I was going to title this piece “Thoughts on the Decision,” but I know that phrase is still a trigger for some Cleveland fans.

Anyway, the puffs of smoke were finally seen from Hon. Sue L. Robinson’s home last night, and her ruling on Deshaun Watson’s suspension, a “recommendation,” was issued this morning. As you know by now, she recommended a six-game suspension with no fine.

I read through her ruling statement and have several thoughts to share.

The NFL put forward three allegations regarding violations of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy:

  1. Conduct that qualifies as sexual assault
  2. Conduct that Poses a Genuine Danger to the Safety and Well-Being of Another Person
  3. Conduct that Undermines, or Puts at Risk, the Integrity of the NFL

In case you think #3 is self-serving, if you have ever signed an employment agreement you probably agreed to something similar.

Ms. Robinson ruled, “by a preponderance of the evidence”, that Watson was in violation of all three areas. A slam dunk win for the NFL, right?

Not really, at least not if they were serious about wanting a full year’s suspension. Ms. Robinson was not developing her recommendation in a vacuum. She was using the NFL’s own guidelines and precedent and that’s where the league set itself up to fall well short of its requested discipline.

The major sticking point for Ms. Robinson in her ruling was the lack of evidence that Watson ever committed “violent conduct.” Here is, in my opinion, the key excerpt from her ruling:

It is undisputed that Mr. Watson’s conduct does not fall into the category of violent conduct that would require a minimum six-game suspension.  It likewise is undisputed that prior cases involving non-violent sexual assault have resulted in discipline far less severe than what the NFL proposes here, with the most severe penalty being a three-game suspension for a player who had been previously warned about his conduct.

I am bound “by standards of fairness and consistency of treatment among players similarly situated.”

In her conclusion, she stated:

Here, the NFL is attempting to impose a more dramatic shift in its culture without the benefit of fair notice to – and consistency of consequence for – those in the NFL subject to the Policy.

Even if one disagrees with the result, it is hard to argue with the logic she used to get there. Ms. Robinson stated, “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one.” I would make the point by saying that, again, the NFL is forced to react, as they did after the Ray Rice debacle, which Ms. Robinson referenced in her ruling.

In this light, it is hard for me to understand how the NFL could have honestly thought they had a chance to get a year-long suspension. Do they even have attorneys looking at this stuff? Or did they, figuring the result would be similar to what actually happened, but making a public display of wanting the harsh penalty to gain PR points?

The NFL did not become an organization where the least valuable franchise was just valued at $2.8 billion by being stupid, so I’m sticking with the theory that they had a good idea of what they were doing here. The NFL, like any other big business, is looking to protect itself and its shareholders, the owners of the 32 teams. We will probably see a new policy developed about non-violent lewd conduct, in part because the league always answers issues with more rules.

In my opinion, Deshaun Watson and the Browns both come out winners here. Watson, sitting out the first six games, costs him very little thanks to the way his contract was structured, and he misses only one divisional game. I wouldn’t think the Browns feel that they need to make an additional quarterback move to get through those six games.

The NFL is not a clear winner, but this isn’t much of a loss either unless they appeal…to themselves and trash the whole process. I can’t imagine that wouldn’t wind up in court, where the league’s record is only slightly better than the 2017 Browns. If they make that foolish move, I’ll need to reconsider the part where I said they knew what they were doing.

More important to the league, at least at this point, it is hard to see any fans walking away from the game because of this ruling. The NFL has plausible deniability if they don’t appeal and they can claim this was a learning process as they further evolve the player conduct policy.

I suspect any fans that would turn away from the Browns and/or Deshaun Watson have already done so and closure of this matter could begin a healing process. If the Browns have a good season, much, if not all, will likely be forgiven.

The losers here were anyone thinking that this process would see justice served. That was NEVER going to happen here, nor is a personnel issue with a football league the place for it. It just happened to be the most public forum for these cases and once again we see the rich and powerful walk away relatively unscathed.

While there has been some financial restitution for the women (save one holdout) that sued Watson, the lack of serious consequences for him is bound to leave a bad taste in women who have dealt with improper sexual conduct and those who advocate for them. Fortunately for the NFL, that’s probably not their target audience anyway.

When someone continues to go through life without facing negative consequences for violating the rights of others, those actions tend to escalate over time. I suspect Watson honestly believes he is the victim here, so there is no lesson for him to learn. I hope he turns out to be an exception to that pattern-time will tell.

In the meantime, he will be taking the field in Baltimore on October 23 to resume his career. Browns fans will cheer for him. He will get paid many millions of dollars. The television networks will probably showcase his games since his return will be big news.

All will be right in his world. At least it will seem that way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com