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Deshaun Watson Suspension Light Based on Judge’s Findings

Deshaun Watson Punishment

Had you asked me what I thought Sue Robinson’s ruling on the Deshaun Watson situation would be before today, I would’ve guessed anywhere between six games and a full season. However, for it only to be six games I would have guessed that Robinson found the evidence to be inconclusive or not as offensive as it was made out publicly for the past 12 months. 

Yet, Judge Robinson’s opinion makes clear that Watson was guilty of “non-violent, egregious sexual conduct”. Even if Watson’s conduct was physically non-violent, the fact that he used his status as a famous professional athlete to lure random women from Instagram into giving him massages, is undoubtedly emotionally manipulative and will create psychological harm in his victims for years to come. 

Punishment Comparisons

The six games that Judge Robinson decided on here is equivalent to the punishments handed down to DeAndre Hopkins for a singular failed PED test and Myles Garrett for his on-field altercation with Mason Rudolph in 2019. Not long ago, a player could be suspended for six games for simply smoking weed—a drug that is now legal for recreational use in 19 U.S. states.

Other players around the league have been suspended for longer than six games for actions that—albeit, still improper—are far less egregious than 30 accusations of sexual deviancy. 

Calvin Ridley was suspended for a full NFL season for placing $1,500 worth of bets while away from his team’s facility for personal reasons. Vontaze Burfict was suspended for 12 games for repeated illegal hits on the playing field. Even Mychal Kendricks was suspended for eight games after being found guilty of insider trading. 

In my opinion, these incidents do not even come close to the same level of damage to the reputation of the league that Watson’s actions have caused. For Watson to receive a lesser suspension than these three, after facing more than 30 individual accusations, is an indictment on the new system implemented by the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement that the union and league both believed would solve many of the problems which occurred in the past.

Implications of the Suspension

In addition to a lesser suspension, Watson will not be fined for his misconduct other than the $345,000 that he will lose from his $1 million base salary. In comparison, Dan Snyder was suspended for a full NFL season and fined $10 million after being accused of similar misconduct on both a personal and organizational level. 

While there is certainly an argument that this punishment was just a drop in the bucket for the owner of a multi-billion dollar franchise, Watson has gotten off scot-free in comparison. He will still take home the remaining $229.655 million of his fully guaranteed contract extension. Some punishment for a guy who sought out more than 60 female masseuses on Instagram and had half of them accuse him of sexual misconduct during such massages. 

The league must be frustrated with Robinson’s ruling. They do not want to have to appeal this decision. All it will do is create even more public mistrust in this system and open more doors for litigation and delay this suspension in the same way Tom Brady’s suspension was delayed after Deflatgate.

One other key point to be made is a player’s misconduct does not need to meet the criminal standard in order to be enough to warrant a suspension or fine. Punishment can be handed down simply for damage done to the reputation of the player, his team or the league as a whole. 

The fact that these were “non-violent” offenses doesn’t get him off the hook. The past year of turmoil and accusations alone is sufficient for the league to claim that Watson violated the personal conduct policy. 

Moving Forward…

Finally, Judge Robinson stated Watson must get massages from the team’s staff moving forward. Clearly, she was not persuaded that Watson has learned his lesson and feels remorse for his actions if there was even a thought he might go out and do something similar in the future. 

When I was with the Eagles, and we were weighing whether or not to sign Michael Vick, we went out and got multiple opinions from psychological professionals stating he was remorseful and understood what he did was wrong. There was no doubt he would never participate in a similar activity again. That clearly cannot be said of Watson here. 

Robinson’s ruling does not add up given her reasoning here. The six-game penalty contradicts her own ruling that Watson was guilty of “egregious sexual conduct.” The league now faces a difficult decision of whether to appeal or not given the extreme leniency of Judge Robinson’s ruling.