Nearly four years ago, the NFL responded to its disastrous handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case by beefing up the Personal Conduct Policy, and by huffing and puffing about a new six-game baseline suspension for any player who is found to have committed similar offenses. On multiple occasions since then, the NFL has failed to impose a six-game suspension for a player who has committed similar offenses, and the league has failed/refused to explain the reason(s) for the departure from the six-game benchmark.
Here’s the key language: “With regard to violations of the Personal Conduct 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 offense will subject the offender to a baseline suspension without pay of six games, with consideration given to any aggravating or mitigating factors.”
It’s possible that the NFL concluded that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston‘s actions did not constitute “sexual assault involving physical force.” Unless the league specifically explains it that way, it’s impossible to know for sure. (It’s also odd that the NFL wouldn’t simply make all sexual assaults subject to a six-game suspension, without requiring physical force or an assault “committed against someone incapable of giving consent.”)
The NFL possibly decided that “mitigating factors” justified a reduction from six games to three, like they initially did when dropping former Giants kicker Josh Brown’s suspension from six games to one. (MDS has listed other similar instances that didn’t result in a six-game suspension.) Without sharing the information as to why the reduction was made, however, it’s impossible for anyone to assess whether the reduction was sensible or justified.
In Brown’s case, the league defended the lack of transparency in reducing the suspension by pointing to the privacy rights of the victim. In Winston’s case, there should be no similar concern. The victim made a report to her employer and then, inspired by the #MeToo movement, she told her story to the media. If the NFL believes that the conduct generally requires a six-game suspension but that mitigating factors require it to be cut in half, the league shouldn’t keep it secret.
Of course, it’s entirely possible (if not probable) that the league cut the suspension in half simply as part of the effort to make a deal with Winston, pursuant to which he wouldn’t file an internal appeal (or external litigation) and he would in turn control the messaging, in an effort to best conceal the details as to what he did and, in turn, to prevent a #MeToo firestorm that could result in the Buccaneers having no choice but to part ways with him.
Whatever the reason, the league deserves scrutiny and criticism for not explaining why Winston got only three games, when the policy would seem to require at least six — and when “similar misconduct before joining the NFL” would justify an enhancement of the penalty beyond six games.