, to rape, to even homicide by its current and former players, the league has often faced scorn from the public for the behavior of its members. And to be sure, the NFL has yet to find a management structure that cuts this rot from its system.
But the scale of the allegations in this case are what’s notable. According to The New York Times, “Watson has reached settlements with all but one of the 24 women who filed civil lawsuits against him. Twenty suits were settled in June.”
They go on to say that, “Watson reached agreements with three more women, including Ashley Solis, the licensed massage therapist who filed the first claim against Watson in March 2021…”
Despite the extensiveness of the claims, two grand juries in Texas declined to charge Watson criminally and the NFL has responded with what equates to a slap on the wrist. Watson received a mere six-game suspension but was not fined according to sources close to the situation. Just recently, Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns to the tune of a 5-year, $230 million fully-guaranteed contract.
The response, or lack thereof, has created quite the commotion.
Calvin Ridley was suspended an entire season for gambling $1500 on NFL parlays. Deshaun Watson got six games for 30 women accusing him of sexual assault.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) August 1, 2022
Lots of talk about privilege on social media, athlete privilege is the apex. How many people could be publicly accused of sexual assault by 30 women & not just keep their current job, but become the highest paid in the history of their job? That’s what Deshaun Watson did.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) August 1, 2022
Deshaun Watson after sexually assaulting 26 different women, getting $200 million dollars and only receiving a six game suspension: pic.twitter.com/EkzC3CcrLp
— Barstool Yinzers (@BarstoolBurgh) August 1, 2022
If you have to put in the ruling that Deshaun Watson is only allowed to utilize the Browns’ massage therapists, then maybe he should be getting suspended more than 6 games. pic.twitter.com/RsA6kDqRpM
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 1, 2022
Many have pointed to the league’s far harsher treatment of other athletes for lesser offenses, and it seems few believe Watson is innocent of the accusations. Unfortunately for the women who have made them, they’ll never get their day in court and were left hoping for a financial settlement as reparations and an impact on Watson’s career at best.
I want to be clear, this is not justice. And it is a testament to the depths of decay in our legal system that such grave matters are left for the court of public opinion and the whims of cancel culture.
The proceedings of grand juries are closed, so we do not know the specifics of what was presented in those hearings or why the members declined to pursue charges in this case. But we can deduce that that if 24 women are publicly saying the same thing at great risk to their professions and even safety… they probably aren’t lying.
What we can also say is that police, prosecutors, and others involved in our justice system have tremendous sway over what cases move forward based on the amount of work they do to gather evidence, the light in which they present it, and the aggressiveness by which they pursue convictions. Statistically we know, they don’t work all that hard to do any of these things in cases that involve sexual violence.
Fewer than 35 percent of federal rape cases are cleared on average across the country year-in and year-out. It’s much lower at the state and local level. And just a reminder, clearance doesn’t mean conviction. It means law enforcement thinks they know who did it (and given the number of wrongful convictions, they’re often wrong at that).
That’s just regarding the cases that are reported, the vast majority of victims don’t even bother bringing in the police at this point. And for good reason. For decades, hundreds of thousands of rape kits simply didn’t get tested. That meant police put women through the trauma of filing a report and going through an invasive exam and then didn’t even bother testing the forensics.
They let these tests sit on shelves as statutes of limitations expired and as rapists were allowed to run free and keep raping people. It’s ghastly.
Even with a renewed focus on testing the backlog, there are still many victims waiting for basic evidence in their cases.
Spend any time around the justice system and you’ll quickly find that the things victims need are seldom to be found. Most want forms of what’s known as restorative justice, which involves charges actually being brought, their day in court, a chance to face their accuser. Given that 99% of cases are plead out, the basic justice of a trial with these elements is denied to the vast majority of people.
But victims also want explanations, apologies, the chance to have a conversation with the person who harmed them, and restitution. All of these things that can actually bring some closure and healing are also denied to victims when our system refuses to pursue charges for sexual violence.
Cases that involve sex can be messy, and that’s why the legal system more often than not relegates them to the civil courts, or even worse, the court of public opinion. But this is no way to run a country. More innocent lives are ruined without due process and the evidence finding that goes into a trial, and the general public is left trying to implement renegade justice without all the facts or clarity the resources of the justice system can bring.
For all of these reasons and more, the true villain here is the justice system, not the NFL. Deshaun Watson’s accusers deserve a chance at real justice, and no matter how big the settlements they receive.
That’s simply something money can’t buy.