The truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth.
Wouldn't you love to know the whole truth as it pertains to Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson and what really happened between him and those 25 massage therapists who accused Watson of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct between March 2020 and March 2021 while he was a member of the Houston Texans?
Was he actually guilty of those charges, especially since he's now reached settlements with 23 of them with a 24th dismissed? And if there was no truth in them, why settle, especially since two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year?
Given that, could it possibly have all been a misunderstanding?
Moreover, with all those settlements now reached — though we've yet to hear, if we ever do, the exact amounts paid out in those settlements — could this have been nothing more than a money grab as opposed to any real violation of the law?
And if it really was much ado about nothing but money, why is Watson being suspended for six games at the start of the season, those games costing him $357,000 in base pay? Just what the heck really happened down there in the Lone Star State? And whatever actually did happen, why did it allegedly happen so many times with so many different women before news of this issue surfaced?
Though NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson handed down the six-game suspension with no fines on Monday, both the NFL and Watson could appeal within three days of that ruling. According to ESPN, the NFL originally wanted Robinson to suspend Watson for 12 games and fine him $8 million.
And Robinson seemed sympathetic to the league in her 15-page conclusion, noting "the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. Mr. Watson violated the Policy in this regard."
So why not a harsher suspension and a hefty fine?
Then again, the report also stated that while Watson violated the personal conduct policy, there was not enough evidence to justify an indefinite suspension.
If it all seems a little confusing there could well be other motives from the NFL's side of things, given its desire not to look soft regarding sexual assault. A suspension of 12 games, if not an entire season, and a large fine would have sent a message that the league sincerely wanted to clean up its image a bit in this area.
Even with Robinson's ruling, NFL commish Roger Goodell could say that while he personally wanted a stronger penalty, he is willing to accept Robinson's judgement.
And while the penalty could be considered light on the front end, Robinson did give Watson little if any wiggle room regarding his behavior from now on, or at least as long as he remains in the NFL.
First, she ruled that Watson is "to limit his massage therapy to Club-directed sessions and Club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career, and so impose this mandate as a condition to his reinstatement."
She also ruled that Watson is "to have no adverse involvement with law enforcement, and must not commit any additional violations of the Policy."
Regarding the massages, she might also have ordered a female law enforcement officer to be present during the massages and to report anything suspicious. Either way, it would seem as if Robinson is pretty much handing down a zero tolerance policy for Watson from this point forward, which would seem more than fair if he did sexually assault or behave inappropriately in these therapists' presence.
Also, just out of curiosity, it would be interesting to find out a year from now if Watson asked for massages after the ruling at the same rate he did before. And if not — especially if it's way, way less — why not?
After all, beyond the 24 women involved in the civil suits, there were reports that Watson hired a total of 66 women over a span of 17 months for massages. If those numbers were to dramatically drop after the Browns were required to approve both the reason for a massage and the therapist giving them, it would seem to make the charges of the Houston area therapists highly believable.
The most amazing part of all of this is that the Browns have already signed Watson to the league's highest guaranteed contract — a whopping $230 million. And this long before Robinson's ruling.
Maybe they knew something the NFL didn't. Maybe, much worse, they didn't care. When healthy, Watson has proven himself to be one of the top six or seven quarterbacks in the game. What's a moral and character flaw from your highest profile player against a chance to become a winning franchise with realistic Super Bowl dreams?
Read Robinson's words again, slowly: "The NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. Mr. Watson violated the Policy in this regard."
To which, if there's no successful appeal by the NFL, he'll lose $357,000 of a $230 million contract. That comes out to less than one-fifth of one percent. That's the ugliest truth of this whole sordid mess.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.