CW: This article discusses sexual assault. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
At just 25 years old, Houston Texans star quarterback Deshaun Watson led the NFL with 4,823 passing yards and threw 33 touchdowns against only seven interceptions, arguably putting together the best season for a quarterback in 2020.
In January, news broke Watson wanted to be traded from the self-imploding Texans. The Texans went only 4-12, en route to tie the third-worst record in the NFL. At the time, Watson was poised to be the centerpiece in one of the largest trades in sports history.
Yet, since March, 22 women have filed lawsuits against Watson, accusing him of sexual misconduct.
It’s now Week Four of the 2021 season and the NFL has yet to take any meaningful actions against Watson. The league immediately opened an investigation against Watson in March but nothing has come out of it to date.
Typical suspensions where players are sidelined for as much as half the season still fail to provide sufficient justice for survivors. In 2020, wide receiver Antonio Brown was suspended for eight games after being accused of sexual misconduct, yet Brown was back in the league later in the season, even winning a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay.
Watson has absolutely no business being anywhere near an NFL roster; however, it appears Watson’s athletic ability is of far greater importance to the league than the traumatic experiences and testimonies of nearly two dozen women.
The NFL has only itself to blame for this ever-growing nightmare in Houston. In such extreme situations, the NFL has a way to extricate players from the league. The Commissioner’s Exempt List places a player on paid leave in the case of “unusual circumstances,” which normally pertain to unresolved legal matters. The NFL commissioner decides list placement himself.
The NFL has pointed to its ongoing investigation when asked about why Watson is not on the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Reports state the NFL has yet to conclude that a major violation occurred, leaving Watson scot-free until such a violation is proved.
Survivors have said the NFL is seeking to dismantle their accusations by asking questions about what they were wearing. One survivor said the NFL investigators “were really looking for the weaknesses that they thought they could exploit.”
It would appear the NFL is acting as Watson’s lawyer rather than the impartial observer it ought to be.
The NFL’s most notable revision to its policies regarding sexual assault came after the league horribly mishandled then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s punishment. In 2014, Rice was indicted on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault following the release of a video of the incident. Consequently, the NFL gave Rice a pathetically short two-game suspension.
Commissioner Roger Goodell later admitted he “didn’t get it right” in regards to Rice’s suspension. In that same letter, Goodell put forward the league’s new policy regarding sexual assault: a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a second incident. Despite the short suspension, Rice never played in the NFL again; the Ravens released him and he was never signed to another roster. Yet running backs are much less invaluable than quarterbacks; Watson appears to be too precious an asset for the NFL to dole out the same treatment.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may be the closest parallel to Watson. In 2010, after two sexual assault allegations, Roethlisberger was suspended for six games, which was later reduced to just four games. Roethlisberger is still on the Steelers today and is widely heralded as a future Hall of Famer; his history of assault is hardly ever mentioned. Roethlisberger’s continued presence in the NFL demonstrates just how flimsy and inconsistent the league’s stance against sexual assault is.
The NFL cannot allow Watson to continue his career like Roethlisberger was able to.
The league office ought to right its previous heinous mishandlings of sexual assault. Clearly, NFL teams cannot be trusted to ostracize players like Roethlisberger on their own. If Watson was not such a star, the Texans would have cut him months ago.
There is zero reason to believe Watson will be released from any NFL roster in the manner of Rice. As a result, the league office needs to place Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List to pull him as far away from football as possible within its current boundaries. Ultimately, Watson ought to be banned from the NFL forever if the league wants to prove itself a true ally to sexual assault survivors.
Resources: On-campus confidential resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Services (202-687-6985); additional off-campus resources include the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (202-333-7273) and the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiner Washington Hospital Center (1-844-443-5732). If you or anyone you know would like to receive a sexual assault forensic examination or other medical care — including emergency contraception — call the Network for Victim Recovery of D.C. (202-742-1727). To report sexual misconduct, you can contact Georgetown’s Title IX coordinator (202-687-9183) or file an online report here. Emergency contraception is available at the CVS located at 1403 Wisconsin Ave. NW and through H*yas for Choice. For more information, visit sexualassault.georgetown.edu.