Note to readers: This story contains graphic descriptions of allegations of sexual assault.
How much more did the disciplinary officer need to hear?
Sue L. Robinson, former U.S. District Judge, thought the NFL v. Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshawn Watson. She cited Watson’s lack of remorse. She called his demeanor “more egregious than any previously considered by the NFL” and acknowledged that these masseurs were traumatized by the star quarterback.
Did Robinson deliver the proposed penalty on Monday morning?
BUT six game suspension.
So Watson gets the equivalent of a high ankle sprain, will be on the field before midseason, losing less than $400,000 in payroll — that kind of money to be found on a player’s cushions with a $230 million guaranteed deal.
The NFL wanted a decision that would not need to be appealed. He wanted this new system to work, to have a disciplinary inspector hear these cases and make rulings that the league and NFL Players Assn. could digest. But it was a fumble when passing the opening.
More than two dozen women filed civil lawsuits accusing Watson of sexual harassment when he went to massage therapists – allegedly working from 60 over a 15-month period – and acting undeniably creepy.
Watson’s alleged template: he contacted therapists on Instagram, called himself an NFL quarterback, and said he urgently wanted to book a massage for that day. He didn’t want a professional setting and instead wanted something personal. He didn’t care if the women were experienced therapists or even licensed.
He sent text messages to make sure therapists were comfortable massaging certain parts of his body, especially his lower back, buttocks, abs and groin area, according to his accusers. He asked the women to cover him with a towel instead of a regular sheet, and often provided his own towel—little more than a washcloth.
In Robinson’s heartbreaking words, “When he rolled over on his back, it is alleged that Mr. Watson exposed his erect penis and deliberately touched the therapists’ hands on his erect penis several times. One of the therapists claims that Mr. Watson not only touched her arm several times, but also ejaculated on her arm.”
Robinson notes, “There is no allegation that Mr. Watson used any force against any of the therapists.” However, what is being claimed is quite damning.
Consider some suspensions in recent years. Atlanta wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for at least a year after betting on NFL games while away from the team in the 2021 season. Tight end Darren Waller, then based in Baltimore, was suspended for a year after multiple substance abuse policy violations. The same goes for former Denver running back Travis Henry and then-Cleveland wide receiver Josh Gordon.
In contrast, with the exception of likely NFL appeal, Watson will have fresh feet in time to make a mid-season run.
Watson was never charged and denied any wrongdoing. While it’s important to note, the crux of Monday’s development is that Robinson has sided with the league.
She writes that the NFL “carried its burden to prove, with most of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against four therapists named in the report.” So the discipline was released with that in mind.
In her decision, Robinson cites what she calls mitigating factors. She names Watson as the first offender — most of them were not filed 25 separate lawsuits — and writes that he “had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events.” What does it mean? A lot of people have a great reputation until people find out what they’ve been up to. What carries weight?
Revealing his discipline, Robinson writes that the six games represent “the most severe punishment ever given to an NFL player for allegations of non-violent sexual conduct.” Weird stat. Let’s hope the sample isn’t too big.
And this is perhaps the strangest part. Robinson writes that going forward, it would be wise for Watson to limit the number of massage therapists to only those provided by the team, rather than looking for them on his own.
She kind of says she doesn’t believe it won’t happen again.
Of course, the NFL didn’t want to appeal the decision and send him back to Commissioner Roger Goodell (or someone he appoints) to make a decision. But after these record-breaking logical leaps, the league should be challenged. Or be the spectator of a disastrous precedent.