To be fair, there are legit reasons that Deshaun Watson can’t play football in 2021. The fact that he’s being accused of being an absolute bridge ghoul, first and foremost. What has been alleged in court documents paints him a predator. That should be enough. But of course it isn’t.
We learned yesterday that Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing, won’t even be deposed in the lawsuits against him until 2022. That means the whole season is available to him and whoever employs him. While “innocent until proven guilty” only applies in court, it’s certainly enough shelter for the NFL to pass on any punishment or suspension until the court cases play out. Which we know is the route they will take. Roger Goodell has never met a situation he can’t shrink from. Look at his face during any interview that includes a question other than why the league is so great. His face actually shrinks. It disappears into his pursed lips as his brain tries to escape.
So Watson is going to play in 2021. Maybe it won’t be in Houston. He seems pretty determined for it not to be. The urge is to ask what team would trade for him given all that he faces, but the truth quickly comes to club you over the head. Some GM won’t be able to resist the temptation, and the discounted price that will assuredly come from all this. They’ll take the initial PR hit, and then as soon as Watson starts chucking TD passes for his new team, most of that new city just won’t care. The only wager is what happens after the season, and whether it’s bad enough for the NFL to do much about it afterwards. But it’s a bet you would take if you were a GM.
Wherever he plays, because the lawsuits will hang over him all season, it gives NFL broadcasters and media all the room to talk about the “distractions” Watson is overcoming this season. How hard it must be on Watson to face these questions, what lies in the future, and how “heroic” his performance is next season to “overcome” all of it. It’s the only lever they know how to pull.
Tony Romo, Cris Collinsworth, Troy Aikman, and any of the laughing, animatronic ex-players in the studio, ar not equipped to talk about Watson in any real way. But they’ll have to, they can’t ignore it. So they’ll put it in the only terms they can understand and discuss. It’ll be lumped in the same box as an injury or death in the family. It’s off-field, and to them they’re all the same. It’s something that takes away focus from film study. That’s the only prism through which they see.
Whether the NFL likes it or not, it does have some influence on how these things could be seen by the public. Not a ton, but some. How much ground do we lose when these things are just called a distraction? How might have sexual assault by a celebrity been viewed now if, say, it wasn’t categorized as something Kobe Bryant was just dealing with before suiting up before a playoff game? Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension? If it is just lumped in the same pile as a high-ankle sprain, does anyone learn the actual severity of any of this?
You can already see the puff piece on “Football Night In America,” can’t you?