The answer Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry gave to the final question asked during Friday’s news conference, the unsettling, unsatisfying news conference the team had after trading for Deshaun Watson and then signing him to a record-breaking $230 million contract, may have provided the most revealing moment of all.
Do you, and does this organization, believe there was no wrongdoing?
“We feel very confident in Deshaun the person, and we have a lot of faith in him, and we believe that as he gets into the community and our organization, he’s going to make a positive impact,” Berry said, his voice barely above a whisper.
That is not a “yes.” As in, “yes, we believe there was no wrongdoing.”
The events of the past couple of weeks, with several teams bidding for Watson’s services, have only reassured the star quarterback — who’s facing 22 civil lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct after two separate Texas grand juries declined to criminally indict him — that he can do whatever he wants without penalty and get a massive raise.
It’s why he could sit at the table in the Browns’ facility Friday afternoon, the requisite orange tie knotted at his collar, and feel comfortable using his mother and the aunts who raised him as a shield, putting a new twist on the empty “as a father of daughters” line so many men have used when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing toward women.
(The Browns took this same tack, saying they spoke to women in the organization about the transaction, as if Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski would have looked at each other, shrugged and said, “Welp, Jane in marketing and Keisha in finance said it makes them sick, so maybe we shouldn’t do it.”)
It’s why Watson did not even offer a perfunctory “there were misunderstandings and I apologize” type of line.
It’s why he blamed “the media” for rushing him to make a decision on which team he’d want to play for when asked why he reportedly initially said no to the Browns before saying yes, and asserted with a straight face that he had no idea what Cleveland’s contract offer was.
It’s why he seemed almost offended when asked if he’d ever pursue counseling.
It’s why he felt comfortable giving nonsensical answers about why a professional athlete sought over 40 massage therapists in a matter of five years.
After mumbling through his attempt at an answer, mentioning something about social media, Watson was later pressed again on the number of therapists he used.
“Well, I never, as far as the team, and when I say team, I’m not saying the Cleveland Browns, but my agency and things like that. Forty is just over time. It’s not in one period of time,” Watson said. “I’ve been in Houston for five years, so you go to different people and that’s just how … I can’t get too far into the details, but as businesses work and you move and meet different people and people have different schedules and blocks, you kind of meet people over time.”
For serious athletes, how it works is that they find one or two who can properly help them physically recover from the rigors of their sport. How it works is that they pay them enough to make sure they’re always able to get an appointment when they need one.
It’s hard to trust the defense that Watson is offering. And for someone who said repeatedly that he and the organization were so confident and comfortable with Watson “the person,” Berry’s words did not belie much confidence.
Were it my job on the line — were I the general manager of an NFL team who essentially hitched my career to Watson, especially a Black GM in a league where even the most successful Black GMs are fired and never heard from again — I sure as hell would want to feel confident enough to stand on the table and say “I 100 percent believe there was no wrongdoing.”
Berry could not say that. Didn’t even come close.
The NFL will always make space for talented players, no matter what they’ve done or been accused of, especially when the allegations come from women. It does not do the same with Black GMs and coaches. Jerry Reese constructed the New York Giants‘ last two Super Bowl-winning rosters, has not been accused of anything, and hasn’t gotten an interview since parting ways with New York. Rick Smith was cast aside in Houston after a power struggle with Bill O’Brien of all coaches, and is still without a front-office job.
Still, there was Berry, pushing in his chips. Whatever many of us were hoping to see from Watson, whether contrition, remorse or some measure of accountability, we weren’t going to see it. The Browns’ willingness to sign him to the most guaranteed money in NFL history in spite of the accusations meant he didn’t have to.
If he leads Cleveland deep into the playoffs, he never will. Berry has made his decision, as have the Browns.
They’re all betting that if Cleveland wins with Watson, at least some of the people who are disgusted by their decision to acquire a player who has been accused by nearly two dozen women of sexual misconduct, will forget all about the women and re-assert their love for the Browns.
If past is precedent, it’s a safe bet. When it comes to the NFL, winning is valued over everything.