Browns QB Deshaun Watson now knows he will be a pariah to fans in stadiums across the NFL | Opinion

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You can have his $230 million contract. But you have to be Deshaun Watson. You have to feel what it feels like to have ruined your good name. You have to feel all of the guilt you can never admit to. You have to hear everything — every ugly chant that mocks you with angry derision. And you have to wonder if any of it will ever go away.

Would you make that deal? To be Deshaun Watson ... to be so rich but at such cost. What if all of the money in the world was not enough to buy back your reputation?

It got real for Watson the other night. It got football-real and real ugly.

“The crowd was loud for a preseason game in Jacksonville,” as Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio understated.

Watson, the now-notorious quarterback, was playing in his first NFL game in 1 1/2 years as he awaits the start of a league suspension of still-undetermined length. How would opposing fans react? We could not know that, until now.

Jaguars fans booed him loudly from the moment he stepped on the field. “No means no!” was the G-rated chant.

Watson would go 1 for 5 for 7 yards in the game, booed during all three series he played. (Let history note his first completion as a certified villain-QB was to tight end David Njoku, the former Miami Hurricane).

Wanting a villain to root against is a part of human nature that gets magnified in the us-against-them arena of sports. And Watson has put himself squarely and perhaps forever in that public enemy role.

Allegations of sexual misconduct during massage sessions by two dozen female therapists were what Watson brought onto himself. Twenty-three of the suits have been settled by Watson paying hush money. One suit remains and is presently set for trial in early 2023.

This whole ongoing mess would be in Miami’s lap had Dolphins owner Stephen Ross culminated his yearlong push to trade for Watson — which came very close to happening, according to Watson’s lawyer.

The continuing sordid soap opera had mostly been lawyer stuff, until Watson stepped onto a football field for the first time in front of enemy fans to get a taste of what his future holds.

At Browns training camp, fans desperate for a winner and willing to sell some of their soul had flocked for Watson’s autograph or a selfie in an image off-putting to many.

Now he has had a taste of what road games will be like. You thought Jacksonville fans were mean? We can only imagine what they have in store in Baltimore.

Watson had spent the past year-plus steadfastly maintaining his innocence, displaying zero regret or remorse, essentially calling two dozen accusers flat-out liars.

He pivoted and changed tactics on the eve of the preseason opener, when Cleveland put out a team-conducted video interview in which Watson said:

“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.”

It was just short of an admission of guilt but the closest he has come to an apology. It was a step forward. It was something. It also was too little, too late.

And quite likely a calculated strategy to mitigate in his favor as the NFL appeals his lenient six-game suspension and seeks a punishment of at least one full season, plus a multimillion dollar fine and a requirement he get treatment for what led him to be, well, an apparent serial creep.

The six-game ban given by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge, was roundly decried as a wrist slap. The league’s collective bargaining agreement gave NFL commissioner Roger Goodell the right to appeal and he has, rightly calling Watson’s behavior “predatory” and “egregious.”

Goodell appointed former New Jersey attorney general Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal for a harsher punishment, and a final ruling is expected before the regular season begins, when any suspension would start.

Many expect the ban to grow on appeal. If it stayed at six games, Watson’s season debut would be October 23 at bitter rival Baltimore. Watson would hear from Dolphins fans November 13 when the Browns visit Miami.

Cleveland, by trading for Watson in March, has bought itself, at great cost literally and figuratively, a stench that Miami and other potential suitors should be grateful they avoided.

Now, as an arbiter weighs whether the quarterback’s punishment should grow, the vitriol chasing him has only just begun.