Last Thursday, the Nashville Predators welcomed Austin Watson back to the ice. Having completed his 18 game suspension, Watson was activated from non-roster status in time to play the Coyotes in Arizona.
The Predators released a statement essentially saying that they had no comment on the matter. Watson also released a statement apologizing for the incident, but with no further comment on the matter.
Though Watson is still presumably completing the requirements mandated by his court sentence, the Predators have officially wiped their hands clean of the Austin Watson situation.
But the real problem that the Predators face regarding this situation will soon be realized.
Lost faith in the Preds by many in the fan base
The biggest problem the Preds will face moving forward is the loss of faith that most fans will have in the organization’s ability to do right by its fan base.
Sure, the Predators are going to continue their AMEND partnership for the time being. But what happens during the next AMEND promotional event? Will Watson, the one time ambassador for the team in this campaign, be front and center again? Or will he be noticeably absent?
What sort of AMEND-related events will the team hold? Will Austin Watson play a central role in those events? If he does, do they continue to have “no comment” on the incident, despite its relevance? And if he does talk about the incident, what does this say about the organization’s consistency?
The path ahead for the Predators will be difficult, as they now have to navigate a minefield of difficult conversations with many in the fan base.
The bigger, more important question is this: will the team’s commitment to making the city “safe for women and girls” waver? Or will they double down, knowing that they have a lot of trust to regain from the fan base? How can the Predators’ fan base take any sort of commitment from the team to ending domestic violence seriously at this point forward?
There’s also this thought: what happens if another incident, either with Watson or another player, occurs? How much trust can the public have that the Predators will do the right thing? How much can the Predators fan base trust the organization to confirm their commitment to ending domestic violence against women?
Of course, none of us want to think about a professional athlete doing something like that. But that’s exactly what we saw with Austin Watson. A guy who no one assumed was capable of such an act, an all-around great character guy and almost unanimous fan favorite, betrayed the fan base. There’s no reason it couldn’t happen again.
Only now, the organization has proven itself incapable of following its own standard regarding domestic violence.
The Nashville Predators may think they have emerged out of this horrible Austin Watson story unscathed, but because so many in this city feel passionately about ending domestic violence, they are certainly not in the clear.
— Featured image via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports —