The NFL suspended the Cleveland Browns quarterback for the first six games of the season; however, was this just another bad handle by the league in cases like this?
CC: New York Post
BUFFALO, N.Y. - On Monday, Aug. 1, NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson ruled Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson must serve a six-game suspension at the start of the season, after over a year of allegations, lawsuits, trades and one of the biggest contract deals in league history.
Robinson, a former judge, released a 15-page conclusion regarding the quarterback's suspension saying the evidence does justify a suspension. However, she mentioned the NFL changed its position from a year suspension to six game suspension since it's a first-time violation of the personal conduct policy.
"I find that the NFL has produced sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove the
last prong of the test, that Mr. Watson knew such sexualized contact was unwanted," she said. "By revising its Policy, the NFL gave fair notice to its players and to the public of the probable consequences of certain violent conduct."
Watson requested a trade from the Houston Texans in the 2021 offseason after being the franchise single caller for since 2017. Soon after, more than two dozen female massage therapists sued the all-pro quarterback for alleged sexual misconduct. Watson denied all allegations against him and was eventually traded to the Browns, who signed him to a fully guaranteed, five-year $230 million contract.
Two Texas grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year. In late June, Watson and 20 of the other plaintiffs agreed to settle the lawsuits. Later in mid-July, the Texans reached settlements with 30 women who almost filed claims alleging the organization enabled the quarterback's behavior, according to an article from ESPN.
The decision to suspend the quarterback for only one-third of the season has once again caused some concern with how the league handles cases like this. First Take's Stephen A. Smith broke his hiatus to criticize the decision.
“I think they’ve made a huge mistake by trying to resemble law enforcement," he said. "And it’s going to come back to haunt them in a very big way.”
Dr. Janine D'Anniballe, director of the non-profit group Moving to End Sexual Assault in Boulder County, Co., and a lifelong Browns fan told Yahoo the suspension did not do justice for the alleged victims.
My first thought was, those survivors, what is going on for them?” she says. “Six games? It’s less a slap on Watson’s wrist than a slap on their experience. That decision is saying, ‘your experience doesn’t matter.'”
Former Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III took to Twitter to express his shock and disbelief saying, "This is a safe place, share your thoughts on Deshaun Watson's 6 game suspension. I will start. I thought it would be much more."
The league had previously faced criticism for its handling of Ray Rice's domestic violence charges, Kareem Hunt's hotel assault and Tyreek Hill's alleged child abuse, handing only minor or no suspensions. The league did suspend Rice indefinitely after only giving him two games after release of a video showing his actions.
Rice appealed the decision and won but he never played another regular season game again. Watson also has the opportunity to appeal the decision while participating in training camp practices, but if he fails, he can't participate in regular season team until week four.
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslan said on Monday that they will stick by Watson's side and acknowledge how the situation affected those involved.
""We respect Judge Robinson's decision, and at the same time, empathize and understand that there have been many individuals triggered throughout this process," they said. "We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many and he will continue the work needed to show who he is on and off the field, and we will continue to support him."
When the suspension ends, how will fans react to Watson presence on the field. A video from Cleveland.com released on Twitter showed Browns fans cheering when he came to practice on Sunday July 30. However, many other fans took to Twitter calling the suspension unfair, comparing it to Calvin Ridley's year-long suspension for gambling.
Watson will most likely make his Browns debut against the Baltimore Ravens in week seven in M&T Bank Stadium, time will tell how the fans will react to seeing him after all the controversies. This ruling can at least give Watson a chance to continue being an all-pro quarterback and make the Browns competitive.