Vanessa Bryant, like Deshaun Watson’s accusers, isn’t ready to move on

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More than two and a half years later, Kobe Bryant’s widow is still grieving.

He is dressed in all black as he walks into the courtroom, dark sunglasses masking his eyes from the shutter of a photographer’s lens. And once inside her, Vanessa Bryant can’t stop the flow of tears as she shares her pain with a jury, or even listens to her testimony during her civil case against the County Police and Lifeguard branches. The Angels. Following the January 2020 helicopter crash that killed her husband, her 13-year-old daughter and seven others, a handful of sheriff’s deputies and firefighters shared macabre photos of Kobe Bryant’s remains.

She just won’t get past that.

Vanessa Bryant and the Los Angeles sheriff argue in court over photos of Kobe Bryant’s accident

Likewise, it has been more than two years since quarterback Deshaun Watson lay down naked on a massage table at a spa in Houston, and at least one of his alleged victims is still awaiting an apology.

She has since given up her career as a massage therapist, although she had operated a successful business for 11 years. Lauren Baxley no longer feels safe alone with a client, because she says Watson, then the face of the Houston Texans, tried to turn what should have been a professional therapy session into her own personal happy ending. Just like a multitude of other massage therapists have stated.

Baxley will not go forward either.

The myth of moving on tells us that with the passing of days, months, years, everything will improve. The pain will heal and the memories will fade to the back of our minds. And eventually, there must come a time when we all can, and should, get on with our lives.

This idea, that time heals all wounds, seems comforting, and perhaps that explains why the simplistic proverb has been around for so long. But recently we’ve seen vivid reminders of why this expression of hope has never aligned with real life: Bryant’s ongoing fight against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Baxley’s refusal to simply accept a deal and walk away.

That’s the problem moving forward. While the news cycle may return to football and fans may simply want to remember Kobe as a great Los Angeles Lakers player, accusers of Watson and Vanessa Bryant tell us they’d rather look for something that feels closer to accountability. They want action, not just more time.

That hasn’t stopped apologists and enablers in Watson’s world from trying to speed up the healing process.

On Thursday, the NFL and the NFL Players Association reached an agreement on the punishment for Watson, who is now the Cleveland Browns’ problem. Watson will serve an 11-game suspension and pay a $5 million fine. Following this ruling for his violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, he unwisely stepped in front of a group of reporters. Decked out in his new company colors of orange and brown, but more apparently clad in cellophane, Watson repeated “advance” or “push forward” no fewer than six times during the first minute of answering questions.

Sally Jenkins: Deshaun Watson is the star the NFL deserves: a cynical and empty narcissist

“I am moving forward with my career, with my life, and I will continue to defend my innocence,” Watson said, conflicting with an earlier empty apology he had made less than a week earlier in a softball interview.

In his haste to get to the cure, his own, Watson didn’t stop there.

“I have to do what’s best for Deshaun Watson at the end of the day. And I know what happened. I was in those situations. But I have to keep pushing forward and keep moving forward.”

Go ahead and stop before taking any responsibility for the damage caused to the massage therapists should be the main topic of conversation for the Watson team, as his agent, David Mulugheta, demonstrated on Twitter.

“Deshaun has always declared that he is innocent of sexual assault. Nothing has changed in what he said. He also said that he is sorry, the decisions he made have created this situation. The deal allows her to move on with her life and his career,” Mulugheta posted.

Although the first civil lawsuits against Watson were filed more than 17 months ago, and Baxley’s alleged encounter with him occurred in June 2020, she has not been as quick to “move forward” or “push forward” with its life and its career.

Baxley’s lawsuit against Watson is still pending, and in a first-person essay for The Daily Beast, she explains why she just hasn’t gone through with it.

“I rejected all of the settlement offers, in part because they did not include any honest acknowledgment of remorse and wrongdoing, nor did they include promises of remedial treatment,” Baxley writes. “Watson still refuses to admit that he harassed me and committed indecent assault.”

Baxley remains the lone holdout of a group that struck a financial deal with Watson, and her actions demolish any cynic’s theory that women like her were only in it for a big payday. What would Baxley look for going forward? Only she would know, but time clearly hasn’t mended her world that has been “forever damaged.”

And while Vanessa Bryant is seeking damages from salaried employees in Los Angeles County in her lawsuit, prompting the judge to suggest she settle the case because there will be no punitive justice here, she is moving forward. She’s worth hundreds of millions, so it’s not about getting paid. It is about demanding justice.

Not all wounds heal on the calendar; Bryant’s panic attacks and anxiety had no expiration date. So, Bryant’s breakthrough could begin by making sure every sheriff or firefighter responsible for such indecency is held accountable for sharing the crash site photos and making sure they never show up on social media.

Time is ticking for those of us who have followed both cases. As always, a new injustice will emerge and infuriate us, so we’ll turn our attention to the next, and the next, and the next. But look at Bryant’s face and read Baxley’s words. They are not ready to move on.

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