The Cheap Seats: Deshaun Watson faces suspension

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was issued a six-game penalty for 24 allegations of sexual misconduct. Two days later, the NFL appealed for a one-year suspension.

by Lanie Everett | 8/12/22 2:00am

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by Zooriel Tan / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On Aug. 1, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson received a six-game suspension after being accused of 24 allegations of sexual misconduct by personal massage therapists from 2019-2021, when he was still a member of the Houston Texans. Following a 15-month investigation into the allegations, federal judge Sue Robinson decided to suspend Watson for six games. The ruling was made on behalf of the NFL’s policy that a third-party counsel should decide the course of action for players who have violated the league’s code of conduct. 

The Cleveland Browns owners, Dee and Jimmy Haslan, said they “continue to support'” Watson. Similarly, the NFL player’s union encouraged the NFL not to appeal Robinson’s penalty. For context, Brown was a first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns in 2022 with a $230 million assured contract. 

However, a six-game suspension seems dramatically low for a player at the center of a whopping 24 cases of sexual misconduct –– 23 of which have been settled by Watson. The league had originally recommended suspending Watson for a minimum of one year. To many, including Goodell, Watson’s penalty is not punitive enough. In Robinson’s 16-page report, she wrote that Watson is “a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person”and that his conduct “undermines or puts at risk the integrity of the NFL,” according to ESPN. 

Although Watson claimed he was innocent from all allegations of sexual misconduct, and two Texas courts denied Watson criminal trial, Robinson concluded from interviews with four of Watson’s therapists that Watson did, in fact, sexually assault them.  

Why did Watson receive such a light penalty for his actions? For one, there is no established precedent for a situation such as Watson’s. Because Robinson characterized Watson’s actions as “non-violent,” his behavior called for a standard six-game suspension penalty, even though she acknowledged that Watson’s actions fell under the NFL’s definition of sexual misconduct. 

To remain consistent with the NFL’s prior rulings, Robinson did not authorize a longer sentence. 

For example, Ray Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended for a mere two games — a slap on the wrist — for punching his fiancée in 2014. It was not until TMZ released a graphic video of Rice knocking his fiancée unconscious on the ground that Goodell appealed his suspension to an indefinite status. This case set a precedent that Robinson may have had to take into consideration when making the decision about Watson’s penalty. 

Two days after Robinson’s decision, the NFL once again appealed. The league will rely on former New Jersey attorney general Peter Harvey to decide on Watson’s fate for a second time. In a statement on Aug. 9, Goodell publicly endorsed the appeal, saying that Watson’s treatment of women and embarrassment for the league should have permitted  “at least a one-year suspension,” including the regular and post 2022 season. 

To Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins, the irony of Goodell’s appeal after helping to establish a poor judicial precedent should be a lesson learned for the NFL. Because of inconsistent treatment of players who engage in domestic abuse, sexual misconduct and other actions that violate the league’s code of conduct, many survivors have not gotten justice. Even though Watson’s actions toward his therapists were deemed as “nonviolent,” Robinson still acknowledged that Watson engaged in “predatory conduct.”.  

Watson’s six-game suspension is simply unfair. He will continue to travel with the Browns, keep his $230 million, face no criminal charges and no required counseling or fines. He has accepted confinement to only “club-approved massage therapists, in club-directed sessions, for the duration of his career.” Meanwhile, those people who came forward against him have not received justice. 

On July 30, a day before Robinson’s initial penalty was made public, a Cleveland Browns Instagram post showed Watson playing rock paper scissors with young boys, perhaps some of his youngest fans. Thousands of little boys across the United States look up to star athletes, like Watson, as role models and heroes. With an inconsistent penalty for serious offenses such as sexual assault, is this really how we want the next generation to see what athletic power and fame can allow one to do?

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