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D.Watson's disciplinary hearing puts NFL under microscope

deshaun watson
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Deshaun Watson

By the end of the week, we’ll have an idea of whether the National Football League is serious about curbing sexual assaults against women by its players or is merely playing games. The league and its players union are scheduled to argue Tuesday before a disciplinary officer regarding possible punishment of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The outcome of the hearing will go a ways toward helping the public ascertain whether what comes from NFL headquarters and Commissioner Smilin’ Roger Goodell regarding the way its players treat women is to be believed or if it’s so much palaver.

Watson will go before retired U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson amid allegations that he acted improperly with massage therapists while he was in Houston as the Texans’ quarterback.

Though a pair of Houston grand juries declined in March to bring criminal charges against Watson, 24 women filed civil lawsuits against the former Clemson quarterback, alleging that he acted inappropriately during massage sessions.

Watson has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing from the time the first allegations arose last year through recent press conferences in Cleveland. However, he settled 20 of those suits last week ahead of a June 30 deadline for pretrial discovery where potentially lurid details may have become public. The terms of the settlements were left private. Also, while the other four cases have yet to be adjudicated, the New York Times reported earlier this month that Watson booked appointments with 66 different women in a 17-month span from 2017 through 2019.

Watson’s travails are the stuff of Goodell’s nightmares, as a player with a heretofore exceptional reputation, as Watson had in Houston, stands accused of treating women in a reprehensible way.

Much to its chagrin, the NFL has provided a home for alleged sexual assault offenders. Seven years ago, the online site, Vice.com identified 44 players who had been accused of sexual or physical assault. That number has only grown.

The NFL’s lax approach to protecting women extends to the front office, as we’ve seen in the relative free pass that the league has given Washington Commanders owner Dan Snyder over continuing miscreant conduct in the team’s front office, up to and including Snyder himself.

Just last week, the Washington Post reported that Snyder was accused of sexually harassing and assaulting a female employee in April of 2009.

Three months later, the team paid the employee $1.6 million as a part of a confidential settlement.

Add that to a $10 million fine the league imposed on the team for a culture of sexually aberrant behavior and, well, you can see how difficult it is to believe that the NFL wants to make things right. Even with all the allegations surrounding Watson, the Browns traded a boatload of draft choices to Houston for the quarterback, then gave him a league record guaranteed $230 million contract.

But wait. There’s more. The Browns structured the contract in such a way that if the NFL, as is rumored, suspends Watson for the full 2022 season, he will only lose $1 million.

Suspending Deshaun Watson and taking away a lot of his money alone won’t cleanup the NFL’s image. But it would be a nice start.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.