Hub: Watson's behavior has been laid bare for all to see; can the NFL get the punishment right?

  • Clemson's Deshaun Watson, left, poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Houston Texans during the first round of the 2017 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Philadelphia.

    Clemson's Deshaun Watson, left, poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Houston Texans during the first round of the 2017 NFL football draft, Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/4/2022 7:07 PM

When the honorable Sue L. Robinson -- the retired federal judge jointly selected and appointed as "Disciplinary Officer" by the National Football League and the NFL Players Association as required by the league's collective bargaining agreement -- released her findings last Monday and sentenced Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson to a six-game suspension without pay, a hue and cry went up across the country. The overwhelming majority said, "Are you kidding, that's it?"

Watson was found to have violated three provisions of the league's personal conduct policy concerning 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 at the very least and acknowledged that while that might be unprecedented punishment for the rules Watson broke, the extent to which he violated those rules was unprecedented as well.

The NFLPA countered that the most common penalty issued in the past for domestic or gendered violence was six games. Only two players received eight-game suspensions, one for multiple incidents of domestic violence and the other for multiple incidents of assault, and just one player has been suspended 10 games for multiple incidents of domestic violence, for which he pleaded guilty to battery.

While the league is clearly correct that Watson's 24 "reported alleged assaults" -- investigators identified 60 different massage therapists used by Watson over a 15-month period and assumes there are still more unreported cases -- are far greater than those of the three example subjects above, Judge Robinson points out that only 12 of his accusers were interviewed by NFL investigators, and those investigators compiled their reports based on the testimony of just four.

I realize I am taking you deep into the weeds here, but it is important to understand how we got to where we are and where we are likely to end up.

There is no argument from anyone that I've heard -- including fellow players -- that Watson is actually innocent. Watson continues to claim he has never "assaulted, disrespected or harassed anyone" while settling 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him rather than proving his innocence in an open court.

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If it were up to me, I'd ban him from the game for life, period, and 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.

There is one more point that needs to be understood.

I have studied every word of judge Robinson's 16-page finding and what is not being reported is that she refers numerous times to her hands being somewhat bound by the fact that the NFL does not, anywhere in the CBA, give an actual definition of what constitutes the offenses of which Watson is accused.

It is true, and while it is not a defense -- not anymore than the judge's differentiation between her finding that Watson's sexual assaults, while egregious, were not violent -- it does tie her hands to a degree when applying the well-known definitions of due process, and it is a point the NFLPA Is relying heavily upon as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Watson's case is also muddled by the clear disgust of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league's 31 other teams over the Cleveland Browns' ownership rigging 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 finally 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 Roger Goodell (or his appointed designee).

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.

But if Harvey -- a former federal prosecutor and never a judge -- doesn't drop the hammer on Watson and the Browns far more closely to what they actually deserve, it will be the biggest upset in the NFL this season.

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