Opinion: Deshaun Watson deserves harsher punishment for assault allegations


Deshaun Watson / TigerNet.com / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Deshaun Watson in a 2016 practice with his college team, the Clemson Tigers. Watson led the Tigers to a College Football National Championship before being drafted with the 12th overall pick to the Houston Texans.

Over the offseason, countless star players shuffled around the league. By a quarter of the way through the regular season, eight NFL teams had new signal callers. However, one of their biggest acquisitions, Deshaun Watson, has not stepped on the field. His suspension lasts until week 13.

The last time Watson played was in the 2020 NFL season when he led the Houston Texans to a 4-12 record. Through ongoing sexual assault allegations, Watson was inactive for the entire 2021 season with compensation. Despite Watson’s legal jeopardy, the Browns made a rash move in trading for the quarterback and signing him to a five-year 230 million dollar contract, including a 45 million dollar signing bonus. He is earning the most guaranteed money of any NFL quarterback.

Although two Texas grand juries decided against indicting Watson on his assault allegations, the NFL evaluated his case and prohibited him from playing for much of the 2021 regular season. The Browns hope to cling to their position tied at the top of the AFC North until Watson can take the reins.

Watson’s absence reintroduces the controversy over whether the NFL should have the power to suspend players who have been cleared of legal trouble. Based on the nature of Watson’s alleged crimes, not only does the NFL have a right to suspend Watson, they have a duty to go further than suspension and indefinitely restrict him from stepping on the field.

According to an NBC Boston record of 22 of Watson’s allegations, he coerced masseuses into oral sex, touched masseuses with his penis, ejaculated on and in front of them, insisted on being naked, and requested massages on his anus and genitalia, groped masseuses, and threatened his victims into compliance.

Forcing Plaintiff to perform oral sex on him. Plaintiff did not consent to any of this conduct. Plaintiff blacked out for a few minutes from the fear.”

— Account of Deshaun Watson's third lawsuit

In one of the cases from an anonymous plaintiff, Watson was described as “forcing Plaintiff to perform oral sex on him. Plaintiff did not consent to any of this conduct. Plaintiff blacked out for a few minutes from the fear.” Watson’s alleged crimes cannot be undermined; he used his power as a famous football player to take advantage of these women.

Despite not being convicted in court, Watson hasn’t proved his innocence. An Indiana University Maurer School of Law report finds that high-profile athletes are sometimes found innocent because jurors associate their athletic achievements with their moral character. Watson could have been a case of celebrity idolization, making his exemptions questionable. Although there are false accusations for all crimes and the possibility of innocence should be considered for all alleged criminals, 30 people came forth on Watson’s crimes. That is more than enough evidence.

The NFL is a business, and when the courts fail to convict a criminal, they have every right to suspend that player. This isn’t the first time the NFL suspended a player because their decisions hurt the NFL’s image. The only thing unique about the Watson case is how light his punishment was.

Calvin Ridley charges down the sideline. He was the primary receiver for the Atlanta Falcons before his suspension. Despite his absence, the Falcons still beat the Browns in Week 4 of the 2022 season. (William Jackson III / All-Pro Reels / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Falcons are missing receiver Calvin Ridley due to a betting scandal. Ridley received a suspension midway through the 2021 season until the end of the 2022 season. He gambled $1,500.

“[Ridley’s] actions put the integrity of the game at risk, threatened to damage public confidence in professional football,” wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter notifying Ridley of his suspension. “For decades, gambling on NFL games has been considered among the most significant violations of league policy.”

It’s commendable that the NFL is concerned about the effect players have on fans. Still, it is somewhat paradoxical that Watson’s assault on countless masseuses is not considered to put the integrity of the game at risk and damage public confidence. At least not enough to warrant more than a partial season suspension permitting Watson to return in a theatrical “revenge game” against his former team, the Houston Texans.

Watson’s punishment is insufficient, given that over 20 women spoke out with assault allegations. Not only does the NFL have a right to suspend Watson, but they should have punished him for more than a fraction of one season. Now, each time Watson appears on TV, a message extends to millions of viewers on who our idols should be.