Explainer: Watson discipline didn’t require legal charges

When two separate Texas grand juries refused to indict Deshan Watson on criminal complaints stemming from allegations of sexual assault or harassment by 24 women, it cleared the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback from facing the consequences of the NFL. did not do.

Watson and the Cleveland Browns revealed the gravity of their punishment Monday after they were suspended six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, two people familiar with the decision told the Associated Press.

Disciplinary Officer Sue L. Robinson made the decision after the NFL pressed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year, and Watson’s legal team argued for no suspension during a three-day hearing that ended on June 30.

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, a player must not be convicted or even charged with a crime in order to be disciplined for conduct harmful to the league. Ezekiel Elliott, Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston and Kareem Hunt are among several players who have received suspensions despite not having criminal charges.

Some legal experts are criticizing the process.

“Arbitration is generally reserved for civil cases in workplaces, which makes the NFL’s investigation of criminal charges completely unique and, in my opinion, potentially unfair,” said attorney Amy Dash, founder of the League of Justice. Said, a website that reports on sports. and law. “The decisions create a perception of guilt by many in the public forum. But so far the courts do not want to obstruct the results because the whole process was negotiated and agreed upon by the players’ union representative in the CBA and the league.

Dash also noted that sometimes players are being investigated for criminal charges in the arbitration process and they “do not have the same protections that a defendant in criminal courts would have, such as presumption of innocence, a reasonable Burden of proving guilt beyond doubt, same rules as of proof and discovery, etc.

But the league negotiated its disciplinary process with the union, so it has the power, as an employer, to impose penalties.

The main difference in Watson’s case was that the discipline came from an independent arbitrator. The league and union agreed in the 2020 CBA that a disciplinary officer will determine whether a player has violated a personal conduct policy and whether to enforce discipline. Prior to this, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to do so.

This was the first case for Robinson, who was appointed jointly by the league and the union.

However, Goodell still has the right to overturn his decision if both parties appeal. According to the CBA, an appeal will be heard by Goodell or a person designated by him and the written decision will be final.

After learning of the ruling, the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement with Watson on Sunday night, saying they would not appeal the disciplinary Robinson decision and urging the league to follow suit.

Goodell was not directly involved in Robinson’s decision, but the league made it clear it wanted an unprecedented sentence. The NFL is well aware of public perception. Fallout from its decision in the Ray Rice case in 2014 — when the league extended its suspension only after a video of the former Ravens beating their fiancée — the NFL pledged that it would impose harsher punishments in cases involving violence and sexual assault of a woman. .

Watson settled 23 civil lawsuits out of 24 women alleging sexual assault and assault during private massage therapy sessions when he played for the Houston Texans.

After refusing to indict Watson in March, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said: “We respect our justice process. I love the law. It’s designed to get to the truth. Really That’s what people want. I don’t think that as a culture we can live with injustice. Remember, grand jury no bill is not an acquittal. People, even when they clean up the criminal justice system often face accountability and repercussions in other parts of our legal system. And so I think you’ll have to wait and see if things work out to determine whether justice was done in this case. How it all pans out on the civil side and then on the administrative side of things through the NFL. And then people will decide whether this is justice or not.”

The administrative part is now fixed.


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