Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam defended quarterback Deshaun Watson for his actions because he’s 26 and plays football well.
Amid the Deshaun Watson investigation, there have been many seemingly contradictory points. Watson is both apologetic for causing harm, yet he maintains his innocence. The judge condemns him for his egregious behavior, yet granted him a six-game suspension. The NFL condemns his behavior, so much so that they pushed for an 11-game suspension, yet he continues his career in the league as one of its highest-paid quarterbacks.
Finally, Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam got to the crux of what really matters in regards to Watson’s future in the league: he is very good at playing football, and that’s what truly matters.
“I think it’s important to remember: Deshaun is 26 years old, okay?” Jimmy Haslam said, emphasizing his age in regards to his past behavior. “And he’s a high-level NFL quarterback.”
“We respect his opinion,” Dee said when asked if she believes Watson is innocent. “I do think in counseling, Deshaun will grow to learn a lot more about himself.”
“People deserve second chances,” Jimmy added in a later statement. “I struggle a little bit: is he never supposed to play again? Is he never supposed to be a part of society? Does he get no chance to rehabilitate himself?”
“And you can say, ‘Well, he’s a star quarterback’ — well of course!” Jimmy laughed.
Browns owners continue to excuse Deshaun Watson behavior in press conference
The Browns, the NFL and the Haslams are walking a fine line: they want to condemn what Watson has done and dole out appropriate punishment, yet they are reluctant to let one of the best quarterbacks of the 2020 NFL season leave the league.
NFL journalist Dov Kleiman juxtaposed the contradictory messages from the Browns. Somehow, Watson is remorseful of his actions while maintaining his innocence.
The Browns have had several months to hone appropriate responses to questions about Deshaun Watson. Browns brass could choose to be tight-lipped about the situation and offer boring, repetitive answers, but instead, the Haslams waded into murky moral territory. Using Deshaun’s age and football ability only made their pleas for forgiveness seem disingenuous.
To hope for a person’s rehabilitation and treat them with dignity is one thing, and it’s not something that the NFL has any jurisdiction over. But in the years following the #MeToo movement, seeing a star NFL quarterback keep his job after proven sexual misconduct because he was young and he’s good at football is jarring.
No one wants to watch Harvey Weinstein movies or Kevin Spacey films or Matt Lauer news reports, and many NFL fans no longer want to watch Deshaun Watson play quarterback. But in the NFL world, which straddles sports and entertainment, winning still matters — and the Browns reiterated today that they’d like to win, no matter the cost.