The Carolina Panthers are once again being linked to trade rumors related to Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. The team was originally heavily involved in an effort to get the player in February and March, before Watson was accused of sexual assault by 23 women. Twenty-two of those women have filed civil cases alleging a pattern of behavior pressuring massage therapists into performing sexual acts for him and/or maneuvering his body to bring massage therapists into contact with his genitals. Watson denied that any such behavior occurred in a tweet sent on March 16, 2021. He has not spoken publicly since.
Making a move for Watson, now, would be a moral failing by the Carolina Panthers. That is regardless of whether or not Watson is found to be not guilty or not liable in a civil or eventual criminal trial. Right now there is no clarity on his guilt or innocence and the Panthers are not a government body. They have no obligation to presume his innocence. Instead, they have an obligation to the community that supports them. A community made of people who do not believe and, in the case of the many children who are fans of the team, should not be taught to believe that sexual assault is something to be taken lightly.
A trade for Watson before knowing the result of the 22 allegations—whether he is guilty or not—is a statement that alleged sexual assault is something that the Panthers are OK with. At worst it’s an action, or pattern of actions, that they think is just fine. At best, they look at it as the cost of doing business. Neither opinion is any more forgivable than the alleged crimes themselves.
It would be a far cry from the change in culture that David Tepper promised in his introductory press conference, shortly after he finalized his purchase of the Carolina Panthers in 2018. He used the word family nine times then. He said he wanted the organization to be like a family and the building to be somewhere that the people—the family—that work there feel safe. That can’t be true when you make the face of your franchise an individual who is facing an open question of whether or not they can be safely left alone in a room with a woman.