For no good reason, the NFL cancels its agreement with Deshaun Watson

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According to the NFL’s own investigators, Deshaun Watson committed multiple sexual assaults, making “unwanted sexual contact with another person” on several occasions by “touching [his] penis to women without their consent. He did so, the NFL said, knowing that this type of sexual contact was unwanted and in doing so posed “a real danger to the safety and well-being” of the women involved. Additionally, the NFL said in presenting the findings of its investigation earlier this summer, that Watson “used his status as an NFL player as a pretext to engage in a premeditated pattern of predatory behavior toward multiple women.”

The NFL found all of this to be true, and even after having these conclusions supported by an independent arbitratorthe NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell reached an agreement with Watson anyway.

On Thursday, the league and the NFL Players Association agreed to a disciplinary settlement for Watson: an 11-game suspension, a $5 million fine and mandatory counseling. This is an increase from the six-game suspension handed down earlier this month by Sue L. Robinson, the co-appointed umpire who originally heard the case, but significantly lower than the minimum suspension of a year the NFL originally claimed to claim. The settlement comes after the league appealed Robinson’s original decision, which it has the power to do under the collective agreement. Goodell, who could have heard the appeal and made a decision himself, instead appointed former New Jersey attorney general and frequent league aide Peter Harvey to do so, but the settlement prevented a final decision from Harvey. .

Try not to get bogged down in the mechanics of it all, though. The NFL had the power to hear the appeal and make the decision, whatever decision it wanted. And although the league initially said (to Robinson and in leaks to reporters) that it wanted a one-year suspension, in the end it went well with 11 games.

So it’s hard to believe the NFL or Goodell ever really cared about hitting that one-year mark. If they cared, they would have. Nothing stopped them. It’s true that the NFLPA could have sued the league over an unnegotiated decision, but if that’s what really stopped the NFL from going any further, it’s chosen a funny day to wake up and worry. suddenly billable hours or some other legal decision. battle with the syndicate he likes to regularly defeat. (The disciplinary authority granted to Goodell by the CBA was especially reinforced by a federal appeals court in the Deflategate case.) Even to say that the league has settled its dispute with the union over Watson’s punishment seems disingenuous, because it’s hard to have a dispute when one party has all the power.

Because it is a concession made to a person who Goodell thinks he behaved in a predatory way, when that person had no legitimate leverage to extract it, the agreed penalty is insufficient. That said, it’s hard to do the math on what would be appropriate – how many women and how many unwanted sexual touches equals how many football games? There is no answer that does not have an arbitrary quality.

But it would have meant something if the NFL had actually imposed the minimum one-year suspension it originally claimed it wanted. The league operates by seasons, the units around which teams build rosters and which fans pin their hopes on. Watson’s ability to return in December (in a game against the Houston Texans, no less) lessens the impact of his punishment. Now that he will be a part of the 2022 Browns, his discipline intertwines with the perverse incentive structures of a team chasing a championship. It’s hard to say exactly what the right punishment is for so much misdeed, but a one-year suspension would have been tangible in a way that 11 games is not – both for Watson and for the Browns, who cowardly tried to build a championship-caliber roster around him, then spent the whole summer trying to shield him and himself from consequences, tough questions, or anything resembling accountability.

The NFL had the opportunity to show some conviction by pushing for the suspension it originally announced it wanted. Instead, touted as a mitigating factor in the statement announcing the settlement, Goodell said, “Deshaun is committed to doing the hard work on himself that is necessary for his return to the NFL.” Watson will have to undergo a form of treatment from a “third-party behavioral expert” to finalize his reinstatement, which is perhaps the commitment Goodell is referring to.

But if that statement is meant to indicate that Watson’s genuine remorse and self-reflection contributed to the league’s willingness to settle the matter, it’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone reading it.

Minutes after the NFL released this statement – and after the team released a statement from Watson in which he said he would accept ‘responsibility for the decisions I’ve made’ – Watson, at his first press conference in months, said he continued to ‘stand on my innocence’ and that he “never attacked or disrespected anyone”. Watson had offered something of an apology during an interview with a sideline reporter last week – a remarkable moment, as his lack of remorse had been an aggravating factor in Robinson’s decision and was seen as a factor in Robinson’s decision. the league to appeal – in which he apologized. “to all the women I’ve impacted in this situation.” (He was not specifically asked to respond to Robinson’s findings that he had committed sexual assault as defined by the NFL and presented by league investigators. Watson clarified on Thursday that he had issued this apology “to all women”, but not specifically to women who said He molested them. It strains credulity to think that anyone could watch him speak and believe he was watching a person who had taken an ounce of real responsibility.

Watson’s lack of accountability was activated by the Browns from the time they traded itand team owners have been defiant in the face of criticism. At his own press conference Thursday after the settlement was announced, team owner Jimmy Haslam said he would “absolutely” do it again. Even though he knew an 11-game suspension was coming and a neutral umpire would agree with the findings of NFL investigators, Haslam would still push his team to negotiate and then sign Watson to an unprecedented $230 contract. million dollars fully guaranteed. Haslam indicated he had no concerns about the character of the player he paid so much to acquire.

The arrogance of this statement should be striking, and perhaps best explained by something Dee Haslam, Jimmy’s wife, said shortly afterwards, when she veered victim-blaming by equating awkwardly (and wrongly) massage therapy to sex work.

“There is just a huge opportunity to talk about the major issues our country has in this area, such as sex trafficking, the use of massage parlors,” Dee Haslam said.

There are fewer opportunities, however, to talk about Watson’s own behavior, which the Haslams said they wouldn’t discuss, even though Jimmy Haslam said at one point that Watson had the opportunity to “rehabilitate himself.” “.

So in what Watson’s NFL and NFLPA representatives view as a solution to this situation, they offer a mess of contradictions and avoid accountability. Watson “will do the hard work”, as Goodell said, even if there is no hard work to do; he apologized to everyone, but for nothing. He will see a counselor about his behavior, behavior that he thinks is completely acceptable. Lest he forget any entry in the long list of people who embarrassed themselves in front of microphones in Cleveland on Thursday, Browns general manager Andrew Berry said the team’s process to acquire Watson, who won’t included interviewing none of the women who said he assaulted them before giving her the most guaranteed money in league history was “thorough”. Head coach Kevin Stefanski tried as hard as humanly possible to only talk about football.

Ultimately, no one in the NFL, NFLPA, or Cleveland was going to be able to offer a good explanation for the settlement, because there isn’t one. It doesn’t make sense because it can’t make sense, and every fraudulent justification offered is another insult to women hurt by Watson. The Browns are used to being the laughing stock. But never to such an extent.

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