- - Monday, March 28, 2022

Just so everyone is clear on this: An NFL franchise just handed a $235 million contract — almost all of it guaranteed in one of the richest deals in league history — to a player who has been accused by at least 22 women of sexual misconduct.

No NFL player has ever faced allegations from 22 accusers detailing incidents that, according to the claims, happened over a 12-month period.

Maybe there have been players before who, over the course of a long career or a lifetime, have accumulated or been targeted by a similarly staggering number of sexual misconduct accusations.

But as far as I can determine, 22 such allegations in just one year is, well, unprecedented.

Just so everyone is clear on this as well: Another franchise in the NFL just traded for and gave another record-setting contract — $120 million over four years — to a player who while in college in 2014 was charged with felony domestic assault and battery by strangulation against his eight-months-pregnant girlfriend.

Then, in 2019, this player was investigated for child abuse, but the charges were not pursued because prosecutors couldn’t determine if the player or the child’s mother broke their 3-year-old’s arm.

These two players, within days of each other, received deals from their new NFL teams worth a combined $355 million.

Just so everyone is clear on this.

This is the NFL, a business that professes, according to its mouthpiece, Commissioner Roger Goodell, to be “held to a higher standard.” A business that “is a leader” and stands for “important values.” 

“We embrace this role and the responsibility that comes with it,” the commissioner said.

Just so everyone is clear on this.

It was quite a week for the league’s role and the responsibility that comes with it. 

Deshaun Watson, who missed the entire 2021 season while facing civil charges of sexual misconduct from 22 massage therapists, was traded to the Cleveland Browns, who immediately turned around and agreed to pay the talented quarterback a record $235 million.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslem — who himself was under federal investigation for fraud several years ago involving his Pilot Flying J truck stops but never charged, despite an FBI affidavit claiming Haslam was in sales meeting where the fraud scheme was discussed — gave his blessing after talking to Watson. 

“Those in-depth conversations, the extensive evaluation process, his dedication to being a great teammate and devotion to helping others within the NFL, within the community, and through his charitable initiatives provided the foundation for us to pursue Deshaun,” the owner said.

Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, was one of the chief defense attorneys representing Haslam’s company — specifically Haslam’s president, Mark Hazelwood — in the Pilot Flying J fraud case.

Just so everyone is clear on this.

Watson has not been charged criminally in any of the cases. Two different grand juries, after having the cases presented to them by prosecutors, have declined to indict Watson criminally in 10 of the 22 cases. 

That doesn’t mean he is innocent or guilty. It simply means that, in these cases, it is often very hard to prove and win in criminal trials — not so much in civil trials, which we can assume will take place, since Watson has said he won’t be settling in any of the cases. 

He has denied the charges and maintained he is innocent.

That would mean that these 22 women — some of whom claim they felt “intimidated and threatened” during massage sessions and pressured to perform oral sex on Watson, others who claim he “ejaculated” on them -— are lying.

Just so everyone is clear on this.

Tyreek Hill’s troubles are more distant in the past. After initially pleading not guilty to the domestic violence charges — where he was accused of choking his pregnant girlfriend and punching her in the stomach — he pleaded guilty in 2015 to the charges and received three years probation, which included a courses in anger management and a batterer’s intervention program.

Hill was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round in 2016. “We uncovered every possible stone that we possibly could, and we feel very comfortable with that part of it,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

Looking under rocks was an appropriate description.

Three years later, Hill and his fiancee, the battered Crystal Espinal, were investigated for child abuse in a case involving their 3-year-old son’s broken arm. they temporarily lost custody. 

But Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said his office declined to prosecute either parent, because, Howe said “the evidence does not conclusively establish who committed the crime.”

Last week, Hill was traded to the Miami Dolphins, who turned around and rewarded him with four years for $120 million.

Two players whose behavior makes a mockery of Goodell’s “important values” — $355 million.

Let’s stop the pretense. The league, its owners, the front offices and the coaches don’t really care about standards and responsibilities. They care about football and the money that football generates.

Just so everyone is clear on this.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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