Judge Robinson's dig at the NFL is accurate, but in the Deshaun Watson case it was unavoidable - ProFootballTalk

Judge Robinson’s dig at the NFL is accurate, but in the Deshaun Watson case it was unavoidable – ProFootballTalk

USA TODAY Sports

Judge Sue L. Robinson’s 16-page decision gives the NFL the factual findings necessary to impose, through the appeals process, a much longer suspension on Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. But the written ruling does not leave the NFL unscathed.

Judge Robinson found that Watson did what he is charged with and essentially lied when he denied it. But he also refused to suspend Watson for a full year, because he concluded that league policy and precedent did not justify something so strict for “nonviolent sexual assault.”

In the first paragraph of her ruling’s conclusion, Judge Robinson chides the NFL for trying to do something anyone who pays attention to the league knows it does: make up the rules on the fly.

“The NFL may be a ‘forward-looking’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking organization,” Justice Robinson wrote. “Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct [committed by former Ravens running back Ray Rice] after a public outcry, so it appears the NFL is responding to another public outcry over Mr. Watson’s conduct. At least in the previous situation, the Policy was modified and applied proactively. Here, the NFL is attempting to impose a more dramatic change in its culture without the benefit of fair notice and consistency of consequences for those in the NFL subject to the Policy.”

While accurate, this passage ignores reality and defies common sense. The entire apparatus of the Personal Conduct Policy is about managing and, ideally, preventing public protests. The league polices players’ privacy because the public expects the league to do so (and the union has agreed to allow it). And the league prefers to have the flexibility to deal with unique situations that may arise.

Yes, the NFL tends to be much more reactive than proactive. But it’s one thing not to implement a proper procedure to ensure that officials don’t miss pass interference at a key moment in a playoff game (which is totally predictable) and quite another to not have a rule in the books to impose proper discipline on a player who used his status as a pretext to set up a private massage that he actively attempted to turn into sexual encounters against the wishes of the massage givers. As the league said at the hearing before Judge Robinson, the requested punishment is unprecedented because the conduct is unprecedented.

Judge Robinson, a lawyer and former judge, treated this case too much like a lawyer. He accepted the effective and persuasive arguments of NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler without backing down and applying common sense.

Once again, he concluded that Watson was guilty. But she allowed herself to get bogged down by the fact that the league, in her opinion, had not fairly warned Watson that his habit/fetish of hiring massage therapists and making unwanted sexual advances towards them could get him suspended for a full year.

“The NFL argues that consistency is not possible because there are no similarly situated players,” Judge Robinson writes on page 13 of her decision. And the NFL is right. He is the first person to have done this. What could or should the league have done differently in crafting and enforcing its policies to provide fair notice to Watson that he could be suspended for a full season if he did what Judge Robinsons concluded he had done? ?

As Chris Simms pointed out in live PFT, the average player would assume that doing the things Watson did would get him suspended for a year, if not banned from the game forever. This question of whether policies and precedent technically notify players of possible punishment for such misconduct assumes that they are not oblivious to these subtleties and technicalities. Most employees in any business are.

But employees have common sense. Not only did Watson commit the acts (as Judge Robinson concluded), but he also lied about doing so through his categorical denial of wrongdoing, and his extensive and non-credible claim that he never had an erection during a massage, although some of the women who did. she vouched for him by admitting to NFL investigators that she did. What should someone who engages in that type of behavior expect by way of punishment?

It is not clear from the ruling how or why Judge Robinson decided on a six-game suspension for Watson. He notes that the most commonly imposed discipline for “sexual acts and violence” is six games, and the most severe punishment for “nonviolent sexual assault” was three games. Watson’s suspension was based on four victims. Was he suspended 1.5 games per accuser? And how does Jameis Winston (the player who was suspended three games for “nonviolent sexual assault” with an Uber driver) engage in a spontaneous “nonviolent sexual assault” incident with an Uber driver relate to the deliberate assault and Watson’s extensive? habit of using her name and his fame to organize private massages that he tried to turn into sexual encounters, even if the masseuses were not interested in that?

There is another problem with Judge Robinson’s decision as it relates to her assessment of aggravating and mitigating factors. Although the league chose to present evidence from only four accusers, the fact that Watson was sued by 24 people should have at least been relevant when deciding whether to increase or decrease the punishment.

“With respect to what the appropriate discipline should be, I note that there are aggravating factors applicable to Mr. Watson, namely his expressed lack of remorse and his late notice to the NFL of the first lawsuit filed,” Judge Robinson wrote. on page 14. “As for mitigating factors, he is a first time offender and had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events. He cooperated in the investigation and paid restitution.”

How is he a “first offender” when there are 24 alleged crimes? How is he a “first offender” when the New York Times Have you reported hiring at least 66 women for private massages in a 17-month period? And how does his “excellent reputation” before the four indictments that became the focus of the hearing relate to the existence of 24 lawsuits, or the fact that he had managed to engage in this habit/fetish in secret for months? but? years? While that evidence may not have been relevant to the question of whether she violated the policy, that evidence should have been considered as to the issue of aggravation and/or mitigation.

Before I had access to Judge Robinson’s ruling, I said there was no way to know how she got to six games without reviewing the decision in full detail. Now that I have it, I still don’t know how it got to six games. She doesn’t explain it properly. And her effort to do so is woefully incomplete.

It’s almost as if she knows that the NFL will exercise its prerogative to appeal her decision to the Commissioner, and that he will ultimately pick whatever number he wants, and that she therefore decided not to bother putting forth the effort necessary to make her reasoning in the selection of six games as clear as it should be. Her reasoning doesn’t matter.

Once he found out that he did in fact do it, he might as well have pulled the number of games out of a hat. Ultimately, Goodell will do what he wants to do. And based on Judge Robinson’s findings, why wouldn’t Goodell still want the full-season suspension he ordered his employees to apply to Judge Robinson?

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