The Deshaun Watson controversy has resulted in someone losing his job, and it wasn’t Deshaun Watson.
Diana Moskovitz and Kalyn Kahler of Defector.com report that Aaron Wilson no longer works for the Houston Chronicle due to comments made last month regarding the situation on WEEI radio in Boston.
Wilson, in an interview that remains available online, called the lawsuits against Watson a “money grab” and “ambulance chasing.” Wilson also used an unfortunate, inaccurate, and ill-advised term while clumsily attempting to explain Watson’s approach to the efforts to resolve the claims before the first lawsuit was filed.
“In his case, you know, it’s kind of like you don’t, you know, you don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Wilson said, attempting to explain the notion that players with impeccable reputations are more likely to pay to make allegations like this go away. “You know, people are demanding money, they’re asking for money. The — it kept escalating, it kept going up and up and up. And you start talking about more and more funds, I’m not gonna say how much it got to. But my understanding is, you know, that there was an admission that, it was, you know, something, you know, just that this was, you know, just a money grab.”
Wilson seemed to be passing along the mindset of Watson’s camp. Wilson should have been far more clear in doing so; his choice of words made it seem like he believed what they believed.
Wilson also vouched for Watson’s character and said that attorney Tony Buzbee’s behavior in rounding up more accusers is “looked down upon.” Wilson added that he’s skeptical about the claims.
The interview happened very early in the process, before Buzbee even had his first press conference. At the time, there weren’t many accusers and there were legitimate questions about Buzbee’s tactics and the evidence he had offered up publicly. For example, the night before Wilson’s appearance, Buzbee had posted some social-media messages from Watson that hardly amounted to smoking guns of guilt.
“I don’t know them, I know him,” Wilson said after being accused by host Greg Hill of being pro-Watson. “I’m not gonna throw the guy under the bus before I have some proof. I don’t feel like I have the proof, just it’s allegations.”
Wilson also wrote last month a lengthy feature in which friends and associates said that they couldn’t believe the allegations in the lawsuits. On WEEI, Wilson said that the Texans didn’t believe the allegations and that, as to players and teammates, “No one wants to think this of him, and they’re all saying privately to me, ‘Aaron, we’d be shocked if this was true.'”
Per Moskovitz and Kahler, the Chronicle held a sports staff meeting on Friday during which editor Reid Laymance said that Wilson was no longer employed by the publication. Although no specifics regarding the move were shared during the meeting, Chronicle executive editor Steve Riley sent a memo to the entire newsroom regarding the handling of the Watson case.
“The sexual assault allegations against Deshaun Watson bring those standards front and center,” Riley wrote, per Defector.com. “This note serves as a reminder that as we report, analyze and describe those allegations, those who bring them and the person they are brought against, we must approach the story with fairness and care toward all involved. Given the frequency of content we are creating, on a growing number of print and digital channels, our editors must also be more vigilant with our oversight of coverage on all platforms. . . . Facts are good. Analysis is OK. Opinion, speculation or baseless assertions are not. We won’t tolerate that sort of commentary.”
It’s likely that Wilson’s “you don’t negotiate with terrorists” line tipped the scales against him. It also would have been prudent for Wilson to clearly separate his beliefs (or to refrain from even having beliefs) from the strong, and frankly predictable, opinions held by those close to Watson. Wilson would have had no basis whatsoever to come to any such conclusions on his own so early in the process; even now, there’s insufficient evidence to make firm decisions one way or the other as to whether Watson did what he’s accused of doing.
Wilson’s role as a reporter and not a print/web/radio/TV opinion-generator also contributed to the situation. Given the obvious conflicts that arise when it comes to Wilson’s reporter function of maintaining access to Watson and his representatives, associates, friends, etc., Wilson’s broader business interests would not have been served by expressing skepticism of Watson based on the first few claims that had been made as of the morning of March 19. Unfortunately for Wilson, he went way too far in expressing skepticism of the claims being made against Watson.
The email from the Chronicle to all staff also pointed out that media appearances can happen only with the permission of a supervisor. This implies that Wilson agreed to appear on WEEI without securing such advance permission. If he had done so, he may have received some important advice that would have allowed him to more artfully navigate the minefield that he willingly entered by agreeing to speak extemporaneously about the situation on live radio.
Alternatively, Wilson may have gotten an answer that would have helped him avoid this entire mess: Don’t do the interview.