This is Miami. We can’t help rooting for the Dolphins, even if we roll our eyes when we do. But the talk about the Dolphins trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is a step too far, even for us. No talent upgrade for this team is worth the kind of controversy Watson brings, at least right now.
The 26-year-old star — and he is one — is facing a criminal investigation and 22 civil lawsuits alleging a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, such as massages. The FBI has gotten involved, though that may be aimed at one of the accusers and an extortion claim.
It’s a mess, and the Dolphins should steer clear. Not just for the team, but for the broader message they are sending.
Yes, this is professional football. Watson is one of the best in the league at his job, and the money at stake is huge. (Watson signed a four-year contract extension last year worth almost $111 million.) And that means much of the discussion has focused on questions of sports strategy — what about the current quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa? — rather than the kinds of values the NFL is promoting here.
Plus, we know that if Miami landed him, most fans would cast aside their concerns the minute he starts putting touchdowns on the scoreboard.
Not just a PR problem
But the allegations against Watson are no minor blow-up, something that can be swept away with a good PR person and a bunch of wins. The Miami Dolphins — and the NFL — are supposed to be trying to clean up their images. Yet there are reports that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has approved the trade with one huge sticking point: He wants Watson’s legal problems cleaned up before it is executed. But unless the court system suddenly shifts into warp speed, there’s no way those legal problems will be addressed before the NFL trading deadline on Tuesday. Ross may just be trying to offer a glimmer of hope to fans — while guaranteeing the trade can’t happen — but why do we even have to discuss this?
No team should be willing to bring on a player with so many unresolved and serious issues. Ross had a chance to say that at the NFL owners meeting earlier this week, but he didn’t. He told the reporters trying to ask him questions: “I know what it’s about, and I’m not dealing with it.”
Football, and sports in general, needs to deal with “it” — a culture that would much rather ignore persistent sex and gender issues than deal with them.
What does it say that hockey has also had to face allegations that current Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville knew about the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse case when he was head coach there? (This, as the Panthers enter the season with the best start in their history.) A lawsuit was filed in May alleging that a former video coach had molested two players in 2010. By June, the Blackhawks had ordered up an independent investigation, and this week, the team released the findings. Two top team members resigned followed by Quenneville on Thursday. Though the allegations go back a decade, hockey is dealing with this issue pretty quickly.
The NFL? Not so much. That 10-month investigation into the Washington Football Team amid allegations of a hostile workplace, bullying and harassment — and a sexual assault claim against the owner — resulted in nothing but a statement from the NFL concluding that the team had operated in an unprofessional manner and ignored rampant bullying, intimidation and sexual harassment. No report has been released on the team’s toxic culture, and there’s been no real effort at transparency.
It’s like the #MeToo movement never happened.
The Dolphins shouldn’t even be considering adding a player to their roster like Watson until these allegations are fully dealt with — and maybe not even then, either. But this is bigger than one troubled quarterback. The NFL and other sports leagues need to think about the messages are they sending to sexual-assault victims, women and young kids who see players as role models.
Should teams and athletes be held to account like the rest of us? Or do money and talent turn even the most serious of problems into nothing more than a PR problem?
We know what the NFL would say — predictably.