As part of an ongoing series, Lauth Investigations International is highlighting how poor corporate culture in professional sports starts at the top, and how changes in leadership can change an organization for years to come.

Even those who just casually follow sports news are already aware of the low threshold of behavior required of professional football players to remain in action. The standard of reprisal against football players for bad behavior has rarely even approached the level of appropriate, depending on the misconduct in question—but the Cleaveland Browns have set a new low in dealing with the fallout of Deshaun Watson and the sexual assault allegations made against him by 24 women who refused to be silenced with hush money. Despite these claims (which Watson continues to deny), it seems that at least the repercussions he will face within the NFL will be woefully lacking.  

Initially, an arbitrator proffered that Deshaun Watson would face a 6-game suspension from the Browns in light of the allegations made against him, but those stakes were raised when the NFL instead decided to almost double that suspension to 11 games—and threw in a $5 million fine on top of that. While $5 million may seem like a girthy number, it’s nothing compared to the record-breaking contract offered to Watson valued at $230 million to be the team’s quarterback.  

When asked about this decision, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam commented that they became “comfortable” meeting with Deshaun Watson following those allegations by the 24 massage therapists, and still decided to award him the contract. Haslam defended this decision by citing the precedent he set with running back Kareem Hunt after he was booted from the Chiefs after video footage surfaced of Hunt knocking a woman to the ground and kicking her. “We strongly believe [Deshaun Watson] deserves a second chance,” Haslam said, “We gave Kareem Hunt a second chance and that worked out pretty well.”  

Haslam’s decision to give Deshaun Watson a second chance has already emboldened fans to show support for him in some truly tasteless ways. Outside the Browns’ stadium, one man was selling t-shirts in “support” of Deshaun in the Browns colors that read “B*TCH GIVE ME A MASSAGE!”. In another classless display, a man and a little boy appearing to be his son were also standing outside the stadium holding signs that read “F*CK THEM HOES,” AND “FREE WATSON,” respectively.  

The prices that sports teams have willingly paid to keep athlete misconduct quiet and fans happy is far too high. Winning does not fix everything. The willingness to trivialize the literal dozens of accusations against Deshaun White that have been levied in recent months is the kind of inaction that breeds dissatisfaction and malcontent amongst players, employees, and fans themselves. From leadership to fandom, these actions can have very negative ripple effects throughout the organization. To learn more, visit our corporate culture audit page.