Agent’s Take: Taking apart the Deshaun Watson discipline case and trying to make sense of it

The long-anticipated ruling that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy was issued Monday by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, appointed jointly by the NFL and the NFLPA. Watson’s case was the first under a revised process in the NFL collective bargaining agreement where commissioner Roger Goodell is no longer the sole arbiter of personal conduct discipline.

A retired U.S. District Court judge suspended Watson six games for violating the policy without imposing a fine. Because the suspensions are without pay, Watson forfeits $345,000 (or 6/18 of a $1,035 million 2022 base salary) as he earns $57,500 in each of the 18 weeks in the regular season. None of Watson’s $44,935 million signing bonus is fully guaranteed, due to the structure of the contract due to the $230 million, five-year contract he signed in March as part of a trade from the Taxes. Not in danger. Robinson also thought that Watson’s massage therapy was necessary to limit him to a team-approved massage therapist for the rest of his career.

On Wednesday, the NFL notified the NFLPA that it would appeal Robinson’s findings. The NFLPA has two business days to file a written response to the appeal. An appeal is limited to why the discipline should be modified based on the evidentiary record. Goodell or his designee shall hear the appeal. The NFLPA announced it would not appeal the ruling and suggested the NFL do the same.

In his 16-page ruling, Robinson found Watson to have engaged in sexual assault, conduct that poses an actual threat to the safety and welfare of another person and conduct that undermines or undermines the integrity of the NFL. endangers. Essentially, the NFL won its case against Watson.

The win seemed hollow because Watson’s discipline seemed lenient to many because the NFL wanted an indefinite suspension where he could apply for reinstatement after a year. For example, the National Organization for Women called the decision “unacceptable, insulting and dangerous, but not surprising”. During settlement talks prior to Robinson’s decision, the NFLPA rejected the NFL’s offer of a 12-game suspension and a $10 million fine.

Robinson clearly states early in his report that his decision was based on the evidence presented to him. Although 24 different women filed civil lawsuits against Watson alleging inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions with their taxes, he allegedly engaged in at least a 17-month period. Kim had booked sessions with 66 women, but the NFL’s case was on the ground. Only four of those women sued him.

Robinson relied on NFL precedent in determining the discipline, which was to be expected since he is a former referee. A key finding of Robinson was that Watson’s conduct was a non-violent sexual assault even though his actions were described as highly aggressive and predatory. Robinson did not explain why Watson’s behavior was nonviolent.

Due to the lack of violence, Robinson appears to be acting on the basis of a three-game suspension as discipline. That’s because Jameis Winston was suspended three games in 2018 for violating the personal conduct policy for grabbing a female Uber driver, which was a negotiated settlement between the NFL and the NFLPA. It was the most severe personal conduct penalty for non-violent sexual assault.

Aggravating and mitigating factors were taken into account in determining discipline. Watson’s lack of remorse and the NFL’s untimely notice of the initial lawsuit filed against him were cited as aggravating factors. Cooperating with the NFL’s investigation, paying restitution (presumably settling 23 of the 24 civil cases), being a first-time offender and Watson’s reputation in the community before the events were presented as mitigating factors. has been. The serial nature of Watson’s behavior appears to be of no significance as he is considered a first-time offender while Winston’s conviction involved a single incident with one person.

Interestingly, Robinson mentioned Goodell’s failure to add Watson to the commissioner’s exempt list last season in the same paragraph as aggravating and mitigating factors. Watson was a healthy scratch last season. He was on the Texans’ 53-man roster where he was paid his base salary of $10.54 million, but by mutual agreement he was not in uniform for games and did not practice with the team. Once a potential trade with the Dolphins did not occur by the midseason trading deadline, it could be assumed that Watson was effectively serving a de facto suspension for the second half of the season.

The standards of notice, fairness and consistency were central to the Robinson decision. The NFL’s argument that consistency is not possible because Watson’s conduct was unprecedented, so the punishment must be unprecedented, was not found to be persuasive. The following passage may help shed light on Robinson’s determination of Watson’s length of suspension.

Robinson wrote: “Ignoring past decisions because none involved “equivalent” conduct, however, the NFL not only is not equating violent conduct with nonviolent conduct, it has has overstated the importance of the latter without any solid evidence to support his position. While it may be entirely appropriate to harshly discipline players for non-violent sexual conduct, I do not think it is unethical. It is appropriate to do so without notice of the minor change that this position presents to the NFL and its players.”

Robinson also noted that the NFL is driven by “public outcry” when determining discipline, particularly related to the Ray Rice case in 2014. Rice was initially suspended for two games under the personal conduct policy but was later suspended indefinitely after his video. The incident of domestic violence against the wife came to light. The indefinite suspension was overturned on appeal because Rice was being sentenced twice for the same offense.

Robinson apparently found some parallels in the Watson situation where the NFL was advocating more severe fines than those recommended in the “without benefit of fair notice” and “consistency of results” policy. It would not be surprising to see a revision of the personal conduct policy where punishments for non-violent sexual assaults are clearly defined because of the Robinson order, as changes were made after the Rice trial.

The NFLPA’s argument that ownership and league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and would be subject to more substantive discipline as specifically outlined in the personal conduct policy, but have escaped punishment for similar or worse conduct, seems to have resonated with Robinson. In a footnote, Robinson acknowledged that the policy applies equally to players, team owners and management.

The court of public opinion will clearly side with the NFL on appeal because the consensus is that Watson’s sentence is too lenient. The NFL would return to the position it sought to avoid by being the final arbiter of personal conduct discipline in the first case under the revised process. An appeal would essentially undermine Robinson’s decision because Watson’s sentence would certainly be increased.

The NFLPA is reportedly ready to seek remedies through the legal system in response to the appeal. In the past, the NFLPA has been able to obtain unconditional relief, which could allow Watson to start the season on the field. Ultimately, the NFLPA did not succeed in ending the discipline through legal proceedings, only in delaying the discipline.