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Marcus Hayes: Deshaun Watson’s 6-game NFL suspension for ‘nonviolent sexual conduct’ is a disgrace

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Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns celebrates as he walks onto the field during Cleveland Browns training camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on July 30, 2022, in Berea, Ohio.

Deshaun Watson (4) of the Cleveland Browns celebrates as he walks onto the field during Cleveland Browns training camp at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on July 30, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (Nick Cammett/Getty Images/TNS)

In 2018, Jameis Winston was suspended three games for groping a female Uber driver inappropriately. One driver. Once.

In 2022, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson reportedly will be suspended only six games for allegedly inappropriate sexual behavior toward at least 24 female massage therapists over a 12-month span, from March 2020 to March 2021, when he played for the Houston Texans. Twenty-four times as many women, 365 times as many days lapsed, but just twice as many games suspended.

He allegedly exposed his genitals. He allegedly forced more than one therapist to perform oral sex. The NFL’s disciplinary officer said Watson engaged in a pattern of “nonviolent sexual conduct.”

He was not accused of sexual conduct. He was accused of sexual misconduct.

All sexual misconduct is violent.

Just ask the 24 women, whose lives will never be the same.

Six games. No fine.

Justice weeps.

Watson should have lost a full season. He should have lost $10.54 million, which is what he earned in Houston last year while refusing to play.

What do you expect from a league whose marquee owner, serial Patriots cheater Robert Kraft, was caught in a massage-parlor sting in Florida, allegedly, on video, in 2019, and received no disciplinary action from commissioner Roger Goodell?

Retired federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, a graduate of the University of Delaware and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is the NFL’s disciplinary officer, agreed upon and paid for by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. This was her first case.

She’s oh-for-1.

Reports say that Robinson determined that Watson did, in fact, violate the league’s personal conduct policy. And she specified that Watson may not get any massages from anyone other than team-affiliated therapists. This alone indicates that Robinson considers Watson incapable of proper behavior: that his “pattern of behavior was egregious,” according to Robinson.

You know what else is egregious?

Six games.

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The suspension mirrors those imposed for first-time domestic violence, such as the 2017 suspensions of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and former Giants kicker Josh Brown and the 2021 suspension of former Washington running back Derrius Guice.

In a June hearing, the NFL asked Robinson to suspend Watson for the entire 2022 season with a minimum $5 million fine.

Watson signed a five-year, guaranteed $230 million contract when the Texans traded him to Cleveland in March. As it stands, the suspension will cost Watson just $345,000 of his $1.035 million 2022 salary. That salary was minimized during contract negotiations to mitigate the effect any suspension might have. In the parlance of Phillies anti-vaxxer J.T. Realmuto, 345K is “a little bit of money.” Realmuto lost $260,000 of his $115.5 million contract when he was unable to play two games in Canada, or 0.22%. Watson will lose 0.15%.

A very, very little bit of money.

Two grand juries in Texas last year refused to indict Watson on charges brought by 10 of the women, but criminal cases are much more difficult to prove, and, come on; it’s Texas. That left 24 lawsuits. He has settled 23 of them. The Texans last month settled the 30 lawsuits brought against them for their role in Watson’s behavior.

He denies all wrongdoing.

“I never assaulted anyone. I never harassed anyone or I never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything,” Watson claimed June 14, less than a week after the New York Times reported that he’d met with 66 massage therapists in a 17-month span, often with the Texans’ help.

Watson won’t do any jail time, but that doesn’t mean he’s innocent.

Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games in 2010 after a second woman in two years accused him of sexual assault. Watson was accused by 12 times as many women.

Tom Brady, as a result of Deflategate in 2015, was ultimately suspended for four games in 2016, essentially destroying his cellphone. So, obstruction of justice: Four games. Disgusting, serial predation: 33% more.

The NFL has at least three days to appeal the ruling. Goodell still has the final say, and yes, he can increase the penalty. But Watson is a top-five quarterback, and Cleveland is a big-time football town, and Goodell’s job is not to dilute the product on the field. As he’s shown in his 16 years as commissioner, he has little inclination toward doing the right thing.

He won’t let this linger. The league and the NFLPA agreed to this process in 2020 to remove the appearance of Goodell’s imperial reign. This is the first ruling by the disciplinary officer. Negating the decision would again cast the NFL as an unfair arbiter, and Watson, who has said he will not appeal the six-game ban, could challenge any supplemental discipline in court.

So, no, it’s probably over.

Once again, the NFL and its agents have diminished sexual misconduct. Once again, the NFL has empowered alleged sexual predators. Once again, the NFL has further diminished a woman’s right to protection, and safety, and decency.

Once again, the NFL has laid a slap on the wrist on a man, a franchise, and a league that deserved to be kicked in the gut.


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