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We interrupt this sporadically scheduled column for an important public service announcement.
The Ohio Department of Gravy Control is warning that one of the top causes of spillage on your best table linens in Northeast Ohio this Thanksgiving will be somebody stepping into a minefield with the conversation starter “so, how about that Deshaun Watson injury?”
Some poorly concealed smiles might light up above the table while some swift kicks are being delivered underneath. Somebody is going to be distracted by this topic just enough to rock that gravy boat a little too unsteadily. Heaven help us all if someone is in the middle of passing the mashed potatoes.
In the classic American tradition, families and friends will sit down to feast together in gratitude for bountiful blessings, then blow it all up with the mention of a sore subject.
And around here, Watson’s storyline has become a real sore subject any way that you look at it.
Through their first 10 games, Watson and the Browns have treated their dedicated fan base to a terrifyingly promising season — a rarity since the franchise was reanimated in 1999. And there are folks who have dared to mention the words “Super Bowl” above a whisper again for a team that hasn’t been to a league championship in at least LVIII years. Folks, I am not so great with Roman numerals, but I believe that roughly translates to 473 seasons ago.
So, what happened? The quarterback who has been hailed as The Prince Who Was Promised went and suffered a season-ending shoulder fracture while leading the Browns to one of their greatest comeback wins ever. The audible “oof!” heard across The Land, however, wasn’t entirely collective when the news of Watson’s plight spread. That’s because a sizeable contingent of Northeast Ohioans (and these are predominantly people who aren’t even Steelers fans, it should be noted) was simultaneously mumbling “serves them right.”
If you live in a Browns house divided, and the topic of Deshaun Watson sits down at the table with you on Thanksgiving, prepare yourself for things to get a little messy. The diehard Browns fan to your left is bereft, with Watson suddenly unable to orchestrate a march to the playoffs. The disaffected Browns fan to your right is content that the quarterback won’t take another snap until next fall at the earliest, and not ashamed to say it.
Here is the moment where Thanksgiving disintegrates into Festivus. Let the airing of grievances begin.
To your left: “How can you want this guy to fail, or take comfort in his pain? This is the quarterback who finally has a shot at bringing the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Cleveland for the first time, for crying out loud!”
To your right: “How can you, in good conscience, even root for somebody accused of sexually assaulting or harassing at least 30 women?”
This keeps going back and forth.
“Let’s be very clear about this: A grand jury declined to bring a single charge against Deshaun Watson. He maintains he has done nothing wrong. And he got a heavy suspension and fines from the NFL. Hasn’t he already paid for his actions?”
“Did he pay? He sure did. He paid undisclosed sums to make civil suits against him go away — for a pattern of visiting massage therapists and demanding services that we can’t talk about with children present.”
“He says if anything even happened during those visits, it was consensual.”
“Did you even read the accounts of the women who filed complaints? They say he was physically intimidating and aggressive. Some of them say he forced himself on them. In what universe is that consensual?”
“Well, I’m not a misogynist, but how do you know they weren’t just looking for a big payday?”
“Why is it more important to believe somebody who you want to win games instead of so many women who swear this man horribly mistreated them? What if that was your daughter?”
“Why are you so hung up on this still? That’s all in the past now.”
“The past? Really? Because if you recall, Jimmy and Dee Haslam made this all about the present and future when they essentially bet the franchise on this guy with a deal they can’t walk away from. I will never stop feeling icky about him or them, even if Watson leads the team to five Super Bowls.”
“You’re being ridiculous. You got your wish. He can’t play. But you know what? I really wish he could. The Browns are finally winning, and that’s what matters. Besides, what happens with a player outside of the game itself is quite frankly none of my business.”
“Funny. That’s not how you felt when Colin Kaepernick took a knee in San Francisco.”
By the way the cranberry sauce is quivering at this point, it’s definitely time to hide all the forks and remind everyone that Thanksgiving ought to be a day of grace and civility.
Yes, we can and should talk about the way this quarterback situation continues to make us feel. We can disagree with people without passing judgment on them. We can work to understand other perspectives than our own.
So let’s start here: When we sit down at the table together, let’s try to be deliberately respectful.
That means adjusting to a person’s obvious heavy disappointment and leaving behind the schadenfreude when they talk about the misery they’re experiencing. That also means resisting the temptation to treat a person expressing a principled stance as if they are piñata. Take a moment to think about their feelings, especially if they tell you that they can’t rally behind Watson as The Answer for the Browns. Is it really constructive to urge a person with those strong convictions to lighten up because, after all, isn't football just a game?
It’s far more than a game; it’s a national obsession. For boys, there aren’t many influencers in this country that are on par with the NFL. So, when someone tells you they can’t stomach dishonorable decisions and behaviors at the top of the sport, that’s a valid point of view. There are many people who see the Watson deal as yet another instance of men of wealth and power being let off easy for hurting women. If you’re seriously going to tell someone that they’re wrong for thinking that way, I can help you pick out a sweater to wear to dinner. It will be whichever one looks best with candied yams dumped all over it.
And if you’ve tagged out as a Browns fan because of the quarterback and find yourself surrounded by rabid relatives woofing for you to disavow your objections, try throwing these Dawgs a bone. (Figuratively! Put the drumstick back on the plate.) If you’re being pressed to explain why you aren’t heartbroken in the same way that they are, it’s OK to say something along the lines of “I’m sorry that this situation has you so upset. I do have some serious thoughts on this issue, but I don’t want to step on anyone’s holiday. Let’s enjoy this wonderful meal first — and if you are sincerely interested in my feelings about this, I’d love to talk after you’re done washing the dishes.”
There! See? We’ve managed to keep the peace for now and can move on to the next dinner topic. Election 2024 anyone? Legalized pot? That “new” Beatles song?
Hey! Where is everybody going?
When he isn’t toiling away as the Beacon Journal metro editor, you can occasionally find Joe Thomas musing about everyday life as the Average Joe. Reach him at email@example.com
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Watson injury will spark some Thanksgiving debates ❘ Average Joe