It had to happen at some point during last night’s game.
There is no way that the Cleveland Browns can play in a nationally-televised game without Deshaun Watson’s sexual assault allegations being discussed. Even though Monday Night Football is not a news program, it would have been irresponsible for ESPN to air the Browns, their fans, and even Brownie the Elf, without addressing the team’s — at best — morally questionable decision to trade for Watson.
The Browns were comfortably ahead 25-6, with just under 10 and half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when the production team decided this was the perfect time for Joe Buck to toss it to Lisa Salters to discuss Watson’s return to the Browns.
A graphic showed an extremely condensed timeline of the results of what has happened with Watson’s playing status since he did not take the field last season. Salters explained that Watson is allowed back in the Browns’ facility but not allowed to join his teammates on the practice field. Also, he is on track to play Week 13.
Buck then jumped back in and said that Watson has been accused of sexual misconduct during massage sessions, and 23 out of the 26 lawsuits against him have been settled out of court before posing the question to Troy Aikman, “What is [Watson] gonna look like coming back from basically two years out of the game?”
Aikman talked for about six seconds before a 53-yard bomb from Jacoby Brissett to Amari Cooper ended all talk about Watson for the evening.
Hopefully, that moment is not a harbinger of what the media coverage around Watson will look like once he likely returns to the field on Dec. 4, against his former team — the Houston Texans — in the town where much of his alleged misconduct took place. Watson continues to deny any wrongdoing. A big play, maybe a few, had better not end the conversation about Watson’s conduct.
Watson is not incarcerated, so once he serves the punishment that the league levied on him, there is no further reason to keep him off of the field. That being said, what has been alleged, as well as the cases in which the NFL’s investigation concluded that Watson was in the wrong, should not merely be addressed for one minute or two when he lines up behind center for the Browns.
Watson still has three sexual misconduct lawsuits pending against him, and those certainly need to be mentioned any time that someone talks about him. Just because he’s not facing criminal charges does not mean that he has been exonerated. He most certainly has not been.
Also, the media can’t let Watson’s situation fade come time for the playoff chase, because the Browns must not be allowed to go back to business as usual after condoning and encouraging his behavior.
They did so by giving him an unprecedented contract, that allowed him to lose as little money as possible during a potential suspension, shaking the quarterback market by guaranteeing him $230 million, and eventually lauding him for his “dedication to working on himself both on and off of the field,” in a statement following the 11-game suspension that was finalized in the weeks following the NFL’s investigation. That investigation concluded that Watson had violated the league’s personal conduct policy in a grotesque way.
That fact can’t be allowed to run away with a Browns’ pass catcher when Watson drops a pass in one of their arms for a big play.