The news was carefully tucked into low tide of our collective early-summer attention span. The day has arrived. The hearing regarding the potential punishment of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson begins today.
The league has proposed discipline. Per multiple reports, the NFL wants an indefinite suspension of one year, minimum. The league hopes to keep it open ended, given the possibility that more claims will be made against Watson. Monday’s lawsuit against the Texans suggests that at least six more lawsuits could be filed against Watson. It’s unclear how many can be or will be filed against the team.
Retired Judge Sue L. Robinson will preside over the hearing. Before making a decision as to potential punishment, she’ll have to decide whether and to what extent the NFL Players Association will be permitted to explore the defense based on the notion that any punishment for Watson must be proportional to discipline imposed on Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones for potential violations of the Personal Conduct Policy. As explained on Monday, if she lets that issue go too far, she could jeopardize her appointment.
If she finds that Watson should not be disciplined at all (which also could jeopardize her appointment), the case ends. If any discipline is imposed, the case gets appealed to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has final say over the process.
Same as it ever was.
They’ve tried to infuse a sense of independence into the process, but at the end of the day the Commissioner continues to have his hands on the wheel. And if his employees currently want an indefinite suspension of at least a year, why would he disagree with them if/when the case lands in the lap of ultimate NFL power?
It’s unclear how long any of this will take. If the NFLPA is allowed to fully explore the defense based on proportional punishment in comparison to owners, it could take a while. And that won’t be the union’s fault. It has the right, and the duty, to defend Watson. In the end, his best defense could indeed be rooted in the idea that, although the Personal Conduct Policy provides that owners will be held to a higher standard, the truth is that they aren’t. And that the players should be held to that same standard, too.