The Cleveland Browns went all in and won.
This wasn’t card counting in Las Vegas or some George Clooney-like scheme in one of those “Ocean’s 11” movies. It was a calculated strategy from the jump. Cleveland didn’t play the odds, they played the man. Because despite how it looked, they knew they could beat the man — human decency and accountability — in this game. It’s why they signed Deshaun Watson to the largest guaranteed contract in NFL history despite the 24 allegations of sexual misconduct he was facing. It’s also why the team structured the deal around his oncoming suspension of just six games.
The Browns never flinched at the gambling table despite knowing a day like Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, was coming. Their boldness was based on having an ace up their sleeve — knowing that the house always wins. And in this situation, the house was America’s obsession with football and its disbelief of women. Watson was never going to “suffer” too long for something that society still hasn’t deemed unacceptable — despite all the PSAs the NFL has released and women comprising almost 50 percent of their fan base. This is America. And after not playing at all last season, the powers that be were ready for Watson “to get back to business” sooner than later.
For anyone that thought his case was going to be the one where someone in the NFL was going to finally face meaningful punishment for doing something egregious — the joke was always on you. Thinking that this would go right is like believing that an empty jar is half full because there are a few drops of water in it. Before the ruling came down, the NFLPA had already announced that they’d stand by the ruling, hoping the league would do the same. And according to reports, “Deshaun Watson and the NFL did engage in further settlement talks in recent days, but neither side felt they got close. The best Watson’s side indicated it would accept was 6-8 games. Best league indicated it was willing to do was 12 games + heavy fine $8 mil range),” tweeted ESPN’s Dan Graziano a day before the suspension was announced.
To make this situation even more laughable is that while it’s not outside of the norm that Watson won’t be paid during his suspension, the fact that he isn’t being fined is proof that accountability continues to be just a talking point — and not an action — despite what collective bargaining agreement is at play. And the reason for that is because the NFL is a league where the players still haven’t yet either grasped, or care to grasp, the immense amount of power that they wield. But yet, far too often in situations like this, they remained silent. And while Watson’s situation hovered over the league for more than a year, the idea of players speaking out against him is as foreign as seeing the Detroit Lions prep for a Super Bowl.
And that’s not to say that players won’t speak out in defense of others. It’s to show you how silent they’ll be when it comes to holding one another accountable. It’s easy to type “Free my dawg!!” with a picture of Calvin Ridley — who was suspended in March for at least the entire upcoming season for betting on games in 2021 — like Cordarrelle Patterson did after the news broke that Ridley will be out of football longer than Watson.
But where was this same energy when at least 24 women told us about how Watson was such a despicable human being?
Understandably, players are frustrated. They’ve watched as Terrelle Pryor was suspended for 5 games in 2011 for getting free tattoos in college…. IN COLLEGE. Or how Ray Rice only faced a two-game suspension, originally, before the video of him slugging his now-wife in the face. No matter what regime was in charge, or what agreements had been made, the inequities between the punishment and the crime never seem to match. But, the train that’s never late is players’ ability to remain silent during moments they should be the loudest.
Nonetheless, the person in this situation that will morally carry this weight the longest not named Deshaun Watson is Judge Sue L. Robinson, who like so many white women before her, sold out her gender. Everything about this decision from Robinson makes it easy to picture her as one of those white women who voted for Trump — as he was up against another white woman — and then went to brunch before she donned a pink hat and went into the streets to protest against him. It’s a part of the conversation that you have to consider given what just took place in the NFL last week. Because while that discussion was all about what a “quarterback looks like,” it also questioned the intellect, skill, and talent of three of the league’s best players who all happen to be Black quarterbacks. And everything about this tells me that if more, or all, of Watson’s accusers, had blonde hair and blue eyes, Robinson’s decision would have been very different. Because if you don’t think race plays a huge role in who gets protected and adored in this country, just ask Brittney Griner.
These are all the reasons why during Week 7 on Sunday, Oct. 23, in Baltimore at 1:00 p.m. EST, the Cleveland Browns will take the field in their first game with their new starting quarterback. More than likely, the front office will stand, cheer, and hi-five each other. It’ll be because, despite the outcome of another division matchup, they’ll have just won something bigger. After all, they understood that losing was never a possibility.