Deshaun Watson didn’t just need an NFL owner who was desperate when he was shopping his services in the spring. He needed someone who would also see the women he’d sexually violated as disposable, not worthy of real care and concern.
In Dee and Jimmy Haslam, he found both.
The Haslams might not have assaulted or harassed anyone, as Deshaun Watson was accused of doing in civil suits filed by two dozen women. But the owners of the Cleveland Browns did significant harm to women all the same, be it with their enthusiastic embrace of a sexual predator – yeah, I said it – or their enabling of him Thursday.
It wasn’t enough that the Haslams gave Watson a $230 million contract that was fully guaranteed, the most guaranteed money ever for an NFL player. Knowing full well that Watson would be suspended without pay for at least part of this season, they structured the deal so his base salary this year was just $1 million, meaning his 11-game suspension will cost him less than $700,000.
The Haslams insisted Watson was remorseful, minutes after he’d explicitly said he was anything but. They promised he was committed to making changes, when Watson himself said he did what he had to do so he could get on with his career. They claimed he deserves a second chance, even though Watson has done nothing yet to earn one.
They claimed their $1 million donation to fight sexual violence reflects a real desire to help, even though that amount is a pittance for a billionaire couple whose altruism just happened to coincide with the settlement of Watson’s punishment for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
And then Dee Haslam gave up the whole game, smearing the women who sued Watson with a characterization that suggested they were sex workers.
“I think there’s just a huge opportunity to talk about the major issues in our country in this area, such as sex trafficking, massage parlor use,” Dee Haslam said, no doubt believing she sounded high-minded and informed.
“So we can continue to talk about Deshaun, or we can talk about the major issues our country faces and make a difference.”
The “major issue” with Watson has nothing to do with sex work – the rightness or wrongness of which is a debate for another day. Many of the women who sued him were licensed massage therapists, no different than the trained professionals employed by the Browns. Some others were still in massage therapy school or had just graduated.
But it’s clear the Haslams don’t see them as professional women. They don’t really believe what Watson did was that bad.
“I think we’ve seen him recognize some things that he wished he’d done differently,” Jimmy Haslam said. “Some positions he wished he’d not put himself into.”
That’s the kind of thing you say when someone gets a ticket for excessive speeding or is busted for recreational drugs. It’s not something you say when nearly three dozen women have filed lawsuits against the face of your franchise, or his former team, in which they say he sexually assaulted, sexually harassed and/or intimidated them.
The Haslams can try and spin this – and Lord knows they’ve tried – but the truth is they value Watson’s arms and legs over the bodies and souls of women. These women in particular, though the message to all women is clear:
Your pain and suffering is inconsequential. Your thoughts and opinions are irrelevant. You are insignificant.
"The message today to all victims is clear, if you believe you have been sexually assaulted by a powerful person, keep your mouth shut and go away. The NFL has certainly demonstrated that its ownership and the organization doesn't care," Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the women who sued Watson, said in a statement.
The Browns will be without Watson until early December after his suspension was increased to 11 games from the initial six. If there is any justice in the world, Cleveland will already be, or be on the verge of being, eliminated from playoff contention when Watson returns, and he and the Browns will be irrelevant.
Maybe then the Haslams will realize how they’ve made women feel, and the considerable damage that they, too, have done.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jimmy Haslam, Browns owner, hurt women with his Deshaun Watson support