This article appeared in the August 04, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Fair for whom? Deshaun Watson’s NFL punishment and treatment of women.

Ron Schwane/AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, at the team training facility March 25, 2022, in Berea, Ohio, was suspended for six games on Aug. 1, 2022, for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. The NFL wants a longer punishment.

Six games. That’s the suspension given to Deshaun Watson, one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. The punishment announced Monday by a retired federal judge was for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Sue Robinson was hired as an independent arbiter to deliver consistency and fairness to NFL punishments. But thanks to outcry over the six-game wrist slap, the NFL now wants a do-over.

Mr. Watson was accused by 25 massage therapists of unwanted sexual contact. Mr. Watson has settled 23 of 24 civil lawsuits. Two Texas grand juries declined to charge him. But Ms. Robinson described his behavior as “egregious” and “predatory.” The NFL’s investigation, she wrote in her 16-page decision, proved, “by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL).” 

Her findings made the six-game suspension (in a 17-game season) “mystifying and disheartening,” wrote columnist Judy Battista.

Ms. Robinson’s justification: “I am bound by standards of fairness and consistency,” she wrote. To date in the NFL, “the most commonly-imposed discipline for domestic or gendered violence and sexual acts is a 6-game suspension.”

But by relying on past erratic and arguably inadequate NFL punishments, by leaning on a standard of giving fair notice to players of any penalty change, and by ignoring the societal context of the #MeToo movement, Ms. Robinson appeared to prize consistency and fairness for players over a broader sense of fairness and justice for women. In the future, if an NFL player sexually assaults a woman – or 25 women – will six games always be the maximum penalty? What would justify a longer suspension?

The NFL is an entertainment enterprise and nearly half of its fans are women. On Wednesday, the NFL commissioner, who wanted a full-season suspension, took steps to toughen Mr. Watson’s punishment. The NFL players union is likely to object, and all sides will end up in court. Still, the NFL’s move to challenge the arbiter’s decision, despite more legal costs and prolonging its PR problem, adds some credibility to the league’s claims to care about the well-being of women.

This article appeared in the August 04, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 08/04 edition
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