There aren’t many times that the worlds of Major League Soccer and the National Football League intersect. Outside of the occasional former soccer player that turns into an NFL placekicker like former MLS goalkeeper and Jacksonsville Jaguars kicker Josh Lambo, there isn’t a lot of overlap.
Friday, the two worlds collided in a much different way. Instead of a strong leg swapping football for American football, it was a transaction. ESPN reported that the Haslam family-owned Cleveland Browns, the same Haslam family who is the investor-operators of the Columbus Crew, is set to trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Now, Watson isn’t suiting up for the Black & Gold but there are off-field implications. Watson is a fantastic quarterback for reasons you can read on any NFL site, but his addition carries weight.
Watson had 22 allegations of sexual assault against him before. While a grand jury recently decided not to indict him, Watson is still facing civil suits. It’s those allegations that caused him to miss the entire 2021 season. The response from Browns fans is diverse, with some claiming they will leave their fandom. Others rely on the fact that the cases aren’t going to a criminal trial as a justification for it to be ok. The last is a complete disconnect of morality from supporter-dom.
There’s no way I’m going to tell others what to think about the situation, but there’s something clear: Crew supporters should have the same questions as Browns fans.
The Haslam family-owned Black & Gold are rightfully adored by Crew supporters. After all, they bought the sales pitch that was Save The Crew. They saw the value in Columbus through the love and work put in by Crew supporters.
There’s a brand new stadium in downtown Columbus that was supported through hundreds of millions in Haslam investment, value that rivals the reported $230 million in guaranteed money going to Watson.
Since taking over leadership of the Crew, Columbus also signed arguably the team’s best player in its history and won the 2020 MLS Cup.
For all the good, the investment put into somebody with Watson’s history is troublesome to say the least. Look across the soccer in the United States and there’s been a reckoning for alleged abusers.
In 2021, the top women’s soccer league in America, the NWSL, fired manager Paul Riley for allegations of sexual harassment. National Team star Christen Press filed complaints against former Chicago Red Stars (NWSL) coach Rory Dames for abusive behavior, and allegations of Dames grooming a youth player till she was 18 for sex followed months later.
U.S. Soccer was part of the allegations, doing investigating without action and essentially ignoring claims of the abused.
You don’t have to just look at the NWSL either. In the MLS, former Real Salt Lake owner sold his team due to allegations of a toxic, sexist environment within the RSL and Utah Royals (NWSL) front office.
For all the work to clean up women’s soccer, with a lot of work still remaining, the NFL seems immune to having to make the same morality-based decisions. Making money is the big difference.
I’d be a fool to think that any actions like signing a player, buying a team or building a stadium are for emotional reasons. Business people make decisions for the good of their business. Investing in the MLS is good business. Dee Haslam investing in the WNBA is good business. Having an NFL team is really good business
I’m also probably a fool because I’ve been a Cleveland Browns fan my whole life. Going to the last Browns game in Cleveland as a kid, watching every game with little absence on my couch and supporting a team that didn’t do a whole lot to earn it except exist in the same city as my family.
If MLS continues to grow, and a team’s owners have a history of being fine with these accusations, is it okay to bring a player into your favorite team with that kind of history? Is the same money used to offer the largest amount of guaranteed money in NFL history for Watson okay if it’s also supporting your favorite soccer team?
I don’t have the answers and, as I said earlier, I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. There are just a lot of questions Browns fans, and Crew fans, need to ponder for themselves. Myself included.