Columbus Crew soccer fans protest Browns trade for Deshaun Watson

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The decision by Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam to trade for former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has led to a backlash among fans of another team they own, the Columbus Crew.

In the 22nd minute of the Crew’s match against Nashville SC on Saturday, the first Crew home game since Watson was introduced at a press conference last month, fans held up 22 banners that read, “We believe Jane Doe.”

A pair of grand juries in Texas declined to bring criminal charges against the quarterback, who is still facing 22 civil lawsuits over sexual assault allegations. Watson landed a fully guaranteed $230 million contract from the Browns following the trade. After 2022, he is reportedly set to make $46 million in each season through 2026.

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Cleveland Browns' new quarterback Deshaun Watson speaks during a news conference at the team's training facility, March 25, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.

Cleveland Browns’ new quarterback Deshaun Watson speaks during a news conference at the team’s training facility, March 25, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Jimmy Haslam, was reportedly at Saturday’s match at Lower.Com field. 

Haslam revealed after the Watson press conference last month that he was advised to give Dee and his two daughters veto power over the trade, the Plain Dealer reported.

He also said a family member and a counselor with experience in sexual misconduct cases told him, “Your daughters and Dee ought to have veto over this trade. If they are not for it and any one of them is not for it, you should not do it.”

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches players warm up for the Detroit Lions game on Nov. 21, 2021, in Cleveland.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam watches players warm up for the Detroit Lions game on Nov. 21, 2021, in Cleveland.
(AP Photo/David Richard, File)

After holding discussions with his wife and daughters, no one vetoed the move. Haslam said Watson had been “widely vetted.”

“Everybody was on board with doing this – some later than earlier, but everybody was on board with moving forward with this trade for Deshaun,’’ said Haslam.

Though she didn’t veto the trade, Dee said the family was concerned about how the trade could impact victims of sexual abuse, saying that “we knew this could trigger a lot of emotion,” the outlet reported. 

“It has obviously triggered that emotion in a lot of people,” she added. “Our daughters weighed in really early how hard this and some of the experiences they have had in their lives. I think the conversations that are coming out of this have been so helpful to us to understand the issues, and I think we look forward to growing and learning more.”

ATTORNEY: DESHAUN WATSON LAWSUITS MAY HAVE DIFFERENT RESULT THAN CRIMINAL PROCESS, TRADE HAS ‘CHILLING EFFECT’

The protest on Saturday involved fans in the Nordecke supporters’ section, a passionate fan base of the club. The Haslam Sports Group later released a statement about the protest from the section. 

“We respect our fans’ ability to express themselves as long as they follow club policies and procedures,” the statement read, via the Columbus Dispatch. “Last week, we scheduled a meeting with the Nordecke board and our investor-operator group to discuss this topic as well as others, as we continue our intentions to create a constructive, positive and transparent relationship to best support our Crew players and fans.”

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry, left, new quarterback Deshaun Watson and head coach Kevin Stefanski pose during a news conference at the team's training facility, March 25, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.

Cleveland Browns general manager Andrew Berry, left, new quarterback Deshaun Watson and head coach Kevin Stefanski pose during a news conference at the team’s training facility, March 25, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.
(AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

Watson answered multiple questions about the allegations during the press conference and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. When asked if he would be open to counseling, the quarterback said: “I don’t have a problem.”

But the backlash from the trade has prompted some fans to cancel their Browns season tickets, including Andrea Thome, the wife of Cleveland Indians legend Jim Thome.

“Officially cancelled our Browns season tickets today and asked for a refund as they were paid in full,” Thome wrote. “Very sad after 40 years as a fan, but this is my line in the sand. I believe women. Especially when there are 22 of them. That press conference did nothing to change my mind.”

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Watson could still face disciplinary action from the NFL, though Browns coach Kevin Stefanski says he expects the quarterback to participate fully in the team’s offseason program beginning April 18.

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