Possibility of appeal to Roger Goodell hovers over looming ruling in Deshaun Watson case

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Sooner or later, and probably sooner, Judge Sue L. Robinson will issue a decision regarding the discipline, if any, to be imposed on Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. And if/when any discipline is imposed, either Watson or the league can file an appeal.

So let’s take a look at what would happen if there’s an appeal.

Here’s the relevant language from the Personal Conduct Policy as to the appeal process: “Following communication of the disciplinary decision, either the league (through the Management Council) or player (through the NFL Players Association) may appeal the decision to the Commissioner or his designee. Such appeals will be: (i) processed on an expedited basis; (ii) limited to consideration of the terms of discipline imposed; and (iii) based upon a review of the existing record without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered. No additional evidence or testimony shall be presented to or accepted by the Commissioner or his designee. Any factual findings and evidentiary determinations of the Disciplinary Officer will be binding to the parties on appeal, and the decision of the Commissioner or his designee, which may overturn, reduce, modify or increase the discipline previously issued, will be final and binding on all parties.”

Here’s what it means. The NFL, despite the changes to the process made in 2020, still has final say over the discipline. The Commissioner or his designee (who wouldn’t be his designee if he wasn’t prepared to do what the Commissioner wants) will make a “final and binding” decision.

It must happen quickly, by rule. It cannot entail any new evidence, by rule. It must be based on the facts as Judge Robinson determines them to be, which makes her findings of fact a critical aspect of her decision.

But the Commissioner can do whatever he wants, especially since the policy contains no standard of review or other restrictions on his ability to throw out Judge Robinson’s conclusion and replace it with something else.

Would it be awkward to say to Judge Robinson, “Sorry, we think it should be 17 games, not four”? Yes. But not nearly as awkward as the public reaction to the perception that the league was too lenient with Watson. That’s the overriding problem for the league. Eight years ago, the mishandling of Ray Rice nearly brought the whole house down. The league can’t afford to have the same thing happen here.

That’s why it will be critical for the league to properly gauge public reaction to Judge Robinson’s ruling, and then to decide first whether to appeal it at all (there was a report several weeks back that, if Judge Robinson issues a 6-8 game suspension, maybe there won’t be) and second what to do with the appeal. Yes, public reaction matters. The entire process is a P.R. tool, aimed at giving the league a way to investigate and punish players who get in trouble when not at work. The union has agreed to it. Players are never fully off duty; the Shield never sleeps.

And so, since the league has created the Personal Conduct Policy as a vehicle for meeting public expectations, the league needs to consider those expectations when reaching a decision on Watson.

Unless Judge Robinson issues no discipline at all. That’s the only way to keep Goodell or his designee from designating her decision as insufficient, and to replace it with something that the league believes will better mesh with what the fans and media expect the final decision to be.

23 responses to “Possibility of appeal to Roger Goodell hovers over looming ruling in Deshaun Watson case

  1. This “But the Commissioner can do whatever he wants” makes me wonder if the entire process is flawed.

  2. I hope this case concludes fairly so we can all move forward. I’m concerned if Watson isn’t “punished” appropriately for his actions – according to public perception – there could be more victims that come forward demanding justice. And then the NFL might impose another suspension.

  3. Whatever the punishment is the most important thing is he stops doing what he was doing and figures out how to have healthy relationships with women. If he serves his suspension and finds a way to secretly continue what he was doing that would be terrible.

  4. Everything about this case has been PR based. Buzzbee did a very thorough job of making Watson look very very bad in the public eye. I would hope that the NFL bases their decision on the actual facts presented rather than the pitchforks and torches mentality that the general public seems to be employing right now..

  5. What happens when the sentence is handed down and then 6 more lawsuits are filed? There were 30 settlements from the Texans bit only 24 from Watson. You know those other 6 are coming. Are they just going to tack them onto the current ruling? Will they have another hearing for lengthening the suspension? Having this judge on here to give a recommended suspension length is window dressing, everyone knows it. It’s just to keep the heat off of an inconsistent commissioner. Best thing to do is get a small group of 3-5 people who oversee the discipline. They handle all of the hearings and rule like the Supreme Court. Boom! That way the Commissioner can go back to counting his money and continue to act like he cares about the fans.

  6. Watson didn’t need any help to make himself look bad. Buzbee may have brought it to the surface but Watson brought this all on himself.

  7. So, if the league doesn’t like her ruling they can appeal to themselves and change the punishment to what they wanted in the first place. Got it…

  8. Once again I’m left with the impression that somehow the NFLPA, and certain media members, feel that the system is rigged, and the league can do whatever it wants in these disciplinary cases regardless of whether or not people feel a certain standard has been met. That’s 100% accurate the league can impose a punishment it deems adequate based on the circumstances, but it’s a process that the NFLPA AGREED TOO. You don’t agree to play by a certain set of rules, and then in the middle of the game decide you don’t like the rules, because you now feel they aren’t fair. IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. The players association gave the commissioner all of the power he has when they agreed to the last CBA, and the players association willingly told their members it was a good deal, and the players SIGNED OFF on it. He deserves a year minimum

  9. So, if the league doesn’t like her ruling they can appeal to themselves and change the punishment to what they wanted in the first place. Got it…

    100% this. It’s insane. How many other employers go to such lengths to punish employees for off the clock behavior? Not criminal charges, civil suits.

  10. This sounds like the he Brady case where the judge determined the whole thing was trumped up nonsense and that Brady was not guilty of anything. Should be final right? Thats when Goodell went back and appealed on the basis that it did not matter if Brady was innocent, Goodell still had the authority to punish him anyhow irregardless of guilt. And he was right on that, the CBA was indeed worded that way. They did do some changes but it still sounds the same.

    So in this case if the court simply exonerates Watson (just giving an extreme), Goodell has the right to just do what he wants anyhow. I’m not sure what the point is in going to court if Goodell has the ability to just overrule the judges decision with the the one he wanted.

  11. “Unless Judge Robinson issues no discipline at all.”

    This is what she should do.

  12. The NFL is an entertainment company and when one of your entertainers engages in bad conduct it ultimately hurts the business. The NFL would be foolish to let Watson get away with anything less than 2 years suspension.

  13. 6 to 8 games or a suspension of at least a year and maybe more it really won’t matter, I don’t think. What will be interesting is seeing how the Browns pregame shows will handle the Watson situation.

  14. How can Watson ever look himself in the mirror again, when a million people watching you on any give Sunday ,are not watching your ability to play NFL football ,but knowing you are being viewed as a ‘perv’. Maybe the $200 million contract helps?

  15. Whatever the judge decides should not be allowed to be challenged, period. Otherwise, what’s the purpose of all this procedural nonsense…

  16. In the court of public opinion, all are considered guilty before and after innocence is proven.

  17. Where is the outcry from Women’s Groups? When it’s all said and done how can BROWNS fans move forward? This is a slimey sleepy situation that Ownership bestowed on Clevelanders. Can you really buy your daughters that Watson jersey after this? Bad feelings in Cleveland. Dark clouds hanging over the fan base. Didn’t have to be this way. Embarrassing situation.

  18. Can you really buy your daughters that Watson jersey knowing what you know now? It would be nice if Cleveland could support its own team and had a likeable QB. Not this.

  19. Haslams and the Brain Trust betting $230million that the NFL and BROWNS fans will look the other way and act like this never happened. An indictment of our society. An Insult to Clevelanders. Bad Karma in Berea deservedly so.

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