Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will receive a six-game suspension after two dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and assault, according to reporting from ESPN and the AP. Watson settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits brought against him for his alleged actions during message therapy appointments in 2020 and 2021.
Numerous people have responded to this hand slap by calling it a joke, but “joke” implies an element of surprise, and there’s no surprise here. Thirty women came forward to tell stories of their mistreatment in the pages of the New York Times, and Congress is currently investigating claims of sexual harassment in the front office of the Washington Commanders. In April, attorney generals from six different states sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, warning him to improve the league’s working conditions for women.
All signs point to that letter falling on deaf ears. Mathematically, complaints from 24 women resulting in a six-game suspension comes out to a price of about four women per game. For comparison, Atlanta Falcons star Calvin Ridley gambled $1,500 on a league game and got suspended for an entire season. But, of course, no women were affected by Ridley’s crime.
The NFL has a problem. It’s a well-known one, one they’ve been called out for over and over again. Not many people would even bother denying it, but until NFL franchises have to face real consequences for their actions, there is just no reason to think they will change. Why would they? Knowing something is wrong is not, in and of itself, accountability. Facing a six-game suspension is not a punishment that would seriously jeopardize the financial situation of any player.
That’s the point. The Cleveland Browns need Watson. They need him to be happy in Cleveland, and they need him to win football games. That’s what keeps the investors’ wallets well fed. They don’t need justice for their women, because there is just no financial upside to that. And until fans start making the NFL believe that skirting real accountability will cost them ticket sales, there is no reason to think anything will change.