If it feels like election season never really ended here in Houston, there is a good reason for that. A public battle that has been nearly as contentious and every bit as polarizing has been waged since the first week of January between the local NFL franchise and its star quarterback, two entities that probably carry more sway and more emotional investment than any politician.
The Houston Texans have spent the better part of the last two years botching various hires, player transactions, trades, and in-game execution. Meanwhile, one of the few players they've had performing at a high level, quarterback Deshaun Watson, has played the good soldier, until he just couldn't anymore. However, just weeks after demanding a trade, Watson has been buried under a pile of lawsuits from 22 plaintiffs alleging some very sketchy behavior in various massage settings.
What's played out in the hearts and minds of Houstonians has been a fascinating popularity arc for both the team and Watson, and for some Texans fans, it has evolved into complete disgust with both parties. I, myself, have spent the last several weeks conducting periodic Twitter polls of the fan base to see with whom they side. Let's go through these polls chronologically, with a brief explanation of the dynamic in place driving the results.
2/23/2021 RESULTS: Watson 84 percent, Texans front office 16 percent
EXPLANATION: This February 23 poll was the first one that I conducted, and it was a very simple, two-option "either-or" poll, and considering the Texans were a week removed from releasing J.J. Watt, not to mention the Watson litigation drama being nonexistent here, it's no shock that Deshaun Watson buried the Texans in this poll.
2/26/2021 RESULTS: Watson 71 percent, Texans front office 29 percent
EXPLANATION: Three days later, we got news that new Texans head coach David Culley had spoken with Watson. The Texans' quarterback, out of respect to the 65-year-old Culley, decided to have a conversation with him via Zoom, and allow the first year head coach to share his vision for the team. It didn't work, as Watson remained steadfast in his trade demands. However, some Texan fans saw Watson's resolve in getting traded as a negative, and while Watson still won in a landslide, some of his support, about 13 percent, swung over to the team.
3/8/2021 RESULTS: Watson 75 percent, Texans front office 25 percent
EXPLANATION: This poll was basically a periodic check-in on the voting constituency to see if anything had changed. As you can see, Watson's support actually grew slightly — from 71 percent to 75 percent — over those 11 days between polls. However, the one thing that stood out to me was how many people REPLIED to the poll tweet with answers along the lines of "Can I vote that I support neither party?" It was actually an alarming number of people who had that tone. So, the next day, I added "NEITHER" as a third option.
3/9/2021 RESULTS: NEITHER 53 percent, Watson 39%, Texans front office 8 percent
EXPLANATION: Wow, as it turns out, both Watson AND the Texans had turned off a lot of people. To be clear, the lack of support for either side by 53 percent of these voters certainly was not evident in the listenership to our station, as the Watson saga continued to pull big ratings numbers. Unfortunately, for the sake of the "trade drama" element of the Watson soap opera, that was all out on hold a few days after the above poll, when Tony Buzbee filed the first few lawsuits against Watson.
Because I thought continuing to post popularity polls addressing Watson and the Texans during the first couple weeks of the litigation story would be, at best, awkward, and at worst, tasteless, I refrained from doing so. However, now that both sides have spoken, and we are just two weeks away from the NFL Draft, acknowledging the sensitivity of the topic, I was back in the poll business on Tuesday morning:
4/13/2021 RESULTS: NEITHER 80 percent, Texans front office 13 percent, Watson 7 percent
#Penderpoll ... the last time I asked this was in early March, so I know it is a WAY more complex question than it was back then, but I’ll ask anyway ... are you #TeamDeshaun, #TeamTexansFrontOffice, or #TeamNeither?— Sean Pendergast (@SeanTPendergast) April 13, 2021
EXPLANATION: The results here are fascinating, but not terribly surprising. The number of folks who can't support either side has ballooned to 80 percent. What's interesting is that, whereas Watson had fivefold the votes of the remaining pollsters back on March 9, the Texans' front office now has around double the support of people who have chosen a side. Perhaps most alarming, if you're Deshaun Watson, is that a very minuscule portion of the fan base supports you at all. What this means is that, when the time comes to trade Watson, Texan fans are way less likely to be angry now than they would have been a month or so ago.
The combination of the allegations, the activities Watson has admitted to (at least a few of the massage encounters involving consensual sexual activity), and a general feeling of "Well, you don't want to be in Houston? Screw you, then" are all likely contributing to Texan fans being ready to move onto the next era of Texans football, whatever the hell that is going to look like.
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