Deshawn Watson’s suspension will be a test of NFL women’s support

Six games ahead. This is a pendant. That’s all.

The decision was made by retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson on Monday after she reviewed arguments for and against punishing Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshawn Watson.

Robinson, the mediator who oversaw Watson’s hearing, retracted the NFL’s recommendation to suspend Watson for at least a year after more than two dozen women accused him of sexually harassing him during massage treatments.

Reviewing the results of the league’s 15-month investigation into Watson, she found his behavior “predatory” and “egregious”.

The clock is now ticking on the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. What will be the league’s next move in the ugly spectacle that is the Deshawn Watson case?

The NFL has until Thursday morning to file an appeal. Goodell could opt for a longer suspension, and the union and Watson are likely to challenge the decision in federal court. He could also impose a fine that would recoup some of the nearly $45 million Watson received from the Browns as a signing bonus. But if the NFL just dodges and gives up without a fight, that says it all about how it treats women and how seriously they take their stories.

And for all of you Watson apologists: Robinson agreed implicitly that Watson did wrong. He exposed himself. He deliberately touched women with his penis several times.

Here is an example of her findings:

“The NFL has taken the burden of proving, with a plethora of evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual harassment (as defined by the NFL) of the four therapists identified in the league report.

“The NFL has taken on the burden of proving, through a plethora of evidence, that Mr. Watson’s conduct posed a real threat to another person’s safety and well-being.”

“Mr. Watson knew that such sexualized contact was unwelcome.”

“Mr. Watson had a reckless disregard for the consequences of his conduct, which I consider to be equivalent to deliberate conduct.”

Yet Robinson said it was limited. She could have given a much harsher punishment, but she refused to set a precedent. Instead, she leaned on the NFL’s history of leniency. Robinson noted that the most common penalty for “domestic or gender-based violence and sex acts is a six-game suspension.”

She went on to list other suspended players, including one who had to go to jail for 10 games “for multiple instances of domestic violence in which the player pleaded guilty to battery.”

Relying on precedents is understandable and even commendable. But this decision was not made in court. The NFL is not required to accept Robinson’s recommendation, especially if the player’s contract was structured like Watson’s to avoid significant financial loss due to suspension. When he signed a fully guaranteed $230 million contract with the Browns in March, the team agreed to a $1 million base salary, meaning Watson would lose just over $300,000 in playchecks during his six-game suspension. .

The league is a private organization. He can impose punishment as he sees fit. If Watson, his lawyer and the players’ association get in trouble, they can sue.

Let them go ahead and keep the accusations against Watson in the public eye.

Harassment of women is hardly new in the NFL, which all too often seems to favor the Neanderthal Football League. I wrote the same last week when Congress, not the league, tried to hold Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder to account for his team’s reckless culture and misdeeds.

This was reported by the Washington Post. that Snyder settled a sexual harassment lawsuit that arose from an incident in 2009. The NFL investigation into Watson lasted 15 months. These protracted investigations are becoming a theater of the absurd only because the league and its commissioner have not set precedents that would allow for decisive action – the kind that would send a clear message that the NFL does not tolerate the abuse of women.

Judging by Watson’s decision, no one will win out of six games without penalties.

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

Not a league whose personal conduct policy is to “identify, review and punish” players whose actions damage the NFL’s image.

Not the Browns, a franchise that has proven itself willing to destroy its dignity and sell its soul for the chance to finally become a Super Bowl contender.

Not Watson, who, despite the fact that the Browns fans surrounded him in a crowd in training camp, will forever remain one of the league’s pariahs, an example of its misogynistic culture.

Not victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence or their advocates. “We are preparing for this kind of disappointment,” Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, said in an interview Monday. “There is an opinion that offenders are not responsible for their actions. So that’s part of what we feel today.”

Who else? Certainly not the women who told stories of abuse, which Robinson called “sexualized behavior.”

Twenty-four women said in lawsuits that Watson engaged in sexual coercion and indecent behavior during massages from fall 2019 to March 2021.

Watson was not charged in criminal court and settled with all but one of the accusers. This is not an uncommon result given how difficult it is to handle sexual harassment cases, which often take place in private and boil down to conflicting testimony from the two people involved.

But when the NFL tightened its policy on personal conduct in 2014, In response to backlash over Ray Rice’s discipline, Goodell wrote that the league was held to a “higher standard”.

To justify this assertion, common sense must prevail. Women need to be trusted, especially when so many tell stories of harassment and violence.

Robinson makes it clear that she believes there was sexual harassment, but she was hampered by her league past when it came to punishment. The NFL has gone the wrong way, being too lenient with self-control and issuing penalties that reinforce its talk about women.

It’s time to start correcting course. The league and its commissioner must oppose Monday’s decision and prepare for the fight.