By: Saya Alvares
TW: Contains content mentioning sexual assault.
Whether you’re a die hard fan or simply have heard the title, the National Football League (NFL) has a colossal presence in American culture. I connect the NFL with a positive connotation – a way of bonding with my family, and a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. We are not the only family like this; the NFL averages 17.1 million viewers per season.
As I have grown older, that ‘positive connotation’ has worn off as I learned of the choices the NFL makes, and how these choices poorly reflect the NFL as an organization to their public audience. I believe the NFL needs to hold its players accountable for their actions, and to push forward for a future without assault in the picture.
Unfortunately, there is an extremely current example that shows off the NFL’s values regarding sexual assault. Deshaun Watson, a 26-year-old quarterback signed to the Cleveland Browns on Mar. 18, 2022, for a $230 million contract for the next five years. One year and two days before this signing, the first sexual assault allegation came out against Watson, from a massage therapist in Houston, Texas. This allegation was the first of 24. Two dozen. There are 24 individuals Watson has allegedly assaulted, yet he is still employed as a quarterback for the Browns.
Processing this information is shocking. Twenty-four women from Mar. 2021 to Jun. 2022 have come forward to hold Watson accountable for his actions. Watson is not indicted for any criminal charges in Texas, but I assumed the NFL would not allow someone with this many allegations to participate in their league. I assumed incorrectly, as he is still employed. The NFL did not come to a decision about the upcoming 2022 season until Aug. 18, 2022. At that point it was decided that Watson would receive an 11-game suspension — with Dec. 4 as his first game — a five million dollar fine, and mandatory counseling.
From this case as well and others, the priorities and values that the NFL holds are apparent. There are too many cases where the NFL prioritizes the players’ ability to play over the victims of those players. The apology Watson presented was extremely inadequate, stating that his apology was only “to people that were triggered.” Directly after, he spoke to a reporter saying “I’ve always been able to stand on my innocence and always said I never assaulted or disrespected anyone, but at the same point I have to continue to push forward with my life and career.” These insincere statements are violently affecting the credibility of the NFL.
While I’m not saying there is a perfect solution for these cases, I beg the NFL to reconsider their assault policy. To victims of sexual assault, this can be extremely triggering and contibute to rape culture. To young viewers, this league is underscoring the harm of sexual assault. The NFL needs to realize how much their actions impact those watching, and as a massive corporation, it’s their responsibility to hold their players accountable.
(Sources: NFL Communications, NY Times, Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, ESPN, Bleacher Report, Market Watch)