The National Football League has not exactly been the world’s foremost moral compass throughout their history. They are not the only league with unsavory decisions in their past, but they have their fair share of off the field incidents that have either been under-punished or have gone unpunished entirely. It has been hard at times to even consider the NFL as an organization that operates in good faith to its own players when it comes to some of the punishments handed down from the league office. From Ray Rice, to Tyreek Hill, to Ezekiel Elliott, there have been numerous off the field issues dealing with the treatment of women that Roger Goodell and company have had to respond to in recent years, and it’s fair to question the consistency of approach that the NFL has employed. All of those incidents, though, pale in comparison to the uncomfortable saga that has unfolded over the past year or so surrounding Deshaun Watson. This time, though, the NFL has an opportunity. Not to right the wrongs of the league’s decisions in the past, but to set a new precedent for the future.
By this point, we’re all very familiar with the accusations surrounding Watson. There were 24 civil cases filed against the former Houston Texans now Cleveland Browns QB citing improper sexual behavior with numerous female masseuses that Watson employed during his tenure in Houston. Now, all but 1 of those cases has been settled, and it seems we have progressed past the criminal part of investigations, but there still is no agreed ruling on what the football punishment will be for the 26 year old football star. Because of the serious nature of this incident, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a judge who would be appointed to review the cases and give a ruling on how long Watson should be suspended for, that judge being Sue L. Robinson, a retired U.S. District Court judge. When Robinson made her decision, she came to the conclusion that Deshaun Watson violated NFL policy with his off the field actions and would be required to serve a 6 game suspension.
6 games for 24 civil lawsuits? Didn’t Calvin Ridley, WR of the Atlanta Falcons, just get suspended a full year for a $1500 parlay bet with a sportsbook? Hasn’t Josh Gordon missed significantly more time than that due to marijuana use? Tom Brady was suspended 4 games for his role in deflategate back in 2016. You mean to tell me that Watson only got 2 more games than Brady?? Those are all fair questions that were being asked following Robinson’s decision, but the judge had a valid reason for imposing the punishment that she did. It’s important to understand that judges rely heavily on precedent to decide how hefty of a punishment to hand down. The NFL has been historically light in punishment of these types of incidents, especially when the actions are deemed as “non-violent”, which Robinson claimed in Watson’s case. A previous incident then, like the one in 2018 where Jameis Winston groped a female Uber driver and was suspended 3 games, can carry significant weight, and clearly did here.
So, the judge ruled, Watson serves the suspension, we’re all done, right? Not so fast. The NFL now has the opportunity to appeal the punishment handed down by Robinson, and earlier this week they announced that they will indeed do so. If the NFL allowed Watson to only be suspended 6 games, they would be basically saying that they stand behind their long history of mishandling incidents like this in the past, and that a major sexual misconduct situation is less concerning to them than gambling (legal), smoking weed (legal in many states), and deflating footballs (annoying, and Brady should be banned from football, but also legal). Instead, though, by appealing, the NFL now has a chance to set a new precedent, and what better time to do it? What better situation to do it in? An incident of this scale, that has affected this many women, and led to this type of legal proceeding is the perfect time for the NFL to throw the book at Watson. Will it right the wrongs of the past? Absolutely not. And who knows if the league executives who will be making this call will be doing so with their hearts in the right place. But it is certainly better to reset the precedent today than it is to not learn from previous mistakes.