HOUSTON (AFP) – After Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has been suspended for six games After accusations from two dozen Texas women of sexual misconduct during massage treatments, a debate has begun among fans about whether his discipline is fair.
Even among Browns fans, who hope Watson is the quarterback they have long sought, reaction to his comment was mixed. Watson was traded to Cleveland from Houston this off-season for three first-round picks, then Brown signed him to a $230 million five-year contract, despite his legal issues.
Rhonda Whitelock, 50, a founding member and president of the Touchdown Browns Backers Club in suburban Cleveland, said she believes the six-game suspension isn’t long enough given the sheer number of allegations.
Whitelock said club members, both men and women, had told her they would no longer see the Browns, calling them “disgusting”. She said other members believed the women’s accusations were untrue.
Whitelock said Jimmy Hassan, the owner of Brown, sent a Christmas card in December with his family, including the women and girls, pictured. “For me, I wonder do you value their rights?” She said pointing to Hassan. “Do you appreciate what they say? Does it matter to you?”
Whitelock said she considered giving up her season tickets, but decided against doing so, saying she didn’t want “one person” to dissuade her from rooting in the browser.
Cassandra Riley, 59, a Browns fan from Columbus, Ohio, said she believes Watson’s suspension should only be three games.
“I feel like we all make mistakes. I know people who have done worse atrocities,” Riley said while lunching with her husband outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. And I feel there is no reason to end a young man’s career because of a mistake.”
Watson denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that any sexual activity with three of the women was consensual. He publicly insisted that his goal was to clear his name before agreeing to secret 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 was named to the Pro Bowl three times and led the Texans to the playoffs twice. But he became unhappy with the team’s guidance and requested a deal before the first claim appeared, and sat throughout last season while still on the roster.
Melissa Caprialis said she was relieved when Watson traded Brown. His comment was a big topic of discussion among her family on Monday.
“I think it should have been longer,” she said. “It wasn’t enough of what he did.”
Jason Hamlin of Folsom, Calif., a Browns fan who was in Cleveland visiting family, also thought the comment was too short. But he added that trading for Watson was just the latest chapter in a long history of team incompetence.
“It was the most brown thing ever,” Hamlin said. “It’s a questionable organization at this point, with such questionable ethics that I don’t want to look for them.”
At the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which received thousands of donations following Watson’s trade with the Browns in April, the six-game suspension was disappointed but not surprising.
“What we’ve heard from survivors, it sounds like they’re seeing their own experiences in the Deshaun Watson case,” said Sondra Miller, executive director of the center. “And some of the feelings we were hearing were like, yeah, I tried to report what happened too, and nothing happened. So why even bother telling people we were assaulted or hurt because nothing would happen anyway?”
Associated Press reporter Mark Gillespie contributed to this report from Cleveland.
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