Deshaun Watson already may be facing a suspension

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It remains to be seen whether Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson fights all of the pending sexual assault lawsuits against him or resolves them. Even if all of the claims are settled today, there’s already enough evidence to support a suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy, if the league chooses to take action.

It’s important to remember that the league has significant discretion when it comes to activating and applying the policy that regulates employee conduct away from work. The vast majority of American employers do not discipline employees for things they do when not working; as long as they are able to continue to show up, they continue to be employed.

But the NFL and the NFL Players Association agreed years ago to allow for discipline to be imposed for off-duty misconduct, primarily as a tool for enhancing the overall image of the league and its players. Over time, the Personal Conduct Policy has become broader — and the league has acquired the ability to essentially decide on a case-by-case basis whether and to what extent action will be taken against any player.

The P.R. concerns that created the policy necessarily drive its application. If Watson were to reach a settlement now of all pending and threatened claims, the P.R. costs and benefits of taking action against Watson would be weighed by the league office, as they always are. The league would have to decide whether disciplining Watson would make things better in the eyes of the public, or make things worse.

Regardless of whether precedent matters (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t), the league would be able to suspend Watson based simply on the volume of claims and the admission in his lawyer’s recent statement that one of the paid massage sessions became a sexual encounter. Even without receiving any specific information from the 16 plaintiffs and potentially eight more (a settlement would possibly prevent them from cooperating with the investigation), the league office could find that Watson’s behavior requires intervention and corrective action.

That’s exactly what Commissioner Roger Goodell did in 2010, four years before beefing up the Personal Conduct Policy in the aftermath of the Ray Rice debacle. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger received a six-game suspension (reduced to four) after being civilly sued for rape in 2009 and then accused of misconduct in early 2010. The second incident, which happened in Milledgeville, Georgia, resulted in no arrest or civil lawsuit. (The circumstances suggested that a confidential settlement was reached between Roethlisberger and the alleged victim.) The NFL nevertheless took significant action.

“I recognize that the allegations in Georgia were disputed and that they did not result in criminal charges being filed against you,” Goodell said in his letter to Roethlisberger. “My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans. . . . Your conduct raises sufficient concerns that I believe effective intervention now is the best step for your personal and professional welfare.”

Goodell also pointed out at the time “that I may impose discipline ‘even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime’ as, for example, where the conduct ‘imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person.'” In Roethlisberger’s case, the Commissioner cited “irresponsible consumption of alcohol” along with purchasing alcoholic beverages for underage college students.

“The personal conduct policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players,'” Goodell wrote. “By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard.”

As to Watson, his apparently extensive pattern of hiring massage therapists through social media with the possibility of sexual activity somewhere on the radar screen (given attorney Rustin Hardin’s rebuttal based on blackmail allegations arising from consensual sex) would be enough to justify the Commissioner taking action. While the specific facts are different from Roethlisberger’s case, the decision to impose discipline in order to rectify irresponsible behavior that reflects poorly on Watson and in turn his team and the league would likely justify a suspension, based on the currently-available information.

Again, whether the league takes action is largely up to the league. Watson would have appeal rights, but those appeal rights continue to fall within the exclusive purview of the Commissioner. Even though the new CBA uses a hearing officer to conduct determine the first level of discipline, either the player or the league can appeal to the Commissioner for less or more, respectively. In other words, if the league wants something more than what the hearing officer has done, the league can ask the Commissioner via the appeal process to increase the penalties.

Thus, at the end of the day, the Commissioner will decide how to handle Watson’s situation. Given the way Roethlisberger’s situation was handled, there’s already enough to give the Commissioner the power to conclude that Watson needs some sort of discipline and assistance in order to avoid a recurrence of the behaviors that resulted in so many claims of wrongdoing made against him.

20 responses to “Deshaun Watson already may be facing a suspension

  1. I don’t care who you play for. You should not face a suspension without minimally having to face charges. Anyone facing civil litigation does not deserve to be suspended.

  2. Elliott got a 6 game suspension even after the woman who accused him was known to be lying so Watson should get 16 women X 6 games each = 96 games!

    And the Texans should VOID his contract right now!

  3. Suspended for the year. Anything less in this day and age would crucify the NFL.

  4. Don’t void his contract, just all the guarantees. He thought he was LAL Shaq, but he’s Shaq’s Robin in CO. This ain’t the NBA. Suspend him if necessary; toll his contract if necessary. Just be sure to give him the treatment a certain OL got several years ago. No stone unturned.

  5. The league does a pretty good job of getting to the bottom of each issue and using good discretion. No two cases are the same, so no two punishments are ever the same. The league doesn’t let the tail wag the dog. If they find Watson did something inappropriate, they’ll act swiftly. If the league finds nothing, they won’t punish Watson just to appease the public. If the league ended up standing by Watson, it would be a positive for the league because they didn’t admit guilt. The league will be very honest and I trust them much more than I trust the regular judicial system. The NFL consists of a couple thousand very young and very wealthy young men. Young men that age generally get into some trouble. Go check out what the other kids that grew up in the neighborhoods with most NFL players are doing these days. Goodell deserves a medal. The NFL, under Goodell’s leadership, has done a miraculous job of keeping all these grown kids under control. Whatever he’s doing, is working.

  6. “And the Texans should VOID his contract right now!”

    Spot on. Make no mistake about it, that is the goal and endgame here. NFL owners do not want NBA forced trade drama. Even if they have to sacrifice a star. Plenty of other young dynamic QBs coming up.

  7. Spot on. Make no mistake about it, that is the goal and endgame here. NFL owners do not want NBA forced trade drama. Even if they have to sacrifice a star. Plenty of other young dynamic QBs coming up.

  8. I don’t believe Roger Goodell should be Judge, Jury, and Executioner. I think he has a tendency to be vindictive as he was with Tom Brady.

  9. not only should the texans void his contract, they should come after him for monies already paid.

  10. “The league does a pretty good job of getting to the bottom of each issue and using good discretion.”

    I could not disagree with this more.

  11. If true that 47% of the NFL fanbase is women, Goodell isn’t going to go lightly on a suspension.

  12. I think he and his accusers should be investigated by the league, which I am sure they will do. Then they will take appropriate action. I can’t pass judgement now, he could be completely exonerated. If there were criminal charges filed my opinion would change.

  13. I’m not speaking of this case because there has been no evidence of a crime being committed. Hiring a personal trainer or massage therapist ect can be considered part of his training. If his only crime is having consensual sex for money (a misdemeanor) then a 3-6 game suspension is the most he should receive. Suspending him and not Kraft sends a bad message. Not to mention opening Pandora’s box for many players, coaches and owners who we all know have done this and worst to further money grab situations. Anyone can file a civil suit in the future for easy money w/o proof of wrong doing. To protect future NFL personnel from being victims of money grabbing attorneys they need to stand by the players. Not to mention the Personal Conduct Policy needs to go. Having one man control being judge, jury and executioner is unfair and too much power for one tyrant to have.

  14. Goodell is never in an easy position with stuff like this, but he chooses to place himself in the middle. And his arbitrary decisions don’t always make logical sense. That’s what we get when he’s swinging completely free of legal outcomes and trying to send a message.

    It’s interesting to see the reminders of Roethlisberger’s cases. Watson hasn’t been accused of rape by any means, but it’s pretty shocking in today’s climate to remember that an incredibly high-profile NFL player skated through rape settlements (and purchasing alcohol for minors) with a 4 game suspension.

  15. Idiot texans had there chance to trade him now they are stuck with this train wreck .

  16. If I were young and wealthy you can be sure I’d have a witness and/video for every encounter. I doubt so many women would make false accusations but if he had video (if as his lawyer claims he did nothing wrong) this entire fiasco would be a non-issue.

  17. Goodell has broad powers to discipline players, according to the federal courts. Those powers are given to him by the labor agreement approved by players. Goodell therefore can suspend any player without a shred of evidence. Goodell has used that broad power frequently in the past. But since Watson is willing to hold out to get traded, a suspension probably won’t hurt him m0ne wise, since he would not get paid if he holds out. The allegations alone would make teams hesitate trading for him. That is going to hurt him more. He may be stuck in Texas instead of getting traded.

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