One of the best arguments on behalf of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson under the Personal Conduct Policy comes from the plain language of the document.
Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur.
In Watson’s case, the NFL Players Association specifically pointed to multiple other owners who weren’t punished at all or weren’t punished significantly for actual or potential violations of the policy, focusing on Daniel Snyder, Robert Kraft, and Jerry Jones. As one source with knowledge of the broader strategy explained it to PFT, there are other owners who may have violated the Personal Conduct Policy in the past who experienced something less than the high standard articulated in the policy.
The source specifically mentioned Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, who experienced no scrutiny from the league for his truck-stop company’s widespread fraud on customers. (It seems like Watson’s case would have been a good place to use the Haslam argument.)
The source also explained that, under the new procedure created by the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement, with Judge Sue L. Robinson issuing a preliminary decision and then Commissioner Roger Goodell handling any appeal, the comparison between the proposed punishment to be imposed on a given player and specific owners will be made, in every single case.
And it should be. The league didn’t have to extend the policy to non-players. It also didn’t have to crow about owners and club/league management being held to a higher standard. It chose to do so, and now it has to live with the practical consequences of that.
We could get our first glimpse of those consequences, if any, as soon as today, with Judge Robinson’s first decision under this new procedure. It also happens to be one of the league’s biggest Personal Conduct Policy cases in years, if not ever.