Now it’s Deshaun Watson, but has the NFL learned anything from when it was Ben Roethlisberger?

Nothing much has changed in the NFL from when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape to now.

Nothing much has changed in the NFL from when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape to now.
Image: Getty Images


Oh, I have to keep going? Fine. Goddamn Google and their search indexing requirements.

The financial pause for Deshaun Watson has already started. Nike suspended his endorsement deal. So has Beats by Dre. But none of those are outright firings or endings of the relationship. Like we’ve seen far too many times before, they, and the Texans, and the league, and whatever other sponsors will wait for this to all “blow over.” Whenever they feel the time is right, or right enough to not get utterly slaughtered for it, you’ll see Watson’s name linked with those brands again. At least, that’s been the road set out before.

Only one of the groups listed above can do something about it. And that’s the NFL. We don’t expect them to, and they almost certainly won’t. They’ll keep hitting the “waiting for all the facts/conducting our own investigation” button until it loses all action. And all it means is they’ll have their finger in the wind to decide when enough time has passed to make some mealy-mouthed statement and half-hearted suspension/fine/telling-off. After all, the league will still be eyeing the money that Watson is worth to them.

The NFL has been here before. Star quarterback, accused of repeated and revolting sexual assaults. Ben Roethlisberger was even on one of the league’s signature franchises. And what did he get? A reduced suspension of four games from six, because he wasn’t accused of flagrantly raping anyone in the meantime, essentially. Since then, any coverage of Roethlisberger, from at least the NFL-associated outlets, has swept all that under the rug. He’s gone on to make millions more, and even win another Super Bowl. Everyone was at the ready with redemption stories. And for anyone who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid, those stories were pretty sickening.

Since Roethlisberger’s suspension in 2010, it’s not like the NFL hasn’t had far too many players involved in sexual assault and domestic violence. The idea of “punishment,” at least as the NFL is concerned (though other entities as well), isn’t just punitive measures against the offender. It’s supposed to be a deterrent to others. How’s that working out?

I have no idea if Watson was even aware of Roethlisberger’s punishment and alleged crimes, which, again, is the fault of the league and those who cover it. It should be a scarlet letter that he carries with him everywhere. It was for Michael Vick, even though Vick was able to return to the league and then eventually TV work. We always heard about the dogfighting ring, though, even on ESPN. Do we hear about the multiple allegations of sexual assault against Roethlisberger? Almost never.

Whether Watson did or didn’t know about the past of another QB, he certainly felt in too powerful of a position to ever answer for his actions. Based on what these women have said, and the sheer number, he had developed a taste for it and didn’t see anything wrong. So how’s the NFL going to stop the next one from feeling that way?

Along with the erasure of Roethlisberger’s (and possibly Watson’s) alleged offenses, what of the survivors? Don’t they, or won’t they, deserve better than to be simply deleted from memory? They’ve put far too much on the line here for that. Some of their names are out there, more names will get out whether they want them to or not, and all involved will deal with traumatizing memories and threats from the public. It happens every time. They deserve more than a token suspension for Watson that ultimately costs him nothing and that no one learns anything from. That doesn’t keep the next victim from becoming so at the hands of an invincible-feeling NFL player.

It isn’t just about Watson. It’s about what the league wants to be. We know they don’t really want to be anything more than their own mint, but they occasionally want to keep up appearances. What would make people stand up and notice? A full-season suspension? Lifetime suspension with the possibility of reinstatement in a couple of year’s time? After a demonstration of real remorse and work? It’s that kind of territory that the NFL has to discuss if it truly wants change.

Can they stop every single player? Probably not. Does that mean they shouldn’t try? Also probably not. It’s the same with every discussion like this. Fans would rant and rave and talk about fairness and not even being convicted of a crime. They also wouldn’t go anywhere. Chances are the Texans would still sell as many tickets as they would have anyway. What kind of statement would it make to the women in the NFL’s fanbase? What would it tell the players about their behavior?

The time for bravery is coming for Roger Goodell. But you can take one look at his face and know that he’s not capable of it.

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