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Why Roger Goodell's hug of Deshaun Watson was an embarrassment for the NFL

Mike Freeman

Editor's Note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at

The video is pretty gross. It's hard to believe the video is real but it is. And it's gross. Just. So. Gross.

This is the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, hugging Deshaun Watson, who only one year ago Goodell called a predator:

Goodell said Watson was predatory during a press conference on Aug. 9 of last year while commenting on the report of disciplinary officer Sue Robinson. Robinson said in her report that Watson's "pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL." She added this: "I accept the fact that a work environment with sexualized conduct is not a safe environment, and I accept as credible the testimony of these therapists that they felt unsafe and suffered emotional distress as a result of their massage sessions with Mr. Watson."

Watson was initially suspended for six games. The NFL appealed and the suspension was eventually lengthened to 11 games. Watson was also fined $5 million. It was at the August press conference when Goodell was asked about that appeal.

"We've seen the evidence. (Robinson) was very clear about the evidence, should we enforce the evidence. That there was multiple violations here, and they were egregious, and it was predatory behavior," Goodell said then. "Those are things that we always felt were important for us to address in a way that's responsible." 

Egregious and predatory behavior.

So just one year ago, Goodell called Watson a predator. What's changed in that year? Well, nothing really. As far as we know, Watson hasn't been accused of improper behavior, so that's good, I guess, but that bar is so low, it's subterranean.

There is nothing Watson has done to deserve that type of public display from Goodell. In fact, the Goodell hug is one of the lowest moments in his nearly two decades tenure as commissioner of the league.

Watson has long denied all wrongdoing. "I've always stood on my innocence and always said that I've never assaulted anyone or disrespected anyone, and I'm continuing to stand on that," Watson said last year. "But at the same time, I have to continue to push forward with my life and my career."

Goodell wasn't greeting the Pope; he was greeting someone accused of significantly heinous actions. Watson is a pariah. A really bad dude. He doesn't deserve to be embraced. Especially by the leader of the sport. He deserves to be shunned.

What Goodell's reaction shows is that he never truly understood the pain and damage Watson did or he's forgotten about that devastation. Embracing Watson like that is Goodell turning his back on all of Watson's victims.

But Mike, he served his punishment, shouldn't he be allowed to live his life?

Sure, but Goodell and others don't have to act like nothing ever happened. For the immense weightiness of what he was accused of, a suspension of even 11 games isn't enough. He also signed a five-year, $230 million contract, all guaranteed. Please punish me like that.

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Mike: the women were lying.

All of them? Really? Even if half of them were lying (and they're not) that still leaves a great many women.

One of them, in an interview with HBO last August, said she wanted to send a message to women that they didn't have to be afraid. "No matter how scary, big or powerful someone may seem, they’re just human," she said. "And like all humans, we all have the right to have our voices heard. I recognize that the people who I decided to speak out against are just human and I’m no longer scared of them. I no longer fear that power.

"Because I understand and I realize I have even more power. I’m backed by my community, my family and my ancestors. If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with."

There was no conviction in court, his defenders say, so he's innocent, as if they don't know that numerous sexual predators aren't prosecuted for a variety of reasons.

Fans defending Watson is one thing. Goodell, however, should know better. Much better.

He was privy to all of the NFL's investigations and information about the case. He knows how bad the allegations were. He has stated publicly that Watson was a predator.

I don't know when Watson should be forgiven, or even if he ever should be. What I do know for certain, with absolute certainty, is that a year isn't even close.

Goodell knows that, too. Which is why that hug is so shameful.

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