Fumble from the handoff: Takeaways from Deshaun Watson suspension

Note to readers: This story contains vivid descriptions of allegations of sexual assault.

How much more did the disciplinarian need to hear?

Sue L. Robinson, a former US District Judge, believed the NFL’s case against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. She cited Watson’s lack of remorse. She called his pattern of behavior “more egregious than any previously reviewed by the NFL” and acknowledged those massage therapists were mentally damaged by the star quarterback.

And the proposed penalty Robinson delivered on Monday morning?

A six-game ban.

So Watson gets the equivalent of a sprained ankle, will be on the field before midseason, and will lose less than $400,000 in salary — the kind of money you’d find in the sofa cushions of a player with a $230 million guaranteed deal.

The NFL wanted a verdict that they didn’t have to appeal. It wanted this new system to work, with a disciplinary officer hearing these cases and making decisions that both the league and the NFL Players Assn. could digest. But that was a fumble at the opening handover.

More than two dozen women have filed civil lawsuits alleging Watson’s sexual misconduct when he cycled through massage therapists – allegedly working over a 15-month period when he was 60 – and behaving in an undeniably creepy way.

Watson’s alleged pattern: he would reach out to therapists on Instagram, identify himself as an NFL quarterback, and say he’s urgent to schedule a massage for the day. He didn’t want a professional setting, but something private. He didn’t care if the women were experienced therapists or even licensed.

According to his accusers, he would follow up with text messages to ensure therapists were comfortably massaging specific parts of his body, particularly his lower back, buttocks, abdomen and groin. He asked the women to cover him with a towel instead of the usual sheet, and often provided his own towel—little more than a washcloth.

In the stomach-churning words of Robinson: “While rolling onto his back, Mr Watson is said to have bared his erect penis and intentionally touched the therapists’ hands and arms with his erect penis several times. One of the therapists claims that Mr Watson not only repeatedly touched her arm but also ejaculated on her arm.”

Robinson notes, “There is no allegation that Mr. Watson used violence against any of the therapists.” What is alleged, however, is pretty damning.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before training camp Thursday.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson warms up before training camp Thursday.

(Nick Cammett/Associated Press)

Consider some of the suspensions over the last few years. Atlanta wide receiver Calvin Ridley has been suspended for at least a year after betting on NFL games in the 2021 season while off the team. Tight end Darren Waller, then with Baltimore, was banned for a year after multiple violations of the substance abuse policy. The same goes for former Denver running back Travis Henry and then-Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon.

In contrast, barring a likely call-up to the NFL, Watson will have fresh legs in time to pull off a midseason run.

Watson has never been charged and has denied any wrongdoing. While that’s important to note, the point of Monday’s development is that Robinson has sided with the league.

She writes that the NFL “had its burden of proving, by preponderance of evidence, that Mr. Watson was involved in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the report.” So the discipline was enacted in that sense.

In her decision, Robinson cites what she calls mitigating factors. She credits Watson as a first-time offender – most of whom did not have 25 separate lawsuits filed against them – and writes that he “had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events.” Well what does that mean? Many people have excellent reputations until people find out what they’ve done. That carries weight?

In revealing her discipline, Robinson writes that the six games represent “the most significant penalty ever imposed on an NFL player for allegations of nonviolent sexual conduct.” Strange stats. Let’s hope there isn’t a large sample size.

And that might be the most bizarre part. Robinson writes that going forward, it makes sense for Watson to limit his massage therapists to those provided by the team, rather than seeking them out himself.

It’s as if she’s saying that she doesn’t trust that something like this won’t happen again.

Certainly the NFL didn’t want to appeal that ruling and send it back to Commissioner Roger Goodell (or someone he appoints) to decide. But after these world record leaps in logic, the league must throw a challenge flag. Or be a spectator of a ruinous precedent.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-08-02/news-analysis-deshaun-watson-suspension-takeaways Fumble from the handoff: Takeaways from Deshaun Watson suspension

Emma Bowman

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