Agent’s POV: Dissecting and trying to make sense of Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary case

The long-awaited decision on whether Browns strategist Deshaun Watson violated the NFLThe Personal Conduct Policy was released Monday by Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the NFL and NFLPA. Watson’s case was the first under a revamped process in the NFL collective bargaining agreement where commissioner Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of personal conduct discipline.

The retired U.S. District Court judge suspended Watson six games for violating policy without imposing a fine. Since the suspensions are without pay, Watson loses $345,000 (or 6/18th of base salary of $1.035 million in 2022) as he earns $57,500 each of the 18 weeks of the regular season. None of Watson’s $44.935 million in signing bonuses in the five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million deal he signed in March as part of the Texas is at risk because of the way the contract is structured. Robinson also believed it was necessary that Watson’s massage therapy be limited to team-approved massage therapists for the rest of his career.

On Wednesday, the NFL informed the NFLPA that it would appeal Robinson’s findings. The NFLPA has two business days to file a written response to the appeal. An appeal is limited as to why the discipline should be changed based on the evidentiary record. Goodell or his representative will hear the appeal. The NFLPA announced it would not appeal the ruling and suggested the NFL do the same.

Robinson found Watson in violation by engaging in sexual assault, conduct that poses a real danger to another person’s safety and well-being, and conduct that impairs or endangers the integrity of the NFL. in its 16-page decision. Essentially, the NFL won its lawsuit against Watson.

The win looks hollow as Watson’s discipline seems light to many as the NFL sought an indefinite suspension where he could seek reinstatement after a year. For example, the National Organization for Women called the decision “unacceptable, insulting and dangerous, but not surprising.” During settlement talks before Robinson’s decision, the NFLPA rejected the NFL’s offer of a 12-game suspension and a $10 million fine.

Robinson clearly states at the beginning of his report that his decision was based on the evidence presented to him. Although 24 different women have filed civil lawsuits against Watson alleging inappropriate sexual conduct on his part during massage sessions that took place while he was with the Texans, and he allegedly booked sessions with at least 66 women over a 17-month period, the NFL case was based on just four of the women who sued it.

Robinson relied on NFL precedent, which one should have expected since she is a former judge, to determine the discipline. A key finding by Robinson was that Watson’s conduct was nonviolent sexual assault despite referring to his actions as egregious and predatory. Robinson did not explain why Watson’s behavior was nonviolent.

Due to the lack of violence, Robinson appears to be operating from a three-game suspension as discipline. It’s because James Winston was suspended three games in 2018 for violating the personal conduct policy for groping an Uber driver, which was a negotiated settlement between the NFL and the NFLPA. This was the most severe personal conduct sentence for a non-violent sexual assault.

Both aggravating and mitigating circumstances were considered in determining discipline. The lack of remorse expressed by Watson and the untimely notice to the NFL of the original lawsuit filed against him were cited as aggravating factors. Cooperating with the NFL’s investigation, paying restitution (presumably settling 23 of 24 civil lawsuits), being a first-time offender, and Watson’s reputation in the community before the incidents were cited as mitigating factors. There does not appear to be any significance given to the serial nature of Watson’s conduct since he is considered a first-time offender whereas Winston’s punishment involved a single incident with a single person.

Interestingly, Robinson mentions Goodell’s failure to put Watson on the commissioner’s bye list last season in the same paragraph as the aggravating and mitigating factors. Watson was a healthy scratch last season. He was on the Texans’ 53-man roster where he received his base salary of $10.54 million, but by mutual agreement he was not in uniform for games or training with the team. ‘crew. Once a potential trade at the dolphins did not occur by the mid-season trade deadline, one could interpret that Watson was effectively serving a de facto suspension for the second half of the season.

Notice that the standards of fairness and consistency were central to Robinson’s decision. The NFL’s argument that consistency is not possible because Watson’s conduct was unprecedented, therefore the punishment should be unprecedented, was deemed unconvincing. The following passage may help shed some light on Robinson’s determination of the length of Watson’s suspension.

Robinson wrote, “By ignoring past rulings because none involved ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL not only equates violent conduct with nonviolent conduct, but has elevated the significance of the latter without any substantial evidence to support his position.While it may be entirely appropriate to discipline players more harshly for nonviolent sexual conduct, I do not think it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change that this position bodes well for the NFL and its players.”

Robinson also noted that the NFL was driven by “public outcry” when determining discipline, which relates specifically to the Ray Rice case in 2014. Rice was initially suspended for two games under the personal conduct policy, but was later suspended indefinitely after video of his domestic violence incident against his wife became public. The indefinite suspension was overturned on appeal because Rice was being punished twice for the same infraction.

Robinson apparently found parallels in Watson’s situation where the NFL advocated a harsher sentence than that prescribed in the policy “without the benefit of fair notice” and “consistency of consequences.” It wouldn’t be surprising if there was a revision of the personal conduct policy where penalties for non-violent sexual assault are clearly spelled out due to Robinson’s decision, just as changes were made after Rice’s ordeal .

The NFLPA’s argument that league ownership and management has traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to greater discipline as specifically set forth in the Personal Conduct Policy, but has escaped punishment for similar or worse conduct seems to have resonated with Robinson. In a footnote, Robinson acknowledges that the policy applies equally to players, team owners and management.

With the NFL exercising appeal rights, the court of public opinion will clearly be on the side of the NFL with an appeal. The consensus is that Watson’s punishment is too lenient. The NFL is back in the position it was trying to avoid by becoming the final arbiter of personal conduct discipline in the first instance under the revised process. In hindsight, the parties might have been better served with the process running backwards where Goodell handles the initial discipline and a neutral independent party has the final say.

The appeal essentially undermines Robinson’s decision since Watson’s sentence will surely be increased. Robinson gave the NFL an opening to plausibly enforce more discipline by calling Watson’s conduct predatory and “more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL.”

The NFLPA is reportedly prepared to pursue remedies through the court system in response to the appeal. In the past, the NFLPA has been able to get an injunction, which could allow Watson to start the season on the field. Ultimately, the NFLPA failed to overturn discipline through legal proceedings, just by delaying discipline.

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