The NFL and the NFL Players Association spent three days last week submitting evidence and argument regarding the question of whether Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should be suspended to start the 2022 season and, if so, the number of games he’ll miss. Judge Sue L. Robinson eventually will issue a decision, subject to an appeal by either party (unless she finds that no discipline should be imposed at all).
So what was the NFL’s actual case against Watson? It’s one thing to repeatedly insist on a suspension of at least one year. It’s another to have the evidence that, when combined with the Personal Conduct Policy, will justify that kind of a punishment.
When considering the sheer number of accusations against Watson, it’s hard not to think something happened that would justify a suspension. With 24 lawsuits filed (20 have been settled) and, per the New York Times, at least 66 different women hired via social media for private massages — and given the admission that Watson had sexual encounters with at least three of the women who sued him — it seems reasonable to conclude that Watson had a habit of arranging private massages with strangers and trying to steer the massages toward consensual sexual encounters.
But that apparently wasn’t the evidence the league presented. After interviewing only 12 of the women who have made allegations against Watson, the league presented evidence as to five persons who provided massages to Watson. The 24 lawsuits, the 66 or more strangers who were retained for private massages, and the allegation made in at least one of the lawsuits that the actual number exceeds 100 apparently weren’t part of the case against him.
The NFL’s case focused on five people. And, as PFT reported last week, that evidence included no proof of violence or threats or any type of physical conduct that would constitute actual assault.
The Personal Conduct Policy expressly prohibits “assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses.” If there’s no sexual assault, that specific provision of the policy hasn’t been violated.
And that’s the provision that creates a baseline suspension of six games per offense. Here’s the key language of the policy: “With regard to violations of the Policy that involve: (i) criminal assault or battery (felony); (ii) domestic violence, dating violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence; or (iii) sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent, a first violation will subject the violator to a baseline suspension without pay of six games, with possible upward or downward adjustments based on any aggravating or mitigating factors.”
Without proof of “sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent,” there’s no violation of that specific provision. (It’s possible that the league will try to argue that the circumstances suggest that the persons were not capable of giving consent, but that typically refers to someone who is underage or incapacitated in some way, for example, someone who…