Previously in this three-part series, I pointed out that through 2019, Deshaun Watson’s life and career, although having to navigate some serious challenges, was on a steady, upward trajectory. He had enjoyed great success on the football field, winning a state championship in high school, a national championship in college and two division championships in the NFL. The Houston Texans had rewarded him with a four-year, $160 million contract extension in September 2019. He had forged close bonds with his high school QB coach, his head coach, offensive coordinator an academic advisor in college and his head coach in the NFL, Bill O’Brien.
Watson had described his bond with O’Brien to ESPN before the 2020 season, “I love that man, and I’ll always play hard for that man…He’s got my heart.” O’Brien was named the head coach of the Houston Texans in 2014 and had led them to the playoffs four out of six seasons heading into 2020.
Then, the team fell apart. On the way to a 4-12 season, O’Brien was fired and for the first time Watson faced the severing of a bond with one of his mentors not through the passage of time, but by a decision that was beyond his control. O’Brien had taken on the general manager’s role prior to the 2020 season, so his firing required two hires, decisions which Watson said Texans owner Cal McNair had promised him he would be involved in. This would be quite unusual compared to normal NFL practices.
Not long after the hiring of that new GM and head coach, Watson made a formal request in January 2021 to be traded, apparently uncomfortable being in a situation that for the first time did not revolve around him. That was all he had known since high school and in my opinion it is hard not to think that had become an expectation of his, one he felt entitled to.
While complaining about McNair’s perceived dishonesty, Watson had become aware that the first wave of lawsuits alleging his sexual misconduct were in the works, but chose not to share that information with the Texans. This negated an early narrative that they were a punitive response to his trade request while conversely creating one that the lawsuits may have been part of the motivation for the request. That runs counter to a key principle of servant leadership he wrote in his book “Pass It On.”
To be a truly effective and inspiring servant leader, you cannot say one thing then do something that runs completely counter to your words.
Watson is also testing that principle in his few comments about the lawsuits. During his introductory press conference in Cleveland, Watson was of course asked about the allegations, “I have never assaulted any woman. I have never disrespected any woman.” Later in the press conference, he added, “I never did the things that these people are alleging, and I will continue to fight for my name and clear my name,” then later stated “I have never assaulted, disrespected or harassed any woman in my life.”
Most opinions I have seen take these statements as either the true statement of an innocent man or lies from a guilty man. What if there is a third option?
What if he committed those acts, or at least some of them in some form, but honestly believes he did not do anything wrong?
How is that possible? How could someone not understand that the types of acts he is being accused of (I won’t repeat them here, just understand they have to do with exposing his private parts and in some cases, receiving sexual gratification) are, at the very least, inappropriate?
What is someone is so focused on achievement that they don’t invest the time in developing romantic and/or sexual relationships? What is someone, now rich and armed with the power of celebrity but not having a real understanding of the connection between love and sex, still has sexual desires and believes he is entitled to have them met? I was struck by the fact that, while sharing key points of his life story in his book, never once even mentioned going on a date, much less any romantic relationship.
It seems obvious that, on some level, there was an issue and Watson was aware of it. The recent New York Times report stated that he met at least 66 women for massages for a 17-month period. Who does that? That is way beyond the norm and triple that for a professional athlete. It stands to reason that a football player with so much money riding on his ability to play would take the utmost care with someone having intimate (non-sexual) contact with his body. In that case, once a good masseuse is found, wouldn’t it behoove an athlete to stick with them? Certainly, there is a fluctuation in quality between them-why walk away from an excellent masseuse and take the chance on one who would not be as good?
I would reasonably hypothesize that the only reason a pro athlete would bounce around between masseuses, especially all women, would be that the maintenance of his body and muscles was not the primary purpose of the massage. Instead, I believe he would have been seeking a different type of service-why else did non-disclosure statements come into play according to the Times report, disingenuously introduced to the masseuses as protection for them?
Adding to that, while he appeared to know that some of the women involved were uncomfortable with his expectations and that they could cause problems for him, in my opinion he still believed he was entitled to it. Therefore, he can claim, at least in his mind, that he did nothing that should be considered disrespect, assault, or harassment.
This is the danger of someone being anointed as a chosen one. In Watson’s case, he was the chosen star quarterback and wisely so. He had the God-given ability and work ethic to become one of the best quarterbacks at every level he has played.
That can come at a cost, however-the cost of perspective. Watson still sees himself as a servant leader, even using that phrase in his Cleveland press conference, but I believe has missed a critical part of the humility needed to be a true one. He has apparently not demonstrated an ability to address his flaws-at least off the field, which every person has.
When asked at his introductory press conference if he felt he needed counseling, he replied, “I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue.” The only regrets he has expressed about the lawsuits are toward the impact they have had on his family, team and Browns fans-other victims besides him.
I believe that he is probably telling the truth-his truth.
So, Browns fans, what should you make of Deshaun Watson?
Is he an innocent victim? Not likely.
Is he a bad guy? Not totally, not at all.
He is an outstanding quarterback who has a long record of good works and has, in my opinion, developed a major case of entitlement. He has not yet had to deal with negative consequences of his actions. I believe he probably doesn’t feel that he should, after all he endured to become successful and wealthy, the good ways he has used that success and wealth to help others.
So, should you root for Watson whenever he is allowed to step on the field?
If you want your heroes without serious blemish, then no, although that drastically shrinks your pool of players to root for.
If you don’t care what a player does off the field, then by all means root for him.
Most of you, however, are probably torn between your love for the Browns and your concerns about Watson. It will be very much an individual’s choice that will likely be debated for years to come.
I would recommend using caution, however before getting too attached to him. A powerful person lacking self-awareness of his flaws can be dangerous-to themselves and others. There is often a reckoning with entitled people. When it happens, is isn’t pretty.
Let’s hope Deshaun Watson’s reckoning does not becoming a cautionary tale, if it hasn’t already.