A few things I care about…
▪ The Deshaun Watson saga needs to end. But, as usual, the NFL has managed to keep another troubling story in the headlines. Watson’s return to the field Friday night was ugly in every way possible, an awkward apology before the game begetting an unsteady performance in it, his one completion in three possessions greeted by a derisive, profane crowd reaction that is sure to be repeated in any stadium he visits.
That the embattled Browns quarterback started a game for the first time in 19 months in the Browns’ preseason opener against Jacksonville happened because the NFL continues to grind its wheels of justice slowly. Peter Harvey, the NFL-appointed appeals officer, is still deliberating the league’s appeal of the six-game suspension levied by outside investigator Sue L. Robinson for Watson’s alleged predatory behavior with a litany of massage therapists. A paltry punishment would make Robinson look bad if it weren’t such a concurrent indictment of the Roger Goodell-led precedents she was compelled to emulate.
With a history of leading from the back, always ready to react to bad news or bad public opinion rather than get out in front with a plan of action when something goes wrong, the NFL is at it again, waiting on one of two outcomes: Harvey to extend Watson’s punishment to the season-long suspension Goodell and Co. wanted, or Watson to capitulate to an increased suspension and fine large enough to satisfy the league.
Neither solution is all that satisfying, other than to end a conversation that has now spanned two seasons. But as any good judge will tell you, the best compromises should leave both sides a little annoyed and wanting more.
Watson clearly misplayed his hand, and his latest concessions are beginning to show how much he has to realize that. From the conveniently leaked midweek report he’d be amenable to an eight-game suspension to the awkward apology he offered before Friday’s game, Watson’s posture sure has changed since his defiant “no regrets” back in March, when the Browns introduced their new quarterback.
He said then: “I don’t have any regrets. Like I said, the things off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging.” Asked if he’d consider counseling, he said, “The counseling part is hard because I don’t have a problem. I don’t have an issue.” He reiterated more than once, “I never assaulted anyone. I never disrespected anyone.”
In June, when the Browns gathered for mini camp, Watson made his first meek attempt at a clarification, saying, “I have regrets as far as far as the impact it has had on the community and people outside of just myself, and that includes my family, that includes this organization, that includes my teammates in this locker room that have to answer these questions, that includes the fanbase of the Cleveland Browns and that includes males, females and everyone across the world. That is one thing I do regret is the impact it has triggered in so many people, and it is tough to have to deal with.”
So he regrets the impact of his actions, but not so much the action itself. Got it.
By Friday, in an interview with a team reporter, he finally managed to mention the women he victimized: “Look, I want to say that I’m truly sorry to all of the women that I have impacted in this situation. The decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back, but I want to continue to move forward and grow and learn and show that I am a true person of character and I am going to keep pushing forward.”
Sounds like someone who knows he had to answer to Robinson’s concern over his “lack of expressed remorse.” Robinson’s report was unequivocal in the belief Watson violated NFL standards, even if he was not indicted by law enforcement for the multiple accusations of assault, claims for which he and his former team, the Texans, have reached multiple financial settlements. Blame the NFL for being so lenient in the past — on players and owners alike, Robinson was sure to make clear — for her stated inability to be harsher, but don’t doubt her conclusion.
She wrote: “The NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. " She insisted Watson’s behavior posed “a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person” and was “conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.”
No wonder Goodell was so emboldened in appealing the six-game penalty, saying, “We’ve seen the evidence, she was very clear about the evidence, she reinforced the evidence. There were multiple violations that were egregious, and it was predatory behavior.”
Time to end this story, and keep Watson off the field this season.
▪ Pete Rose shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an MLB microphone and the Phillies should have known better than to include him in a celebration of their 1980 World Series win. His reaction to a legitimate question from Philadelphia Inquirer beat reporter Alex Coffey about past sexual misconduct — “It was 55 years ago, babe” —shows how unevolved and unrepentant he remains.
Such a contrast to the beautiful verbal stylings of onetime Reds teammate Johnny Bench, whose stint during the Field of Dreams game was excellent.
▪ Give MLB credit for getting those throwback Field of Dreams uniforms so right, and for another dose of excellent baseball nostalgia in the broadcast (other than the creepy hologram of Harry Caray singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”). That still doesn’t make up for the bad decision to no longer have All-Stars wear their own uniform jerseys and homogenize them for the sake of merchandise sales instead.
▪ As Aaron Judge continues to bash home runs from the Bronx to Fenway and all points in between, the Yankees should pay attention to that Derek Jeter documentary and remember the value in keeping a homegrown player for his entire career. Or pay attention to how much the Sox miss Mookie Betts. Pay the man.
▪ Couldn’t agree more with the judge who sided with the PGA over the LIV golfers who wanted in on the FedEx Cup playoffs and tried to portray a ban as damaging to their careers while they are collecting big fat paychecks from the Saudis.
▪ The WNBA really needs to fix its charter travel issues. Players recording videos while sleeping overnight in an airport, which flagship franchise the Los Angeles Sparks did recently, is a bad look.
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.