HOUSTON (AP) – After Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was suspended for six games for allegedly sexually assaulting two dozen women during a massage therapy session in Texas, a debate has erupted among fans about whether the punishment was fair.
Reaction to his suspension was mixed, even among Browns fans who hoped Watson would become the franchise quarterback they had long sought. Watson was traded from Houston to Cleveland this offseason for three first-round picks, and the Browns subsequently signed him to a five-year, $230 million contract despite legal issues.
Rhonda Whitelock, 50, a founding member and president of the Touchdown Browns Backers Club in suburban Cleveland, thinks the six-game suspension isn’t enough given the many allegations.
Whitelock described it as “disgusting” as club members, both men and women, told her they would no longer watch the brownies. But other members believe the women’s allegations are untrue, she said.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam sent a Christmas card in December with his family, including women and girls in the photo, Whitelock said. “I wonder if you value their rights?” she said, referring to Haslam. “Do you value what they say? Does it matter to you?”
Whitelock said she considered giving up her season tickets, but decided not to, saying she didn’t want “somebody” to discourage her from canceling the Browns.
Cassandra Riley, a 59-year-old Browns fan in Columbus, Ohio, thinks Watson’s suspension should only be three games.
“I feel like we all make mistakes. “I know people who have done worse,” Riley said as she and her husband ate lunch outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. “He is young. And I don’t think there’s any reason to wrongfully terminate a young man.”
Watson has denied all wrongdoing, saying any sexual activity with the three women was consensual. Before agreeing to a confidential financial deal with Women 20 on June 21, he publicly asserted that his goal was to clear his name.
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 was unhappy with the team’s direction and asked to be traded before the first charge, and he sat out all of last season while still on the roster.
Melissa Cabriales said she was relieved when Watson was traded to the Browns. His suspension was a big topic of discussion among her family on Monday.
“I think it should have been more,” she said. It wasn’t good enough for what he did.
Jason Hamlin of Folsom, Calif., a Browns fan who was visiting family in Cleveland, also thought the suspension was too short. But he added that trading for Watson was just the latest chapter in the team’s long history of misogyny.
“It was the brownest ever,” Hamlin said. “It’s a questionable organization at the moment, with questionable ethics and that’s why I’m not rooting for them.”
The six-game suspension was disappointing, but not surprising, for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, which received thousands in donations for Watson’s trade with the Browns in April.
“What we’re hearing from survivors, in this case of Deshaun Watson, is like they’re seeing their own experiences,” said Sondra Miller, the center’s executive director. “And some of the feelings we’re feeling, yeah, I tried to record everything that happened, and nothing happened. So why do we bother to tell people that we have been assaulted, because it does nothing?
AP reporter Mark Gillispie contributed to this report from Cleveland.