Deshaun Watson is docked 11 fewer games than Calvin Ridley. Is that fair?

Deshaun Watson suspended for 6 games for violating NFL personal conduct policy

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Deshaun Watson suspended for 6 games for violating NFL personal conduct policy

The weakest defense is to indulge in whataboutery. It’s a concession that, while you might have done something wrong, you weren’t as wrong as that person over there, who might not have been accused of anything. Our last two Presidential elections have essentially been exercises in whataboutery.

Example: “What about the Access Hollywood tape?”

“Oh, yeah? What about her emails?”

Or: “What about that phone call to Zelensky?”

“Oh, yeah? What about Hunter’s laptop?”

The Deshaun Watson decision – disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former Federal judge, levied a six-game suspension – brings with it a massive temptation to write 650 words, with 600 of them being “what” or “about.” For example:

Calvin Ridley, NFL player, gets docked 17 games for gambling, but a famous quarterback gets six for allegations of sexual abuse. Trevor Bauer, baseball pitcher, is suspended two full seasons for domestic violence allegations made by two women. Meanwhile, Watson will miss 35% of one season.

We stipulate that MLB and the NFL are separate entities; neither is obliged to follow the other’s lead. We also stipulate that neither Bauer nor Watson have been charged with crimes by any grand jury.That not-being-charged part obviously cut no ice with MLB. It cut more with Judge Robinson.

That Watson has settled 23 of 24 lawsuits brought against him is taken by many as an acceptance of guilt. Legally, it’s no such thing. Terms of the settlements haven’t been revealed. Non-disclosure agreements have been signed. So far as we know, Watson hasn’t confessed to anything.

The April decision of a Houston grand jury not to prosecute him freed NFL clubs to try to land a quarterback who sat out last season because he didn’t want to play for the Texans. The Falcons, for whom Watson of Gainesville worked as a ball boy, made a pitch. Cleveland landed him by sending five draft picks, three of them first-rounders, to Houston.

(Asked about Watson’s suspension Monday, Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot told reporters: “That’s a league matter.”)

The Browns then signed Watson for $230 million over five seasons. The contract anticipated he could/would be suspended for some part of 2022. He’s due to make $1.035M this season; next year he’ll make $46M. If he serves the six-game suspension, he’ll lose $345K.

Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network reports that Robinson believed Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious.” Still, she called that behavior “non-violent sexual contact.”

Also from Pelissero: “(The) decision says Watson must get all his massage therapy from club therapists.”

The NFL has three days to file an appeal. The outcry took five Twitter minutes to rise to an uproar. Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times reported in June that Watson booked appointments with 66 different women over 17 months. When he asked one to perform a sexual act, Vrentas reported that the woman said: “What’s it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up a good thing.”

Robinson’s decision is the first to be rendered by the NFL’s disciplinary officer. Commissioner Roger Goodell used to serve as judge and jury. If the case is appealed, Goodell would again make the final decision. But does he want to override a verdict rendered by a disciplinary protocol that came into being via the league’s most recent collective bargaining agreement with its players?

The NFL pressed for Watson to be suspended a full season. Its wishes weren’t granted. An appeal might play well with the masses, but it’d be less well received by the players, who wanted power removed from Goodell’s oft-maladroit fingers. Public pressure could force the NFL to appeal, even if it’d be happier to see the whole mess go away.

We keep coming back to this: Watson hasn’t been charged. With 23 women settling lawsuits and presumably signing NDAs, it’s likely he won’t be. Are six games enough of a penalty for “egregious” – though “non-violent” – behavior? On the other hand, are six games too much for a guy whom two Texas grand juries declined to prosecute?

Am I surprised Watson got only six games? The word “only” should be your tip-off. Owing to that “pattern of behavior,” I was expecting a season. So was the NFL. We’re both often wrong.