Opinion

Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns was recently given a laughably meager six-game suspension by an NFL arbitrator despite receiving numerous sexual misconduct claims against him. This has prompted many people to compare his punishment to that of other offenders and find it almost comically insignificant.

Watson has six games? Since Vontaze Burfict was hit hard on the field, he lost twice as many games. DeAndre Hopkins left the same number of games for trace amounts of PEDs discovered in his system. Josh Gordon and Darren Waller each missed the entirety of a season due to marijuana use. Famously, Tom Brady’s suspension for deflating footballs to make them easier to throw and catch was reduced by two games. How is that possible? The NFL is implying that those violations are less significant than alleged repeated sexual harassment, right?

The NFL does not claim that. Always keep in mind that the NFL remains silent at all times.
However, the NFL is obviously not stating that. Always keep in mind that the NFL remains silent at all times.

The NFL once aimed to avoid ever disciplining players without a formal conviction in a court of law. That’s why, in 2007 until he actually pled guilty, they didn’t penalize quarterback Michael Vick for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. Social media, however, altered that. But the NFL later understood that neglecting to proactively discipline players would result in a severe public relations issue, particularly in the aftermath of the Ray Rice domestic abuse story from eight years ago. So the league began enforcing its own laws.

Here, there is a clear issue: The NFL is a sports league, not a criminal justice system. Therefore, its suspensions and penalties, if any exist at all, are not intended to be fair or prudent or to establish any kind of precedent. They are just intended to help the league get through whatever PR issue it may be facing at the time. Are people outraged by Burfict’s headhunting? Twelve games, please! Are some league owners upset that athletes are abusing drugs? For a year, outlaw them! Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, is experiencing a lot of stress as a result of the “Deflategate” affair. Brady deserves four games! A means to get everyone off the leagues’ back so they could resume playing games and making money, of course, the penalties were practically fiats by press release. It would be foolish to expect consistency from a system that is so incompetent.

This is also one of the primary reasons the league appointed a judge as an arbitrator in the first place: League officials believed that retired federal Judge Sue Robinson would remove them from the decision-making process. Robinson’s final decision in Watson’s case can be contested, but to me, the punishment seems light. Comparing it to other choices, however, completely misses the point. The NFL is making an effort to disassociate itself from these kind of sanctions. It is incapable of making moral decisions.

Robinson, though, wasn’t involved in these other previous choices. If she had been, perhaps there would have been a pattern of punishment. Instead, Goodell served as both the judge and the executioner. If anything, this case is almost intended to be the start of a shift to a more unbiased type of punishment, one that isn’t solely dependent on Goodell and his PR crew.

It is important to remember that no ban may seem appropriate when it comes to offenses as heinous and disgusting as those for which Watson has been accused. You read the accusations, and you sort of want him gone forever since you don’t want to look at him at all. Remember that, he hasn’t been charged with a crime, has consistently denied any misconduct, and the most of the civil lawsuits have already been settled. Additionally, the NFLPA has publicly stated that it would contest any excessively long Watson suspension. (That it is supporting this one is therefore extremely telling.)

The NFL is attempting to create a benchmark. I know I do, but you might not agree with that standard. But this standard is different. The league is also attempting to follow public sentiment less frequently than in the past. On the surface, that seems like a wonderful thing. Public opinion is skewed and unstable. It is evident that the NFL has never been particularly effective at controlling the inappropriate behavior of its stars. The evidence for it is those absurd punishments from the past. However, their poor performance does not make this decision worse. This choice is already regrettable enough.

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