There are certainly extrinsic qualities that can rally a team closer together than they otherwise might have been. One of those things is not typically the public reception of an accused serial sex offender, but that is the reality in which the Cleveland Browns are operating as the players in the locker room finds ways to work with, around, or past Deshaun Watson.
We have done the Watson dance so many times that I’m not going to give the rundown yet again. The part of the story that is germane to the topic at hand is the reaction he received when he first stepped onto the field in the Browns’ first preseason game on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was widely jeered, including some colorfully explicit heckles.
In response to that after the game, Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio, the longest-tenured Brown, commented on the reaction the team and his quarterback received, saying, “You know, I think once Deshaun came out of the game we got booed less, but you go to a road game they boo you anyway, so you know what I mean. So we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure, it seems like more than ever, Cleveland against the world, so we’ll be ready for it”.
That comment did not go over well with just about anybody outside of Cleveland who came across it. Weeks later, he was asked about his comment and if he had seen the reaction that it drew, and as you might guess, he had. As he told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
I noticed, and what I said was, we’re going to go to stadiums and we’re going to get booed by people no matter who’s playing quarterback for us and as a team we come out and say ‘Cleveland against the world.’ If people want to take that in the wrong context or talk about it in the wrong context, that’s their opinion but I know we have good people on this team that are working hard and trying to be the best for the Cleveland Browns and that’s where I am at as a player who has been here for nine years.
There is some wiggle room in interpreting his comment, and I do think that there were certainly those who went beyond what he intended to say in their reaction to it. There is also the obvious reality that his team’s owners threw the players into a no-win situation.
It’s not as though any of them is in a position to speak out against Watson and call him a piece of crap who shouldn’t be on the team. I don’t think it can be reasonably expected for anybody to put themselves in that place and suffer the consequences from it.
Ultimately, Watson’s reception and the damage his acquisition has caused the reputation of the organization as a whole does fall upon the heads of players like Bitonio, through no fault of his own. Even if it isn’t about Watson, or defending him as a teammate, he and others will receive second-degree blowback from anger directed toward the quarterback, and that is something that they can utilize as a unifying measure. Whether their fault or not, they’re all in this together.