Fans debate Watson’s 6-game ban for assault

HOUSTON (AP) — After Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for six games after two dozen women in Texas accused of sexual misconduct during massage treatments, a debate began among fans over whether his discipline was fair.

Even among Browns fans who are hoping Watson can be the franchise quarterback they’ve been looking for, reactions to his suspension have been mixed. Watson was traded from Houston to Cleveland for three first-round picks this offseason, and the Browns signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract despite his legal woes.

Rhonda Whitelock, 50, founding member and president of Touchdown Browns Backers Club in suburban Cleveland, said she thinks a six-game suspension isn’t long enough given the sheer number of allegations.

Whitelock said club members, both male and female, told her they weren’t seeing the Browns anymore and described her as “disgusted”. However, other members believe the women’s allegations are untrue, she said.

Jimmy Haslam, the Browns owner, sent a Christmas card in December with his family, including women and girls, in the photo, Whitelock said. “I wonder if you value your rights?” she said, referring to Haslam. “Guess what they say? Do you care?”

Whitelock said she was considering giving up her season tickets but decided against it, saying she didn’t want “one person” to stop her from rooting for the Brows.

Cassandra Riley, a 59-year-old Browns fan from Columbus, Ohio, said she thinks Watson’s suspension should have been just three games.

“I feel like we all make mistakes. I know people who have committed worse atrocities,” Riley said while having lunch with her husband in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. “He’s young. And I don’t think there’s any reason to end a young man’s career because of a mistake.”

Watson has denied any wrongdoing and insisted any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to confidential financial settlements with 20 of the women on June 21. He has since settled three other lawsuits.

Watson was a first-round pick by Houston in 2017 and went on to be called to the Pro Bowl three times and lead the Texans to the playoffs twice. But he grew unhappy with the team’s direction and asked for a trade before the first allegation surfaced, and he sat out all of last season while still in the roster.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson signs autographs for fans following NFL football team training camp Monday, August 1, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.

  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson signs autographs for fans following NFL football team training camp Monday, August 1, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.
  • Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson participates in drills during the NFL football team's training camp Monday, August 1, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.

Melissia Cabriales said she was relieved when Watson was traded to the Browns. His suspension was a big topic of discussion in her family on Monday.

“I think it should have been longer,” she said. “It wasn’t enough for what he did.”

Jason Hamlin of Folsom, Calif., a Browns fan who was in Cleveland visiting family, also found the suspension too short. But he added that the trade for Watson was just the latest chapter in a long history of the team’s ineptitude.

“It was the brownest thing ever,” Hamlin said. “It’s a questionable organization with questionable ethics at this point that makes me not root for them.”

At the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which received thousands in donations after Watson’s move to the Browns in April, the six-game suspension was met with disappointment, but not surprise.

“What we’ve heard from survivors is as if they’re seeing their own experiences in this Deshaun Watson case,” said Sondra Miller, the center’s CEO. “And some of the feelings that we’ve heard are like, ‘Yeah, I tried reporting what happened too, and nothing happened. So why even bother telling people we were attacked or hurt because nothing is going to happen anyway?”


AP reporter Mark Gillispie contributed to this report from Cleveland.


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