Written By: Anton Sawyer
"Looking out for number one" is a phrase that has been embraced by most who work in entertainment. Whether it be Hollywood or the gridiron of the NFL, the entire structure is predicated on getting the most eyes glued to the screen. More often than not, the cost of gaining those orbital globes comes with a pretty severe price—integrity.
As someone who tries to never come off as “preachy,” having worked in a section of the entertainment complex—the music business—makes it somewhat difficult. Though I was never around those who would have been considered a current “superstar,” I did work with a number of artists who were on the tail-end of a years-ago successful run that never learned they still weren’t in the limelight. These experiences, along with the headlines and salacious criminal activities of those written about today, have shown me that the world of entertainment really hasn’t changed much when it comes to money, power, and their abilities to strip the moral core out of anyone. With the way comedian Louis CK and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, have handled each disturbing event, sadly it seems the #Metoo movement and #Timesup movement may have been incapable of achieving their goals.
Before we get too far into these messes, you have to understand that the world of entertainment is … different. Accountability in the entertainment complex has a fixed number to it—more so a percentage. We’ve all heard the phrase “point of diminishing returns”; amplify that by the hundreds of millions, and you get an idea of what we’re dealing with. That’s a pretty big number that has a pretty big amount of leeway given to it. Let me explain.
Though the acts I covered were those that would typically sell-out 3,000 seat clubs/theaters, it was easy to see where those who had much greater fame could completely go off the rails. Though fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, leeway is given to all entertainers on all levels. On more than one occasion I witnessed band members be so strung out they would lose control and damage whatever property was near. On one particular occasion, due to the fact the catering promised by the promoter wasn’t up to the “artist's standards.” I’ve also seen things like open misogyny, the dehumanization of the assistants to a star of some kind by their boss, to all points in-between. The ego knows no bounds, no matter the rung of the ladder you happen to be on. But managers and wranglers tolerate it because of the money involved. If you have an act selling tickets at $20 a pop and there are 3,000 people waiting to see this group, the numbers jump pretty quickly. If these numbers are repeated at least four nights a week for half a year of touring … the tolerance levels go up that much more. Trust me, this “math” is going to come into play later on.
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Out of the two examples presented in this piece, it was difficult determining which one was “worse” as both their actions and “repercussions” have been incredibly egregious … just for different reasons as you’ll see. For those unaware, or if it’s been a while, allow me a moment to play catch-up when it comes to the first entertainer, Louis CK.
In 2017, Louis CK was accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by five different women. This revelation came about via a New York Times report that detailed the accounts of the five women, spanning the mid-’90s to 2005. Each woman recounts startlingly similar situations in which CK either asked them to watch him masturbate or forced them to do so. Not surprisingly, shortly after this news hit the wire, the backlash began. He was dropped by HBO from appearing in Jon Stewart’s “Night of Too Many Stars” fundraising show, along with HBO removing all of CK’s past shows. Netflix canceled a special they were about to begin in light of this news as well.
This is where things took a bit of a turn from the ordinary denials we see from those with power who are accused of such a thing; he fessed up. In a statement released shortly after the allegations surfaced, he claimed “These stories are true.” In almost every case I have ever seen when it comes to this kind of wretched behavior, once guilt has been established, it’s game over for that person’s career. This is why it’s so incredibly rare to see some kind of admission in a public forum. Whether it be a mainstream entertainer or one of the musicians I worked with, it’s difficult to remember when an act who did such terrible things could even sniff around the levels of success they once had.
And then the unthinkable became reality.
Louis CK’s comedy special “Sincerely Louis CK” (in which he joked about the sexual misconduct revelations against him) won the award for best comedy album at the 2022 Grammys. Just let that roll around your head for a moment.
Upon this announcement, heads began spinning and confusion set in as to how this could occur. Did Hollywood make another mistake? Is it because he confessed immediately that he gets a pass?
We have to look back over the last couple of years and see what CK has been up to since he dropped from the stage and screen in 2017, as I feel these events give us the best clue for how this Grammy win could occur. One thing a lot of people weren’t aware of is that this award-winning special isn’t the first one recorded by CK since the stories of his misconduct came out. On December 18, 2021, he released an hour-long event called “Sorry.” Those who were in the know about the program immediately took to Twitter and other social media outlets to voice their displeasure; that was to be expected. What wasn’t expected was how the Sorry special ended up with a few positive—and ultimately crucial—things going in its favor. The first is the optimistic reviews it garnered online. MovieWeb said, “Louis CK continues to shock and offend years after his scandal, this time in funnier and more interesting ways than he has in years.” Joining in the praise was the webzine Decider saying to stream it in their “Stream It or Skip It?” series.
The second feather in the cap comes from the fact that the Sorry special has a current IMDB rating of 7.7 out of 10.
When you combine these elements, it gives the appearance that a level of forgiveness has occurred and that this former money-maker is ready for a good old-fashioned redemption arc. we love those as humans, and someone somewhere is figuring out a way to make it happen. The Grammy is merely the next step in normalizing CK and giving him a sense of legitimacy before trying to put him in a mainstream function with a massive tour or film project or the like … all with the intent of getting eyes glued to him.
He did wrong. He knows he did wrong. He made jokes about those wrongs. But it seems that because there’s new potential to be found, the entertainment biz will do their best to sweep it all under the rug somehow.
This guy …
In April of 2021, 20 women identified themselves as plaintiffs in suits accusing Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct and sexual assault, while another woman filed a civil lawsuit against the former Texans quarterback, making similar accusations and attaching her name to the complaint. Over the following weeks, another woman added herself to the list, bringing the total of accusers to 22. In July of the same year, 10 of the women also filed criminal charges of sexual assault. During the year it continued to escalate in the legal system to the point where on August 18th, Watson had to meet with the FBI. Over the next seven months the courts, lawyers, and legal system in general worked their way through all legal channels before a grand jury refused to indict Watson on the criminal charges. Keep in mind that though the criminal charges are gone, he’s still facing 22 civil lawsuits.
Once the criminal charges were removed, the Cleveland Browns jumped at the chance to secure his services for their franchise and signed him to a five-year, $270 million contract where all the money is guaranteed. This means that no matter what happens, he will be paid that exorbitant amount. Again, there will be those who will scratch their heads at how someone with 22 court cases lingering, can be paid such a handsome sum? Does this team/league have no sense of right or wrong?
Operation eyes on the TV wins again.
The potential of winning and the revenue generated from that winning cannot be understated. With their Ohio neighbors being the Cincinnati Bengals—and their recent “worst-to-first” Super Bowl season which assisted in a financial windfall—the Browns were able to see the need to win from a front-row perspective. And what was that monetary gain?
With the Bengals making it to the Super Bowl, even though they lost, their financial tides turned mightily. Because of their appearance, the worth of the franchise is expected to grow to $3 billion by the end of 2022. In fact, the last five teams to lose the Super Bowl saw franchise value increases of 3% to 19%, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of NFL Franchise Valuations. Four of those teams saw revenue hikes between 3% and 10%. The possibility of a 10% revenue increase, especially when dealing with billions of dollars, is an incredible incentive. The Browns knew that if they could find that similar kind of success, it could turn things around immediately.
Enter Deshaun Watson.
Watson is considered to be one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. In his five years in the league, he has amassed 19 NFL records and is considered a game-changer. Without any other factor than his statistics, he would be placed in the category of “elite,” or “top-5.”
This move has been largely chastised by the NFL community, with one NFL executive stating “it just reeks of desperation.” Peter King of NBC Sports wrote that Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam were “bit the most popular people” at league meetings in March of 2021 after the trade had occurred. One NFL team executive said it is a move that “stinks to high heaven for the league.” Though I agree with these comments and think the entire situation surrounding Watson is horrible, when digging a little deeper, it seems these kinds of comments may be hyperbolic. According to reports from that same meeting, the Browns were not the only team that aggressively pursued Watson. Because winning is all most NFL teams care about, once a grand jury declined to indict Watson, several teams tried hard to acquire him.
I am really not sure what the future holds for either the #Metoo or #Timesup movements, to be honest. Cancel culture has been dying out now for a while due to a backlash of perceived righteous indignation brought about by groups who think they know what’s best for us. But this is something far more nefarious in some ways than what cancel culture would attack. Taking away someone’s autonomy and then leaving them with mental and emotional scaring for years to come is on a completely different level than dropping a racist tirade on Instagram. As much as I wish I were wrong on this, I’m thinking that in many fields of entertainment, you’re going to start seeing some form of redemption arc.
I believe Louis CK is going to be the guinea pig in some ways. I feel there’s a chance that if he’s able to get anywhere near the place he had been previously in terms of fame, and more importantly money, it will be taken. If successful, then it seems you really can come back from almost anything.
After watching Ben Roethlisberger start his third Super Bowl following the rape scandal he was involved with the year prior, I kind of gave up. Nothing has changed, and I doubt it ever will.
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