If Deshaun Watson is guilty of the sexual assault and harassment allegations made by 22 women, he’s made a lot of mistakes.
One of those mistakes, if he‘s guilty, would be believing that his victims were somehow undeserving of basic human dignity and should consider themselves fortunate to be in the company of greatness.
But as reprehensible as the behavior is that the Houston Texans quarterback is accused of, it’s not that hard to see why NFL players would think they won’t be held responsible.
Like everyone else in the league, Watson has watched as those with even more power mistreat people — particularly women — with little consequence. Certainly no criminal investigations. Certainly no calls from the FBI.
Watson may be in trouble because he skipped a few chapters in the league playbook for misogyny, the “NFL Predator’s Guide.”
There’s the section on “the Non-Disclosure Agreement” — the NDA — followed of course by the chapter on “the Settlement for Silence.”
Watson reportedly tried to use a version of an NDA on at least one woman, according to KPRC 2 in Houston. But it was downloaded from the web – not the high-octane NDA that the big boys in the league use.
Former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had to pay off at least four women who worked for him because of sexual harassment complaints, and at least one football scout on the team for making a racial slur, but the only reason we know about these charges against Richardson was because of a Sports Illustrated investigation. We would know more, perhaps, but Richardson had a pocket full of those NDAs. Don’t be an NFL owner without one.
The cases referred to by SI are the ones that they were able to learn about. How about the incidents over the 23 years that Richardson owned the team that remain buried?
Remember one of Loverro’s rules — if things look bad from the outside, they are typically much, much worse.
The consequences for Richardson? No criminal investigations. No calls from the FBI. No drip, drop with public revelations of one alleged victim stepping forward after another. With the protections of the NDAs, just a $2.75 million fines and, at the age of 81, the sale of his team for $2.2 billion.
In Washington, as we are painfully aware, the only reason we know about the complaints of sexual harassment and bullying in Dan Snyder’s organization is because The Washington Post conducted an investigation that found at least 15 women who accused former team employees of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.
That number would later grow to 40, and set off first a so-called investigation by the team and the owner. Then, like in Carolina, the NFL took over. But as we all know, the investigation never revealed details of charges and specifics on the severity of the allegations — again, thanks in part to the owner’s NDAs.
League mouthpiece Beth Wilkinson reportedly ran into brick walls because of these protections — particularly one $1.6 million settlement paid in 2009 to a woman who claimed she was sexual harassed on an airplane flight with Snyder. This is basically don’t-tell-the-truth money.
The latest probe of the Washington Football Team ended with a record $10 million fine against the team, which is cost-of-doing-business money, and a wink-wink temporary banishment of Snyder, with his wife Tanya taking over as the team’s co-CEO and reportedly in charge of the day-to-day operations. There was no “report.”
Instead, there was a statement by league legal flunkie Lisa Friel that included this: “The culture at the club was very toxic, and it fell far short of the NFL’s values and we hold ownership to a higher standard.”
Calling Friel a league “flunkie” might seem a bit harsh. After all, she was a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and headed their sex crimes unit for almost 10 years.
In the NFL, she might as well be part of the cleaning crew. They don’t seem to be very impressed with these legal eagles once they get them on the payroll and use their resumes to create the illusion of responsibility and transparency.
See Mary Jo White.
The former United States attorney for the Southern District of New York was hired by the league to investigate the Richardson allegations. Yahoo Sports reported that White ran into roadblocks resulting from multiple NDAs and silence settlements, and came to Commissioner Roger Goodell with a recommendation to “to create “a specific prohibition of using Non-Disclosure Agreements to limit reporting of potential violations or cooperation in League investigations under the Personal Conduct Policy.”
As we saw later in the Wilkinson probe, we know how seriously the league took those recommendations.
Without those protections, these owners would be … well, out there like Deshaun Watson.
As we have been told, the league believes that Washington has made the moves necessary for a change in culture, including the hiring of coach Ron Rivera and team president Jason Wright.
That assumes if the abuses continue or resurface, they will speak up.
Rivera recently told Sports Illustrated that since his bout with cancer and the circumstances he was put in last season during a tumultuous Washington season, he has “found his voice.”
“As a person, I’ve become a little more of an advocate on things,” he said.
Let’s hope so. He certainly didn’t have it in Carolina, when, after the news surfaced about the allegations against Richardson — including the racial slurs against one of his scouts — the coach led a cheer for the owner after a playoff win against Tampa.
What about Wright’s voice? The former NFL player and McKinsey consultant recently told ESPN that “Dan has built his business by being a classic entrepreneur and having the big idea and then trusting people to execute and build the infrastructure.”
That’s such a ridiculous comment that he could actually be a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
There may be a way to give a voice in the future to those who wind up being silenced by Snyder’s NDAs and “don’t-tell-the-truth” settlements.
Snyder is on a new stadium quest. If he doesn’t deliver, he finally may find himself out of the owners’ club.
He is looking in the District, Maryland and Virginia — none of which are going to contribute a dime to the actual stadium costs, but will likely be asked to put up infrastructure money for roads and other needs for the stadium.
So how about all these government entities put a truth tag on any government monies helping Snyder? How about they say no NDAs or silence settlements in complaint cases connected to the team, or else you default on the deal. It’s their money. They can put whatever demands they want to on Snyder.
Trust me, he is not going to have any leverage in his stadium search. He will be a beggar, not an extortionist.
No more silence or no stadium.
Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.