Power, wealth and athleticism in the NFL leads to unjust privileges

Josie Santiago, DN Illustration
Josie Santiago, DN Illustration

Editor's Note: Meghan Sawitzke is a first-year journalism major and writes for The Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. This story contains discussions of sexual assault. 

I used to be a die-hard Cleveland Browns fan, but it all changed when Deshaun Watson was traded, bringing the NFL’s history back to the surface. I wanted them to do well and maintain good standards for the sake of the city's reputation, but I can no longer support a business or team that dismisses abuse towards women.

The NFL has held a double standard for years allowing men to continue their careers simply due to their talent and wealth, regardless of their disrespectful actions towards women. There is a long history of unacceptable behavior — the most recent case being Deshaun Watson.

Watson was a quarterback for Clemson before being selected by the Houston Texans with the 12th overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft, indicating he was a highly sought-after talent. He was later traded to the Cleveland Browns who guaranteed him a five-year, $230 million contract following his suspension. In the exchange, the Browns gave the Texans three first-round picks, a third-round and two fourth-round selections. Not only did Cleveland give Watson one of the largest contracts in NFL history, but they also gave away a king’s ransom for him and did so knowing his off-the-field misconduct.

After being accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than two dozen women, Watson was initially given a six-game suspension with no fine from the NFL before it was later extended to 11 games and a $5 million fine after the National Football League Player Association (NFLPA) voiced their displeasure in the decision.  However, two separate grand juries did not indict him on criminal charges for lack of evidence.

According to ESPN and CBS Sports, Watson had another lawsuit filed against him Oct. 13, making the total 26. The New York Times reported Watson contracted at least 66 massage therapists over a 17-month period; the actual number may have been higher. 

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing a pass during preseason training. Watson returns from his NFL-sanctioned suspension Dec. 4 against his former team, the Houston Texans. Erik Drost, photo courtesy

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is one of the largest anti-sexual violence organizations to help survivors, educate the public, suggest training and provide public policy. Its research shows, “more than 2 out of 3 [sexual assault cases] go unreported.”

As my father always says, “where there is smoke, there is fire.”

He is a predator who should not be allowed to hide behind his talent.  

In our sports-crazy society, people with talent, power and wealth have a free pass through the court of public opinion, and the NFL’s actions have continued to support this stance.

Megan Schobert, the wife of a current NFL player and former Cleveland Brown, said, “At the end of the day, the NFL is a business, and teams will do whatever it takes to win … They’ll turn their head and look the other way to avoid serious implications all the time.”

According to reporting from the Washington Post, Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, was accused of prostitution-related charges, but even though the evidence was provided on film, he never faced disciplinary action.

Furthermore, in 2018, Kareem Hunt, Rookie Player of the Year for the Kansas City Chiefs, was accused of physically assaulting a woman. The NFL suspended him while the Chiefs immediately cut him; however, according to SBNation, the Browns came in and signed him within three months, giving him an opportunity to continue his career.

Ray Rice was selected to play for the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. As a star running back, Rice committed an act of domestic violence, punching his fiancé in an elevator, leading to him dragging her unconscious body into the hallway. He was suspended indefinitely, and the NFL wrote a new domestic violence policy due to his actions.

Michael Vick, a first-round pick quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons in 2001, faced charges in Georgia in 2007 for torturing and killing dogs. ESPN reported his conviction included three years in prison and a $2,500 fine. However, he returned to the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles once his time in prison expired and fines were paid.  Vick later retired in 2017 and became a TV broadcaster. 

A Vice article written by Broadly Staff titled “There are 44 NFL players who have been accused of sexual or physical assault,” includes various incidents of abuse towards women among prior players in the NFL, some of which are as followed:

Ben Roethlisberger was twice accused of sexual assault. Jameis Winston was accused of rape.  Bruce Miller was accused of assaulting his girlfriend and breaking her phone. Chris Courtney Upshaw was accused of domestic violence. Daryl Washington assaulted his ex-girlfriend and broke her clavicle. Julian Edelman was accused of touching a woman inappropriately. Johnny Manziel was accused of domestic violence.

When looking deeper into the NFL’s business strategies to manage the negative press, while disregarding disrespectful actions towards women, a flaw is revealed.

Colin Kaepernick was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers and was blackballed by the NFL for exercising his First Amendment rights; he has not played since. He knelt during the National Anthem to protest against police brutality and shine the spotlight on a national issue. Although this does not correspond to abuse, this all is brought back to the NFL’s disciplinary actions from a business perspective.

From the league’s track record, the message is clear: if you strike a woman, the NFL will dismiss the matter after addressing the negative press, but if you exercise your First Amendment rights by kneeling during the anthem, you are effectively banned from the league.  

Kaepernick was sure to provide reasoning for his actions and even spoke to United States veterans to show their respect. However, the owners viewed it as negative publicity, and they refused to have the stigma around their teams.  

The system seems flawed; owners can destroy the career of a man who gave others a voice, but the Browns don’t do the same thing to a man with 26 lawsuits against him for sexual assault. 

The Cleveland Browns and NFL condone this behavior and even reward it by offering lucrative contracts and promising a successful career. Men like Deshaun Watson have lived an entitled life and can get away with things the average man would be instantly punished for.

Although the NFL took this opportunity to discipline Watson, I believe it was merely to manage the amount of negative press.

Regardless, I refuse to support a man who allegedly objectifies women and denies the accusations against him just to defend his power, wealth and his talent-driven career.  Furthermore, I refuse to support a team and business that takes a man of this reputation under their wing and nurtures his repeated mistakes.

Contact Meghan Sawitzke with comments at meghan.sawitzke@bsu.edu or on Twitter @MSawitzke.


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