Analysis: No winner in Deshan Watson’s case

Deshan Watson’s six-game suspension will only be valid if the NFL allows it.

The punishment awarded to Cleveland Browns quarterback by disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy was far less than the league’s one-year suspension.

No problem. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, the league can appeal Robinson’s decision and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person named by him can extend the suspension and impose a substantial fine.

The ball is in the court of the NFL.

The league has three days to file an appeal and is considering its options.

Nevertheless, the NFL Players Association may attempt to challenge Goodell’s decision on appeal in federal court.

A league official told The Associated Press ahead of a three-day disciplinary hearing in June that both sides should try to avoid appeals. The union had already announced Sunday night that it would abide by Robinson’s decision.

However, the public’s reaction may determine the NFL’s next move. This would not be the first time the league has reacted to the outrage from its followers.

“The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily forward-looking,” Robinson wrote in the conclusion of his 16-page report on the suspension. “Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after public outcry, it appears that the NFL is responding to another public outcry about Mr. Watson’s conduct. At least in the former situation, the policy has been changed. Here, the NFL is attempting to enforce a more dramatic change in its culture without the benefit of proper notice to those in the NFL subject to policy – ​​and the continuation of the outcome.

Robinson was referring to the league changing its personal conduct policy in 2014, when former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was initially suspended two games for domestic violence after running back. Rice was later banished indefinitely after video of the incident surfaced. An arbiter reversed that suspension but Rice never played in the league again.

At the time, Goodell had the authority to enforce discipline for personal conduct policy violations. This changed in the 2020 CBA when the union discussed the decision-making process with a disciplinary officer.

In handing out the six-game suspension, Robinson admitted during the hearing that the league acknowledged that its recommended punishment was “unprecedented” and concluded that the NFL had to give its players its own rights of discipline for nonviolent sexual assault without proper notice. The standards should not change.

Robinson wrote, “While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for nonviolent sexual conduct, I do not believe that this situation is extraordinary for the NFL and its players without notice of change.” It is appropriate to do so.”

To be clear: Robinson determined Watson violated three provisions of the Personal Conduct Policy with the NFL: sexual assault; conduct likely to endanger the safety and well-being of another person; and conduct that undermines or jeopardizes the integrity of the NFL.

The retired federal judge also rejected Watson’s denial of wrongdoing and considered his “lack of expressed remorse” as a triggering factor.

But, she could not enforce the severe penalty demanded by the NFL as it would replace the penalty after the act.

Using Goodell’s words on Tom Brady’s Bad Soccer case, she wrote: “I am bound by ‘standards of fairness and the consistency of behavior between equally positioned players’.”

Now, it is up to the NFL to accept his decision or appeal, and there are differing opinions within the league offices.

The NFL faces a potentially no-win situation.

The appeal would undermine the process of collective bargaining with a jointly appointed disciplinary officer, and make it a sham. Accepting Robinson’s decision leaves the NFL open to criticism because it could be considered liberal.


Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter and his work can be found at


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