Deshaun Watson didn’t just need an NFL owner who was desperate when he bought his services in the spring. He needed someone who would also view the women he had sexually violated as disposable, undeserving of genuine care and concern.
In Dee and Jimmy Haslam, he found both.
The Haslams may not have assaulted or harassed anyone, as Deshaun Watson was accused of doing in civil lawsuits brought by two dozen women. But the owners of the Cleveland Browns still did a lot of harm to women, whether it was with their enthusiastic embrace of a sexual predator — yeah, I said it — or their empowerment on Thursday.
It wasn’t enough that the Haslams gave Watson a fully guaranteed $230 million contract, the most guaranteed money ever for an NFL player. Knowing full well that Watson would be suspended without pay for at least part of this season, they structured the deal so that his base salary this year was only $1 million, meaning his suspension from 11 games will cost him less than $700,000.
The Haslams insisted Watson was remorseful, minutes after explicitly saying he was anything but. They promised he was determined to make changes, when Watson himself said he had done what he had to do to be able to continue his career. They claimed he deserved a second chance, even though Watson has yet to do anything to earn one.
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They claimed their $1 million donation to fight sexual violence reflected a genuine desire to help, even if that amount is a pittance for a billionaire couple whose selflessness just coincided with the punishment settlement of Watson for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
And then Dee Haslam dropped the whole game, smearing the women who sued Watson with characterization suggesting they were sex workers.
“I think there’s just a huge opportunity to talk about the major issues our country has in this area, such as sex trafficking, the use of massage parlors,” Dee Haslam said, no doubt believing that she looked educated and informed.
“So we can keep talking about Deshaun, or we can talk about the major issues facing our country and make a difference.”
The “major problem” with Watson has nothing to do with sex work – the good or bad of which is a debate for another day. Many of the women who sued him were licensed massage therapists, as were the trained professionals employed by the Browns. Others were still in massage therapy school or had just graduated.
But it is clear that the Haslams do not consider them professional women. They don’t really believe what Watson did was that bad.
“I think we saw him recognize some things he wished he had done differently,” Jimmy Haslam said. “Some positions he wished he hadn’t put himself in.”
It’s the kind of thing you say when someone gets a speeding ticket or gets pulled over for recreational drug use. It’s not something you say when nearly three dozen women have filed lawsuits against the face of your franchise, or his former team, in which they say he sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, and/or or intimidated.
The Haslams may try to spin this – and heaven knows they tried – but the truth is they value Watson’s arms and legs over women’s bodies and souls. These women in particular, although the message to all women is clear:
Your pain and suffering are of no consequence. Your thoughts and opinions are irrelevant. You are insignificant.
“Today’s message to all victims is clear, if you believe you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, shut your mouth and walk away. The NFL has certainly demonstrated that its ownership and organization don’t care.” , said Tony Buzbee. , the attorney for the women who sued Watson, said in a statement.
The Browns will be without Watson until early December after his suspension was increased to 11 games from the top six. If there’s any justice in the world, Cleveland will already be, or be on the verge of being, knocked out of the playoffs when Watson returns, and he and the Browns will no longer be relevant.
Perhaps then the Haslam will realize what they have made women feel and the tremendous damage they too have caused.
Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on Twitter @nrarmour.