Roger Goodell may take Deshaun Watson’s punishment into his own hands

“They used to be very strict, and now in some ways, they’re not strict enough, but it’s a much better process and doesn’t call into question the integrity of the commissioner and the league,” said Bob Boland, who directs the sports law program at Seton Hall University. “The fact that the result is unsatisfactory is unfortunate.”

While the new process appears to have functioned as intended, leaving Goodell out of the fact-finding review and initial imposition of fines, the league’s policy is still being worked out. Leroy pointed to the opening line of Robinson’s conclusion: “The NFL may be a ‘forward-thinking’ organization, but it’s not necessarily forward-thinking,” indicating that the NFL is under a lot of scrutiny, but that its approach to discipline has been largely reactive.

After criticism of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended for two games in 2014 after he punched his fiance in a hotel elevator, the NFL rewrote its personal conduct policy to establish a baseline. Six-game paid suspension for first offenders of specific offenses: felony assault or battery, all types of domestic violence and sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone unable to consent.

In Robinson’s report, he concluded that Watson’s behavior toward the massage therapists was not violent under the NFL’s definition of the term. As a result, he said, he was limited in the discipline he could dispense. Robinson wrote that while it may be “entirely appropriate” to discipline players more severely for what the NFL defines as non-violent sexual conduct, he did not believe it was fair to do so given the league’s current standards.

Juan Carlos Arean, program director for the nonprofit Futures Without Violence, said he doesn’t believe the six-game suspension, without requiring any counseling or intervention, was adequate to stop or correct the behaviors Watson is accused of. Because violence against women can take many forms, Areans said the policy should be written in a way that allows the person issuing discipline leeway based on the specifics of each case.

“We know that you don’t have to use physical force, and it’s difficult to prove that physical force was used when there’s sexual assault,” he said. “We also know that other types of assault, emotional abuse and things like that, can have a very negative impact on the victim. These are very complex issues, and you can’t just say, “Well, it’s a lot worse than that.”

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