The deal was unprecedented as it is the largest contract and most guaranteed money in NFL history.
— PFF (@PFF) March 18, 2022
For Cleveland, the signing just made sense.
Former 2018 first-round pick Baker Mayfield was coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued 2021 and the front office didn’t feel like he would improve.
Mayfield had led the team to a long-awaited playoff berth in 2020 as well as a win in the Wild Card round, the first since 1994.
However, the uncertainty about his performance on the field, especially in 2021, did not give the organization comfort.
The number 12 overall selection of the 2017 draft had been to three Pro Bowls and passed for 14,539 yards, 104 touchdowns, and 36 interceptions during his time in Houston.
Additionally, Watson had rushed for 1,677 yards and 17 touchdowns total.
To say that he is an upgrade over Mayfield is an understatement.
Unfortunately, Watson also comes to Cleveland with heavy personal baggage.
He did not play for the Texans in 2021 due to “non-injury reasons/personal matter,” as listed by the team.
Part of the reason he didn’t play last year was due to a failed trade request Watson made shortly after the 2020 season.
Then, allegations of sexual harassment against Watson made by Houston-area massage therapists derailed his ‘21 season even further.
On March 16, 2021, the first accusation against Watson became public.
Over the course of the last several months, no less than 24 different women have claimed that Watson sexually harassed or assaulted them.
The matter has become a divisive point among Browns fans.
Deshaun Watson is practicing despite 24 women accusing him of sexual assault, ten of them criminally. If the NFL has changed the personal conduct policy, update us. Players like Zeke & Big Ben were suspended multiple games for one woman’s allegations: pic.twitter.com/zLoZaelXgu
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) July 28, 2021
Some have stated that the team should never have signed someone with low moral character.
Others believe that Watson has been unfairly singled out and is innocent.
There are those who feel that a deep playoff run or championship will turn the public perception of Watson into a more positive light.
One thing is for sure, athletes in the “Me Too” era are under more scrutiny than in years past.
Behavior once tolerated and quickly dismissed has become the downfall of athletes everywhere.
Professional athletes have long been looked at as role models and heroes.
In fact, Hero Worship is a term psychologists use for individuals who put athletes and other celebrities on a pedestal and believe they can do no wrong.
Basically, hero worship is about “placing flesh and blood human beings up on a pedestal and instilling these people with godlike qualities.”
In some cases, negative rumors or news about a hero will cause the hero worshipper to outright dismiss the negativity as unfounded even in the facing of mounting evidence.
Psychologists caution that these ‘heroes’ are human beings and prone to the same temptations and vices as everyone else.
— 🏖Tomas🚤 (@TGEldredge) September 7, 2019
Therefore, one should take care not to place unrealistic expectations on ‘heroes.’
Furthermore, it has been suggested that hero worshippers have a hard time believing negative press about their hero because admitting their hero is flawed means the person is flawed as well.
If one openly declares allegiance to a disgraced athlete or celebrity, that person is accused of encouraging or perpetuating the bad behavior themselves.
Take, for instance, Cleveland great Jim Brown.
Brown has been celebrated and lauded by Browns fans and pro football aficionados for decades.
He was drafted out of Syracuse University in 1957 by Cleveland and embarked on a career for the ages.
By the time he unexpectedly retired at age 29 in 1965, he had amassed 12,312 rushing yards, 106 touchdowns, 262 receptions for 2,499 yards and 20 more scores, and four league MVP awards.
Among the NFL records Brown currently holds, perhaps the most impressive is his average of 104.3 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry.
Only Barry Sanders comes close with 99.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.
During Brown’s time in Cleveland, the franchise went to three NFL Championship games, winning one in 1964.
As he was playing football, Brown got involved in the Civil Rights movement and began acting in movies.
He remained invested in both after his retirement.
Despite all the good things Brown did on and off the field he, like Watson, had significant personal baggage.
This week’s cover of Scene.
Toxic: Jim Brown, Manhood and Violence Against Women via @EdgeofSports.
Adapated from JIM BROWN:Last Man Standing via @EdgeofSports. https://t.co/AnrsH6Tjgc
📸 – @LBJLibrary. pic.twitter.com/ShRe7FPaQr
— Cleveland Scene (@ClevelandScene) May 2, 2018
In his second year with Cleveland, Brown got married to his first wife. She later sued Brown for divorce citing “gross neglect.”
The divorce was finalized in 1972.
While he was still married to his first wife, Brown was arrested in 1965 for assault and battery against an 18-year-old named Brenda Ayres.
He was later acquitted. However, a year later, Brown denied paternity allegations that he fathered Ayres’ child.
In 1968, Brown was embroiled in assault charges with intent to commit murder after model Eva Bohn-Chin was found beneath the balcony of Brown’s second-floor apartment.
And if you watch “Jim Brown: All-American,” it’s pretty much impossible to accept his version of events regarding Eva Bohn-Chin. pic.twitter.com/bW8hl9Cxqp
— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) October 9, 2018
The charges were dropped after Bohn-Chin refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
1985 and 1986 saw Brown charged with rape of one woman and assault charges against his then-fiancee.
Charges were dismissed in the first case, and Brown’s fiancee refused to press charges in the second case.
In 1999, Brown was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats toward his second wife, Monique Brown.
Later that year, he was found guilty of vandalism for smashing his wife’s car with a shovel.
Brown fought the terms of his sentencing and ultimately served three months of jail time.
What does it matter?
For some people, the fact that Brown committed many of his unlawful acts after retiring from football excuses any affiliation he had with the Cleveland Browns.
The behavior is clear, however.
While playing for Cleveland, Brown began a pattern of domestic violence and assault against women.
He was never penalized by the team and never missed a game.
Charges were dismissed in some of Brown’s legal cases, but the old expression of, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” is hard to ignore.
The same types of allegations (assault/battery/rape) against Brown from women continued to occur for several decades.
Although he was cleared in some cases, the fact that allegations continued to surface meant that something about Brown was amiss.
Do not read Jim Brown’s Wikipedia page unless you want to think of him completely differently. I knew what a good athlete he was but I had no idea about all the legal issues… Woof 🥴
— Ben Richardson (@ben_rich8) January 14, 2020
Yet, he was continually propped up as a hero in the pro football community.
By 2008, Brown was working as an executive advisor to the Browns and was named a special advisor to the Browns in 2013.
Has anything changed?
For the longest time, allegations made by women against men that included assault, battery, or rape were largely dismissed with a wink, nudge, or slap on the wrist.
That was certainly the case during Brown’s playing days.
Yet, the Me Too movement has shown that this pattern of violence is serious and needs to be addressed more harshly than in years past.
Hero worshippers scoff at the movement, especially when it’s aimed at celebrities such as Watson.
Deshaun Watson Is Innocent So Get Over It.
— Garrett Hess (@notgarretthess) July 5, 2022
Social media is filled with Watson apologists who believe 24 women are only accusing the quarterback for money.
The entire thing is a witch hunt. Deshaun Watson is innocent and should be suspended zero games. https://t.co/RjxmqwISOd
— BLESSED 1776 🇺🇸 (@number1shred) July 7, 2022
They believe their argument is further bolstered by the fact that Watson has reached settlements with most of the accusers.
That misses the point entirely.
Part of the reason for the rise of the Me Too movement is the unity and solidarity of women and others who have been assaulted.
In years past, if a woman came forward with assault or rape allegations against a man, that case might devolve into a “he said, she said” argument.
Now, assault and rape victims are standing up as a display of force, showing that it’s not just one woman the accused has assaulted (in some cases), but many.
It has less to do with money than affirming that the accused has established a pattern of sexual predation.
Can Public Perception of Watson Change?
While Watson is reaching settlements, the NFL is still deciding what to do with him.
Almost every day comes news of possible penalties including indefinite suspension, a one-year suspension, or multiple game suspension.
Given its own history, the NFL has had to change its own stance concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, and rape as the issue has come to the forefront.
Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended by the league for domestic violence in 2014 and never played another down in the NFL.
Some Cleveland Browns fans believe the same thing should happen to Watson.
The anti-Watson crowd believes the Browns sold their soul to get the quarterback despite his marred personal life and simply to win games.
I find it very interesting how many of my media colleagues are continuing to bring up Deshaun Watson as a viable option at QB for teams like he ain’t in the middle of a sexual assault case and allegations by TWENTY + WOMEN. So we just gone forget that’s happening, huh 🤔 🤦🏾♀️ pic.twitter.com/ETRqL5xWgm
— Terrika (@SheKnowsSports) January 13, 2022
People love a comeback story and maybe Watson can come back from a suspension with a renewed commitment to treating women with respect.
Maybe public perception of him will change if he can bring Cleveland a long-awaited championship.
It seems doubtful though.
In this situation, trust will be hard to regain and the cloud of allegations against Watson will linger indefinitely.
Watson will still have his share of hero worshippers, but the damage has already been done.