Major League Baseball stunned the sports world on Friday by suspending Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer for two full seasons, based on allegations of domestic violence. Although the facts are very different, it’s difficult not to wonder whether the extent of the punishment will influence the NFL’s ultimate handling of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Bauer was accused of sexual assault that occurred when he allegedly went too far with consensual rough sex during a pair of encounters in April and May 2021. The allegations resulted in no criminal charges. A request for a permanent restraining order also was denied.
That doesn’t prevent the MLB from taking action. The league interviewed other women who claimed they had been assaulted by Bauer. One woman accused Bauer of choking her to the point of unconsciousness “dozens of times” during a relationship that spanned years.
Bauer was placed on paid leave last July. He has appeal rights, and he intends to exercise them. He has vehemently denied any and all wrongdoing.
The alleged facts are disturbing. More detail is available in this item from ESPN.com. The broader point, as it relates to the NFL, is whether Commissioner Roger Goodell will feel compelled to take stronger action against Watson, based on the two-year suspension imposed on Bauer.
These are fair and appropriate considerations. The entire Personal Conduct Policy is a P.R. tool, aimed at creating a vehicle for the league to take proper action against players who do things while not working that prompt fans and media to ask, “Why doesn’t the league take proper action?” Whether the action taken is or isn’t proper is determined not by any formula or calculation but by how fans and media react to it.
Already, some in the league office are privately advocating harsh action against Watson, who is accused by 22 women of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. He has not been charged with any crimes, but 22 lawsuits are pending and proceeding. Some in the league office believe that Watson should be placed on paid leave until the cases are resolved, with a decision made thereafter as to a possible unpaid suspension.
Last month, the Commissioner seemed to rule out paid leave, explaining that if the league concludes there’s enough to justify paid leave, Watson would simply be suspended without pay. For more than a year, there has been a sense in league circles that Watson will be suspended from four to eight games. Last October, for example, the Dolphins believed that, if they had finalized a trade for Watson following the settlement of all cases (18 of the 22 were ready to be resolved), he would have been suspended six games.
The Bauer case requires a fresh look at the question. Those in the league office who believe he shouldn’t play until the cases are resolved could also be inclined to push for a much harsher suspension, if/when the Commissioner decides to impose one. Could Watson be suspended for a full year?
It shouldn’t be regarded as impossible. And it could be reason enough for the Browns to try to re-build a bridge to Baker Mayfield. With their options for trading him drying up, there’s still a chance they’ll need him to play in 2022 — if Watson ultimately is suspended for the entire season.