When Major League Baseball suspended Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer for two full seasons based on allegations of off-field sexual misconduct, the harsh punishment caused some to wonder whether it would prompt the NFL to impose an even greater suspension on Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson than the six-to-eight game ban that many in league circles have been expecting.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently asked Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, whether the Bauer suspension will influence the Watson discipline.
Hardin said he hopes Bauer’s suspension won’t impact Watson.
“I’m going to try to be an optimist and say it will have no effect at all,” Hardin said. “Because it has no logical connection.”
Logic doesn’t matter, however. What matters is P.R. The entire Personal Conduct Policy apparatus arises from P.R. considerations.
So if baseball suspends Bauer for two years and there’s no real outcry against the harshness of the penalty (and there hasn’t been), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could indeed be influenced to apply a stronger punishment to Watson. Even though the cases are different and the allegations are different and the sports are different, the two-year suspension of Bauer sets a new bar. Whatever the NFL does to Watson necessarily will be judged in comparison to that standard.
Without Bauer’s two-year suspension, a Watson penalty in the range of six or eight games creates one impression. Post-Bauer, six or eight games for Watson creates a different vibe entirely.
Ultimately, Goodell will try to balance the criticism for not suspending Watson enough against the criticism for being too harsh. Remember, it was Goodell’s failure to be sufficiently harsh with Ray Rice that nearly brought Goodell down in 2014.
That’s where logic comes into play. Goodell, knowing full well the fallout from a perception that he didn’t go far enough with Rice, becomes more likely to err on the side of going too far with Watson.
It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not about fairness or equity. It’s not about law or legalities. It’s about the reaction that the league anticipates from possibly being too lenient to possibly being too strict.
And, yes, the Bauer suspension becomes an important factor in figuring out the right punishment for Watson.