Judge Sue L. Robinson ruled that the NFL’s highest paid player, Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, be suspended six games for the disturbing accusations of sexual assault made against him. It’s a decision not many people are happy with, nor should they be. Tony Buzbee, a lawyer who represents many of Watson’s accusers, called it a “slap in the face,” per the New York Times.
Watson’s suspension is undeniably light. Calvin Ridley will miss all 17 games this season for gambling on football. Josh Gordon missed over 24 games in his career for smoking weed. In 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games (later reduced to four) after being accused of sexual assault once. Watson has been accused by more than two dozen women.
How was the decision made?
The NFL’s history of soft penalties in cases of its employees facing allegations of violence against women from Ray Rice’s two-game suspension to Greg Hardy’s four has many skeptical over Watson’s ruling.
But this case wasn’t like the ones before it as it was heard by a disciplinary officer in Robinson instead of commissioner Roger Goodell. In the current CBA, she acts as the arbiter on all cases between the NFL and the NFLPA, and in this case, the NFLPA was pulling for a shorter penalty for Watson while the NFL was set to prove that the QB’s actions violated the personal conduct policy (PCP) and thereby warranted harsher punishment. The league argued for minimally a full year’s suspension, plus a fine.
Based on the evidence the NFL presented, Robinson concluded that Watson violated the NFL’s PCP by engaging in sexual assault against the four women whose testimonies were included, posing a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, and undermining the integrity of the NFL. It’s also noteworthy that Robinson stated Watson’s lack of expressed remorse (contrary to a statement made by Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam) in her 16-page decision.
So why did Robinson’s ruling land on just 6 games?
Based on the personal conduct policy in the signed CBA, Robinson gave the harshest penalty to date for what she determined was “non-violent conduct.” The accuracy of that phrase received tons of public backlash after the ruling. Previously, a three-game suspension was the most severe outcome for “non-violent conduct,” though Robinson stated that Watson’s case was more egregious than any the NFL had reviewed before.
“While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its player,” she wrote.
Before the ruling came out Monday, the NFLPA released a statement saying they would not appeal Robinson’s decision. In that same statement they asked the NFL to do the same, knowing full well that the decision landed squarely in Watson’s favor.
The NFL — more specifically Goodell — can still appeal the ruling by August 4. It is unknown what their decision will be.
In its current standing, Watson’s punishment will hold him out until at least Week 7 against the Ravens and fine him a mere $345,000 of the $1.035 million he’s owed this season (a maneuver made possible because of the Browns anticipating a suspension and intentionally paying him a lofty signing bonus nearing $45 million, which won’t be touched.)
But the final ruling for Deshaun Watson’s playing future is not over.