The Cleveland Browns’ regular season won’t begin until September 11 when they face the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, but the team has already earned the most insufferable of victories.
Deshaun Watson, accused by at least two dozen women of sexual misconduct against them in Texas, has been suspended for six games for violating the National Football League’s personal conduct policy. He was not fined and will be able to dress when the Browns face the Baltimore Ravens on October 23.
Retired federal judge Sue Robinson imposed the sentence. The NFL and players’ union jointly appointed her to oversee player discipline, and Watson’s case became the league’s first instance of punishment by an independent disciplinary officer instead of commissioner Roger Goodell.
The league requested an indefinite suspension that would have required Watson to be sidelined for at least one full season before he could seek reinstatement, as well as a $5 million fine. The union said Watson should not be disciplined.
The decision to impose a sanction on Watson means Robinson has concluded that the 26-year-old superstar quarterback did indeed violate the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Next, she had to consider the nature of the transgression. Watson’s accusers were massage therapists who said he committed a series of lewd actions — including exposing himself and sexually assaulting — during therapy appointments in 2020 and 2021. He has settled nearly all of the lawsuits they brought against him.
Grand juries in two Texas counties declined to indict Watson. However, the NFL does not require an indictment or conviction to declare that a player or coach violated the league’s conduct policy. Its definition of prohibited conduct includes behavior that is “unlawful, violent, dangerous or irresponsible”. This kind of behavior “puts innocent victims at risk, harms the reputations of others in the game, and undermines public respect and support for the NFL.”
It is clear that Watson’s behavior amounts to a flagrant violation of this policy. His actions weren’t some sort of singular lapse in judgment — at least two dozen women lined up to accuse him. Far from giving Watson’s victims a sense of justice, Robinson’s decision minimizes what happened to them. That amounts to leniency, and Watson has done nothing to show that he deserves leniency. In fact, he still refuses to admit that he did anything wrong.
The decision also doesn’t do much good for the NFL’s reputation, although the league’s pursuit of at least a one-year suspension was a refreshing surprise. The league has amassed a history of downplaying bad behavior, especially when it comes to the treatment of women. Earlier this year, attorneys general in six states warned the NFL they would begin investigating the league if it didn’t do more to address allegations of workplace harassment of women and minorities, The New York Times reported. .
The winners of Robinson’s decision are the Browns and Watsons.
The team can weather Watson’s six-game absence and have a legitimate Super Bowl run when he returns. Watson’s quarterback is so good. And Watson is not at risk of losing too much financially. The Browns signed him to a five-year, $230 million guaranteed contract. Anticipating the likelihood of a multi-game suspension, the team structured the deal so that much of the $46 million he was supposed to get for the 2022 season would be turned into signing bonuses, meaning he will only lose a portion of his $1 million. base salary. It’s safe to say that the former Houston Texans star won’t feel much financial hardship.
It’s not a result that should make the NFL or its fans feel good about the game. But the case is not over.
The NFL has three days from Robinson’s decision to appeal. After the ruling, the league said it was reviewing Robinson’s decision and “will make a decision on next steps.” The next step should be to appeal, as that would essentially put the matter back in Goodell’s hands and give him or someone he designates the opportunity to impose a sanction that best reflects the seriousness shares of Watson – a suspension that will sideline him for a year. .
It would send a message to players, as well as fans and non-fans, that the league’s conduct policy was not created simply to pretend to treat others with respect and dignity. It’s genuine, non-negotiable, and comes with heavy consequences, especially for its worst offenders.
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