Renée Graham got it right in her column about the suspension of quarterback Deshaun Watson (“The NFL has no credibility with women,” Ideas, Aug. 7). Watson’s case — he’s been suspended for six games for sexual misconduct — hit me particularly hard because, having been born and raised in Cleveland, I have been a Browns fan all my life. Not only that, but I had the honor of serving as a Browns cheerleader in 1971-72, the last season the team included them. We were from Cleveland-area high schools, and unpaid. The experience was a highlight of my young life. However, I am currently reevaluating my loyalty to the team.
In our volunteer status, we cheerleaders had to sign a contract that obligated us to avoid engaging in behaviors that might reflect poorly on the Browns organization. This included not applying makeup in public, not drinking alcohol, and especially not fraternizing with any player.
Needless to say, we had our crushes on various players, and they often teased us to try to get us to speak with them. But as far as I know, we didn’t break the rules, and despite the good-natured teasing, I felt safe at every game and trusted the organization to act in our best interest.
Upon reflection, I now see that the so-called protection my fellow cheerleaders and I counted on was an illusion.
The NFL and the Browns have to realize that women represent a large percentage of pro football’s fan base, and to disregard and disrespect them in the context of the Watson case is beyond shameful. My experience as a Browns cheerleader is no longer something I am proud of.
Lynne Byall Benson