Deshaun Watson’s suspension will test the NFL’s support for women

Six games off. This is a suspension. He is.

That was the decision of retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson on Monday after he discussed the arguments for and against punishing Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Robinson, the arbitrator who oversaw Watson’s hearing, decided against the NFL’s recommendation that Watson receive at least a one-year suspension after more than two dozen women accused him of sexually harassing him during massage treatments.

Discussing the results of the league’s 15-month investigation into Watson, he called his behavior “predatory” and “manly”.

The clock is now ticking on the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. What will the league’s next step be in the horrific spectacle that is Deshaun Watson?

The NFL has until Thursday morning to appeal. Goodell could opt for a longer suspension, a decision the union and Watson are expected to appeal in federal court. He could also impose a fine that would return a portion of the $45 million Watson received from the Browns as a signing bonus. But if the NFL just gives up and gives up without a fight, it says everything about how it views women and how seriously it takes their stories.

And for all you Watson apologists out there: Robinson unreservedly agreed that Watson was wrong. He exposed himself. He deliberately touched women with penises.

Here is a sample of his findings:

“The NFL has met its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual abuse (as defined by the NFL)” against the four therapists identified in the league’s report.

“The NFL has met its burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson’s conduct posed a genuine threat to the safety and welfare of another person.”

“Aton. Watson knew that such sexual contact was undesirable.

“Aton. Watson had a reckless disregard for the consequences of his conduct, which I consider tantamount to intentional conduct.”

Still, Robinson said he was limited. He could have given a much stiffer penalty, but he refused to set a precedent. Instead, he relied on the NFL’s history of leniency. The most common discipline for “domestic or gender-based violence and sexual misconduct is a six-game suspension,” Robinson noted.

He went on to list the player’s other suspensions, including one that had to sit 10 games for “multiple incidents of domestic violence for which the player pleaded guilty to battery.”

Relying on precedent is understandable, even laudable. But this decision was not taken in court. The NFL doesn’t need to accept Robinson’s recommendation, especially not when the player’s contract is structured like Watson’s to avoid taking a significant financial hit for the suspension. When he signed a $230 million guaranteed contract with the Browns in March, the team agreed to a $1 million base salary, meaning Watson will forfeit more than $300,000 in game checks during the six-game suspension.

The league is a private entity. He may inflict punishment as he thinks fit. If Watson, his lawyer and the players’ association have a problem, they could sue.

Let them go ahead and keep the allegations against Watson front and center in the public eye.

Harassment of women is hardly new in the NFL, which too often serves as a Neanderthal football league. I wrote as much last week when Congress — not the league — tried to make Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder think about his team’s knee-jerk culture and malfeasance.

The Washington Post reported that Snyder settled a sex-crime claim stemming from the 2009 incident. The NFL’s investigation into Watson lasted 15 months. These protracted inquiries descend into the theater of the absurd only because the league and its commissioner have not established precedents that would allow for decisive action — one that would send a clear signal that the NFL will not tolerate the mistreatment of women.

As Watson’s decision stands now, in six games without a penalty, nobody wins.

Not the women, whose lawyer called the suspension a “slap in the face.”

Not the league, whose personal conduct policy aims to “identify, refer and sanction” players whose actions are harmful to the NFL’s image.

Not the Browns, a franchise that has proven to shred its dignity and sell its soul to finally become a Super Bowl contender.

Not Watson, who despite the Browns’ training camp mobilization, will forever be seen as one of the league’s pariahs, an example of its misogynistic culture.

Not victims of sexual and domestic violence or their advocates. “We’re preparing for this kind of disappointment,” Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, said in an interview Monday. “It is a common feeling that criminals are not held accountable for their actions. So that’s part of what we’re feeling today. “

who else Certainly not to the women who came forward with stories of abuse, what Robinson called “sexual behavior.”

Twenty-four women allege in the lawsuit that Watson engaged in sexually coercive and lewd behavior during the massages, which spanned from the fall of 2019 to March 2021.

Watson was not charged in a criminal trial and all but his co-defendants were acquitted. This is not an uncommon outcome given how difficult it is to discuss sexual assault cases, which often take place in private and lead to conflicting accounts from the two people involved.

But when the NFL tightened its personal conduct policy in 2014 in response to backlash over Ray Rice’s discipline, Goodell wrote that the league held itself to the “highest standards.”

Common sense must prevail to make this statement. Women must be believed, especially when so many come forward with stories of harassment and abuse.

Robinson makes it clear that he believes there was sexual misconduct, but was hampered by the league’s past when it came to punishment. The NFL has already been too far off the mark, too lenient on policing itself and imposing fines that cement its discourse on women.

It’s time to start making course corrections. The league and its commissioner should take Monday’s decision and prepare for a fight.

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