The NFL’s decision on whether to appeal the Deshaun Watson suspension and the eventual resolution of any appeal necessarily will be influenced by public opinion, because the entire Personal Conduct Policy is a P.R. tool. And so, as the league gauges public reaction, comments from organizations like the National Organization for Women will resonate.
“It is unacceptable, insulting, and dangerous — but not surprising — that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will face merely a 6-game suspension — with no fines — following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made by more than two dozen women,” NOW said in a statement issued on Monday.
This paragraph illustrates one of the common misconceptions about the suspension. It arises from evidence based on four accusers, not 24 or more. Judge Robinson gave no consideration to the existence of the civil lawsuits, even when considering aggravating and mitigating factors. In the court of public opinion, that evidence can’t and won’t be excluded.
“The NFL and the multi-billion-dollar sports industry have a vested interest in enabling sexual misconduct, assault, and violence,” the statement says. “They even wrote it into Deshaun Watson’s $230 million contract! The Browns knew that their star recruit would be suspended for at least part of this year’s season because of his record of sex offenses, and so they restructured his contract to make the majority of his $46 million first-year payout a ‘signing bonus,’ not tied to him playing actual games.”
Although Watson may have indeed wanted the structure to minimize his financial losses, it’s common for major player contracts to include a low base salary in the first year, for cap reasons.
“The NFL has had a violence against women problem for years — and everyone knows it,” the statement declares. “NOW was outspoken over the mishandling of the 2014 domestic violence case against Baltimore Raven Ray Rice, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has failed since then to find a consistent, independent, and trustworthy means of addressing the scourge of violence against women — and bringing abusers to justice.”
This ignores the six-game domestic-violence punishment imposed in 2017 on Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who was never arrested, charged, or even sued. Also, it overlooks the fact that Goodell still has not directly weighed in on Watson. That will come on appeal, if/when (when) there is one.
“Deshaun Watson must not be allowed to profit from his horrific behavior, and the NFL must change its business model that allows, enables, and hides sexual misconduct into one that respects women and holds abusers accountable,” the statement concludes. “Shame on the Cleveland Browns for rewarding Deshaun Watson and shame on the NFL for perpetuating a system where money talks, and women aren’t heard.”
Again, this isn’t over yet. Given that Judge Robinson found that Watson did what he was accused of doing, an appeal becomes more likely. A longer suspension becomes more likely, too, as public pressure continues to mount.