When retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson sentenced Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to a 6-game suspension Monday, a cry went up across the country. The overwhelming majority asked, “Are you kidding? That’s it?”
The NFL and the NFL Players Association selected Robinson to be the arbitrator for Watson’s disciplinary case. Her decision found Watson guilty of three violations: sexual assault, conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well being of another person, and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL.
The NFL had requested a full season suspension and acknowledged that, while that might be unprecedented punishment for the rules he broke, the extent to which he violated those rules was unprecedented as well.
The NFLPA countered that the most common and severe penalties issued in the past for domestic or gendered violence were six games, with only two players receiving eight-game suspensions – one for multiple incidents of domestic violence and the other for multiple incidents of assault. Only one player has been suspended 10 games for multiple incidents of domestic violence, for which he pleaded guilty to battery.
While the league is correct that Watson’s 24 reported alleged assaults are far greater than those of the previous precedents, Robinson points out that only 12 of Watson’s accusers were interviewed by NFL investigators and those investigators compiled their reports based on the testimony of only four. A bombshell report from The New York Times earlier this summer reported Watson met at least 66 massage therapists over a 17-month period.
I realize I’m taking you deep into the weeds here, but it’s important to understand how we got here and where we are likely to end up.
I’m hearing no argument from anyone, including fellow players, that Watson is innocent. The judge clearly has found him guilty without question, yet Watson continues to claim he has never “assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone,” while settling 23 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him rather than proving his innocence in an open court.
If it were up to me, I’d ban him from the game for life. Period. Make it unequivocally clear how the NFL, and I would hope all of us, feel about sexual assault of any kind.
It isn’t up to me, though. Few care what I think, and I’m not even sure if what I would do is legal.
I have studied every word of Robinson’s 16-page finding, and what is not being reported is that she refers numerous times to her hands being somewhat tied by the fact that the NFL does not anywhere in the CBA give an actual definition of what constitutes the offenses Watson is accused of.
It’s true, and although it’s not a defense, it does limit her to a degree when applying the well-known definitions of due process, and it’s a point the NFLPA is relying heavily upon.
Watson’s case is muddled by the clear disgust of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s 31 other teams. Browns ownership rigged Watson’s contract during the investigative period to make sure his financial punishment would be as minimal as possible, doing even more damage to the integrity of the game.
But to all in the category of moral outrage, despair not. In a bizarre twist of the CBA’s policy of how these matters are decided, and a new example of how the NFLPA gets its butt kicked every time it attempts to negotiate with the owners, the NFL’s appeal of the suspension and its outcome – which will be final – will be heard by none other than Goodell’s hand-picked appointee.
Sadly, in one more grasp at political correctness and covering his own behind, Goodell has run from the dirty work that needs to be done and appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey to hear the appeal.
If Harvey, a former federal prosecutor and never a judge, doesn’t drop the hammer on Watson and the Browns, it will be the biggest upset in the NFL this season.