Deshaun Watson’s career was seemingly over. In a short span of five months, Watson went from a disgruntled Houston Texan quarterback, desperate for a trade, to defending himself from over 33 sexual harassment cases. Watson did not play for the 2021 season, however he received his full salary.
Although two Texan grand juries did not indict Watson on criminal charges, Watson was still open to civil lawsuits. Ultimately, Watson settled these civil lawsuits.
The New York Times reported that Watson met with over 66 women who signed nondisclosure agreements. Furthermore, the Houston Texans assisted Watson with scheduling and providing locations for massage appointments where Watson would meet these women.
After an agreement was reached between the NFL and NFL Players Association, they deemed that Watson would receive an 11-game suspension, as well as a $5-million fine.
On December 4th, Deshaun Watson started for the Cleveland Browns against his former Houston franchise. The NFL Network, who covered the game, failed to adequately acknowledge his past during the broadcast. For a few moments, they televised that he had “sexual misconduct allegations.” Afterwards, The NFL Network conjured a comeback story for the quarterback, highlighting that Watson has been absent from the league for over 700 days, and the Browns’ need for leadership in a losing season.
Some leaders of the NFL have been involved in similar cases to Watson. For example, Washington Commanders owner Daniel Synder was accused of multiple sexual harassment cases. U.S. Congress investigated the case and found that the NFL “has not protected workers from sexual harassment and abuse,” and attempted to silence voices against Synder using hush money. According to Congress, the NFL “was not interested in the truth.”
Over 30 women spoke out, arguing that the NFL promoted a sexist corporate culture that disincentivized women from working for the organization. Six state attorneys general told the NFL that they must improve their organization so that it is accepting of women.
Ultimately, the public should not rely on for-profit institutions to enact social change. The NFL is a corporation that strives to maintain high profits. The NFL has been engaging in performative activism to maximize its profits, hurting employees of the various franchises, players, and fans of the league. When former-49ers QB Colin Kaepernick kneeled in 2016, NFL commissioner Roger Godell said that he did not “necessarily agree with what [he was] doing.” Four years later, when Godell announced a $250 million/10 year program to end “systemic racism,” he referenced Colin Kaepernick, stating that he “listened to our players.” Arguably, Godell and others in the NFL listened to the concerns of their players when it became financially beneficial for them.
Instead, the public must hold the NFL accountable against perpetuating a culture of misconduct and making empty promises to enact social change. The NFL simply cannot promote a social justice image while subsequently perpetuating a culture of misconduct within their offices and on the field.