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Canzano: Cleveland Browns paying steep price for Deshaun Watson
Quarterback says he has no regrets
Dee and Jimmy Haslem made their money in petroleum. Jimmy’s father bought a gas station in 1958 for $6,000. That evolved into the empire that now includes a large portfolio of gas stations and Pilot Flying J truck stops.
Jimmy is chairman of the board of Pilot now. He and Dee own the Cleveland Browns, among other businesses. So if you’re wondering who ought to be losing sleep over the Deshaun Watson trade let’s start with those two.
They greenlit this mess.
Watson was introduced to media on Friday. His performance was a dud. Also, I can’t help but wonder how many survivors of sex assault it re-traumatized. A couple of grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges but he still faces 22 civil suits and an NFL investigation that is a fair bet to leave him suspended this season.
"I don’t have any regrets," Watson said on Friday. "Like I said, the things off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging."
I find Watson’s comments disturbing given the big picture. I also wonder how women who worked for and cheered for the Browns over the years feel about the organization ushering Watson back to the field in a win-at-all costs move.
Marla Ridnour is a sports columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal. She covers the Browns and wrote a powerful column headlined: “Browns' Deshaun Watson trade triggers past for sexual assault victims. I am one of them.”
Ridnour was abducted at knife point and gang raped in college at Eastern Kentucky University in 1975. Police strapped her into a lie detector test when she reported the crime. Her assailants were never caught. The trauma of that crime was stirred up again when the Haslem family decided it had to have Watson as their new quarterback.
“I cried myself to sleep on March 15, when news broke that the Browns were flying to Houston to meet with Watson,” she wrote.
I feel for Ridnour.
I also feel for Brenda Tracy, who came forward years ago and told me about her own gang rape. Her assailants weren’t convicted, either. The system failed her. Tracy told me once through tears that it’s difficult to pinpoint which is the more painful betrayal: the crime itself or the way our society chronically re-victimizes survivors.
The Browns not only traded for Watson, they gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. It includes a $45 million signing bonus and his salary in the first season is only $1 million. That last detail is particularly interesting because it protects Watson from a substantial loss of income should the NFL’s investigation result in a one-year suspension.
The Browns sure look desperate, don’t they?
Dee Haslam said they spent a lot of time working through the decision as a family.
“We knew going into this that this could be really hard on individuals and could trigger emotions from individuals who have been through sexual abuse,” she said this week.
Jimmy insists the organization did its due diligence, including a private investigation into the accusations aimed at Watson. But none of the investigators contacted any of the 22 women who filed civil suits and nobody even bothered to call their attorney. The Browns say they were advised against it by their legal counsel.
The owners did interview Watson in person, though.
Cleveland’s NFL team moved on from Baker Mayfield this offseason. The franchise announced it wanted “an adult” at the quarterback position. Then, the Browns went about chasing down Watson via trade and signing him to an extension that will pay him an average of $46 million a year.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center issued a statement after the trade for Watson that included, “We hear your outrage. We feel it too.”
Watson is innocent until proven guilty. The grand jury didn’t vote to indict him on criminal charges, but I’m troubled that the Browns moved forward with him in a significant manner before there was resolution to the NFL’s investigation and those 22 civil lawsuits.
Now, Watson is saying he has no regrets. Also he doubled down and said on Friday it's "not my intent" to settle any of the civil cases. The Browns would like very much for us to trust them on this one. But I’m with the survivors — because someone has to be.
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