Deshaun Watson and Fantasy Football

Whenever I rostered Adrian Peterson after his felony child abuse incident, I told myself that I would roster Satan himself in my fantasy football league if he got me 5.0 yards per carry. After all, it was just a game of numbers. I was rooting for numbers to go up. I didn’t care about who was making the numbers go up. In the end, I was just happy they were pressing on the pleasure center of my brain. Now, we are facing something as a fantasy football community direr than a star running back being a huge mess of a human being: one of the league’s bright young stars (Deshaun Watson) might just be a serial sexual assaulter.

We have constantly and consistently swept things like this under the rug for fantasy football purposes, but it’s high time we stop doing that. It’s time we look these things directly in the face.

If these allegations against Watson are verified—and I doubt nearly two-dozen victims won’t have verification behind it—I’m done having Deshaun Watson anywhere on my fantasy football rosters, ever again.

Now, I am going to be completely honest with you: my first reaction was to dismiss this entirely. It was one accusation, the lawyer was an ambulance chaser named Buzz Bee, and he was a family friend of the McNairs. It all stunk to high heaven and all reminded me of a variation on a Jacob WohlJack Burkman bread-and-butter play. A powerful figure is doing something you don’t like, so you create sexual assault allegations out of thin air. That worked at first, and then it became a deluge, a torrent of accusations. I couldn’t handwave it away any longer. It evolved into a classic he said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said situation.

I’m not ready to play judge, jury, and executioner on Deshaun Watson. I am, however, within my rights to grapple with the person and not the generator of fantasy football points on my roster. And with that in mind, I highly, highly doubt Deshaun Watson will ever touch my fantasy football rosters ever again. I can’t live with myself getting dopamine rushes from someone with 20 (and climbing) sexual assault allegations on his ledger.

I’ve grappled with this issue once before; rooting for a bad guy. I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, and near the end of the Jim Harbaugh tenure, it became increasingly difficult to root for the team. New incidents sprung up daily, it seemed. Aldon Smith repeatedly drove drunk, police arrested Ray McDonald for domestic abuse, a grand jury indicted Ahmad Brooks on sexual battery charges. Yet, there they were on Sunday. Disrupting offenses and garnering cheers. I didn’t cheer for anything these guys did after their incidents came to light, but I felt uneasy allowing their actions to press the pleasure center of my brain as a fan of the team. But, that was the NFL, and culture, circa 2015. This was before #MeToo, this was before women everywhere implored us all to do better and not root for their abusers and other monsters.

One name notably missing from this list is Donte Whitner, a hard-hitting safety for the 49ers. Prior to his stint with the Niners, police arrested him twice for domestic abuse. I learned this fact literally while constructing this piece, a fact I need to highlight. I had no awareness of these incidents the entire time I rooted for Whitner, and in fact, right up until about 3 minutes ago, I was unaware of these incidents. That perfectly encapsulates how the NFL insulated their players from consequences in these situations.

That era seemed to float away with Jim Harbaugh. I relaxed… until the 49ers’ 2017 first-round pick Reuben Foster faced credible domestic abuse charges. Luckily, the team didn’t ask me to compromise morals to see stalwart defensive plays and cut Foster. I felt relieved; the Harbaugh 49ers were a rough-and-tumble group of guys, and that came with some bad apples. The new 49ers’ administration wouldn’t stand for that.

Anyway, back to football at large. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault by multiple women, to the point that despite no guilty verdict being handed down, the league suspended him for four games (once appeals ended). That was two women. And now it’s a footnote to the quarterback’s legacy and something we don’t even grapple with. The allegations settled out of court in 2012, back in the rough-and-tumble days.

But Ben Roethlisberger was—and remains—the face of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We reckoned that the suspension did enough to soothe our souls when we looked at the credibly accused sexual assaulter. He popped back into our consciousness like nothing ever happened, other than online needling downplaying the seriousness of his actions. “Your quarterback sucks!” “Yea, well yours is a rapist.” Fantasy football sites ranked him inside their top-100 players the year after he served his suspension. After all, he had paid his debt. Except, he didn’t, not really. He atoned with the particular women he wronged but we just welcomed him back with open arms. But… he was still a bad guy?

We didn’t really seem to care that he was a bad guy. He could make the numbers go up inside our fantasy football apps, and that gave us the dopamine rush we needed to forget that he was an unrepentant bad guy. We’ve done the same thing with Joe Mixon, really. And Kareem Hunt. Though the Mixon and Hunt stories seem to have a bit more nuanced than the Roethlisberger, Rice, and Peterson incidents. There are two sides to every story, and I am not omnipotent, so I am not going to pretend to know definitively what actually happened with Hunt and Mixon. That having been said, I am finding myself feeling a bit guilty for touting Kareem Hunt as hard as I did last season.

The NFL realized the rough-and-tumble days needed to end with the Ray Rice incident. Initially suspended for two games, the league suspended Rice and he never played another down after TMZ bailed them out with a video of the incident (and yes I did link to a blog post of mine from 2014 about this very topic). It’s easy to remove a Ray Rice from the league. After all, he’d lost a step in 2013 and likely wasn’t long for the league at that point anyway. He was a running back, and not the face of the franchise.

The Roethlisberger and Rice incidents that happened back before the #MeToo movement really took hold and the idea of the random victims of powerful men being able to strike back made its way into our national consciousness. Now, things are different. Harvey Weinstein is imprisoned, Kevin Spacey (weird annual YouTube videos aside) disappeared, Louis C.K. ended up relegated to random small-time venues after being one of the biggest names in stand-up comedy. We learned about the existence of Jeffery Epstein, but we fear pulling on that thread and he has been relegated to the dustbin of political fodder because he was so well-connected that nearly every politician and figure has a tie to Epstein. We have (mostly) reconsidered, as a society, how we handle allegations and accusations against powerful men.

What do they all have in common? Prior to 2015, all their actions were shadows in the back of the minds of people in the know. They were powerful men. Ultimately, so powerful that we relegated their reprehensible behaviors to the space of myth, rumor, and legend. Their allegations were like eclipses: if we didn’t look directly at them, they couldn’t harm us, and by us I mean society at large via a reckoning. #MeToo tore that entire structure down around them. And it showed other people that if they can bring down men that powerful, then less powerful men can be brought to bear for their actions.

But, I digress, and back to fantasy football. We considered Roethlsiberger’s paltry suspension time served in the court of public opinion. That’s fine for the NFL and for the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe for society at large. Maybe he did pay his dues; that doesn’t mean I owe him a roster spot on my fantasy football team. Our fantasy football teams are collections of guys who we want to root for and who we tie our names to. With the prevalence of online memorabilia auction sites, league winnings now go toward autographed memorabilia from key players to our championship runs.

In the current era, if you did that with Ben Roethlisberger, do you really feel good about that autographed helmet, now? He won you the title, but now his gear is inside your house. It’s a part of your legacy. Or that Adrian Peterson signed football from when he got you the title after his triumphant return from suspension. Does that make you feel good, looking at it now? Will your Deshaun Watson signed jersey look good in 2025?

Times change, and our attitudes about fantasy football and the players we allow on our rosters change, as well. That’s why we have to look at this Deshaun Watson thing—something I’ve mostly danced around in this article—square in the face. The general feeling around Watson in fantasy football circles is “wait and see.” That is, wait and see how far this goes to determine the relative value of Deshaun Watson’s availability to create fantasy points relative to the availability and skill of his peers. This is how we are discussing handling a person with nearly two-dozen sexual assault allegations. We handwave over his availability concerns being an issue because he might literally be in jail. This is a bad situation and one that I can’t feel good about participating in, ever.

Take the extra step when discussing Deshaun Watson, and you won’t feel good, either. Instead of “well, if Deshaun Watson is available, he should be a top-five quarterback” say “well, if Deshaun Watson is available because 20 women were found to have uncredible accusations of sexual assault against him and he skated by any true reckoning for his actions, then he should be a top-five quarterback.” Do you see how that sits a little differently? How that hits… a little differently? We are discussing Watson’s impending availability like he had a knee scope, or like Adam Schefter tweeted out that he’s facing a PED suspension. We are only looking at how this changes our dumb little game, and not having a reckoning with what it means to select Deshaun Watson in our dumb little game.

It’s tacitly countenancing his actions. It’s welcoming him back into polite society. We are ignoring Deshaun Watson, the person, and looking at Deshaun Watson, the player. It’s time we start looking at the person.

We need to start taking a look in the mirror before we put guys on our fantasy football roster. We all have women in our lives and it’s really hard to justify touting a guy like Deshaun Watson with this sitting around. And what about the next set of allegations, but against a different player? Is there a sliding scale on how many allegations of heinousness we will stomach as fantasy football fans, based on a player’s average draft position prior to his incident? Is that where we stand, as a community? I think not. We are better than this.

There’s a reason why I have repeatedly brought up the credible sexual assault allegations from 20 or so women against Deshaun Watson. I don’t want to hide from it, I don’t want to run from it. We, as a community, have hidden from it and run from it. We just cover up the reality of the situation and call them “incidents” and “allegations.” We even just call it Deshaun Watson’s “situation.” Watson’s situation is that he is staring down the barrel of 20 sexual assault allegations. That’s not an isolated incident, that’s not a one-off situation, that’s a chronic and repeated behavior that suggests a miscalibrated moral compass.

And this isn’t cancel culture. Mostly because cancel culture is what people have decided to call “no longer getting away with their nonsense after years of getting away with it.” It’s what people who thought that power meant having control over people call being told that that isn’t the case. Cancel culture isn’t real. What people call “cancel culture” is really a culture of being responsible for your actions and for understanding how your actions can affect others around you.

I simply do not want to tie myself to Deshaun Watson, or Joe Mixon, or Kareem Hunt, or Adrian Peterson, or Frank Clark, or… the list goes on. To me, that is not “cancel culture.”

Not wanting to associate with these players is not “cancel culture,” because the NFL gave them a second chance, and I choose not to. I’m not “canceling” anybody, here. I just am choosing my associations with a bit more reflection, now. If you want to take Deshaun Watson, go for it. I am not here to judge you, I am here to reflect on my own comfort level, and maybe have you adjust yours. We all have different tolerance thresholds for different things, and this Watson situation will really have us looking at our tolerance threshold for having morally reprehensible people on our fantasy football roster.

If you want to draft Deshaun Watson, that’s fine. I will not begrudge you that. As a fantasy football analyst, it is my duty to analyze Watson coldly for my ranks and analysis. I create them, without personal judgment, for the public. Rankings are cold and calculated. We have to do it this way, else we realize we gamify modern day gladiatorial combat. That’s likely why the fantasy football community has had a terrible go of trying to reckon with the Watson situation. It’s sticky, it’s real, and it’s anathema to our fun little game within the game. If a player gets a PED suspension, fine. Recalculate and slap them on the hand. If a player pulls a hamstring, fine. Recalculate their availability and maybe give them a sideways glance the next time you rank them.

But what if a person is unavailable because they are credibly accused of nearly two-dozen sexual assaults? Do you coldly recalculate their season-long projections, assuming an x number of games missed (again, because of credible sexual assault allegations from 20 women) without a question as to what kind of person you are touting? That you are tying your name to? That’s up to you to decide how to handle it. I will likely have Watson inside my top ten. That’s how this game works, after all, it’s a game. It’s my duty to rank players in the order I think they will score fantasy points. That doesn’t make me a hypocrite. If I drafted Deshaun Watson, we would be having a different discussion. But don’t worry, you will not have that different discussion with me.

It is up to each and every one of us to decide what we want to do with this information. Personally, I will not have anyone like Deshaun Watson anywhere near my roster. If that costs me a league, so be it. It’s a lot better than staring at an autographed Deshaun Watson jersey for the rest of my life because he won me a trophy in a piddly little game while being a reprehensible person. I will no longer roster Deshaun Watson or anyone else with allegations like his going forward. I have no interest in tying my name to his. And all I’m asking of you is an examination of if you want to tie your name to his.

Now, that was the original end to the article. I let this one sit over the weekend, and I threw out this idea on Twitter. A person who shall remain nameless advised me that I was already crucifying Deshaun Watson. I don’t want to give that impression… I’m not that powerful. I don’t have the power to call up Roger Goodell and have him hand down suspensions. Nor can I tell him to clear out a spot on the Commissioner’s Exempt List (remember that?). I have merely reckoned with the fact that these are people we deal with in our game.

We talked a lot about how the players we select are real people with real lives, and real opinions. That mostly centered around discussions of the Black Lives Matter protests that have grown in intensity over the last half-decade or so, peaking in 2020 (before re-peaking in 2021, I would guess). We internalized that these players are people, and we need to take them at face value for their activism and opinions. There’s a soul behind those 8.3 fantasy points on Sunday. It’s time we realize that these are people, for better or worse, and the Deshaun Watson situation is worse.

I didn’t write this article to focus specifically on Deshaun Watson. Who, by the way, has at least 20 sexual assault allegations against him from nearly two-dozen women. Deshaun Watson was merely the catalyst. Much like protesting last summer was not protesting George Floyd, specifically. The protests tackled a wider set of issues, with Floyd as the face.

I want to be clear: I hope the Deshaun Watson situation clears up tomorrow. I don’t want these things to be real. It means Watson didn’t hurt anybody; nobody faced the situation outlined in the growing number of complaints. It’s hard to realize that a young star in the league could be like this. But, that’s selfish. What I want more than anything else is the truth. Unfortunately for Watson, the truth doesn’t look good. Even if a judge clears Watson tomorrow, this article is not about him, specifically. This is about us taking a look at the players we choose to tout. We need to look at the people we choose to have on our rosters. That means we need to examine the people we tie ourselves to. It’s high time we face these issues head-on instead of tap dancing around why Deshaun Watson might miss games.

Society asked us to look at players as people, a concept we absorbed. Now, we did that in a positive light before, but now, it’s in a negative light. If you feel fine letting Deshaun Watson press the dopamine button every Sunday, go for it. More power to you. As for me? I am going to be proud of the guys whose autographs hang on my wall. So, that means there will be no Deshaun Watson for me. Or whoever the next guy might be, or the guy after him. It’s time we re-examine how we regard these players. We need to take appropriate actions in our fantasy football leagues. I want to be able to feel good about the players who bring me joy. I am encouraging you to make sure Deshaun Watson fits that category, for you.

About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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