NFL’s Light Punishment of Watson Reinforces History of Condoning Sexual Misconduct

A Prized Player Faces Serious Allegations

When Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was accused of sexual assault and harassment by over 20 women last year, it seemed an unprecedented reckoning was coming for the NFL’s coddling of abusers.

But after Watson sat out the 2022 season, the NFL handed him just an 11-game suspension and $5 million fine as punishment for his extensive alleged sexual misconduct.

Criticism of a Weak Punishment

The suspension was widely criticized as inadequate given the gravity and number of allegations against Watson. Many argued the NFL was again showing itself far too lenient on sexual assault accusations.

In the eyes of critics, Watson’s cushy punishment reinforced the NFL’s history of protecting abusers at the expense of victims.

The NFL’s Checkered Past on Abuse

For years, the NFL has been plagued by high-profile cases of domestic violence and sexual assault among players. But substantive change has lagged, with the league rarely suspending abusers for more than a few games.

Watson’s punishment echoed past wrist slaps for the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Ray Rice and Greg Hardy among other abusers who faced little accountability from the NFL.

An Institution Still in Need of Reform

By again failing to institute meaningful discipline for serious accusations, the NFL further demonstrated a cultural inability to seriously address sexual misconduct.

Until the league prioritizes addressing abuse over talent on the field, critics argue players will continue seeing minimal consequences for even extensively documented alleged sexual violence and harassment.

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