On Monday, Judge Sue L. Robinson found out, about the factual charges against the Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, that he did what the union accused him of doing. Her decision to suspend Watson for only six games arose out of separate considerations.
Specifically, she concluded that Watson engaged in a “non-violent sexual assault.” And she discovered, based on previous precedent, that a nonviolent sexual assault did not justify the form of punishment the union sought.
On page 13 of her ruling, Judge Robinson wrote that “earlier cases involving nonviolent sexual assault have resulted in discipline much less severe than what the NFL proposes here, with the most severe penalty being a three-match suspension for a player who has been warned previously for his conduct”.
That player, we say, midfielder of Saints James Winston. He was given a three-match suspension for the start of the 2018 season for hitting an Uber driver.”in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent. Winston’s suspension was the result of a negotiated compromise between the league and the NFL Players Association.
Judge Robinson concluded that the union was attempting to significantly increase penalties for nonviolent sexual assault “without notice of an unusual change” in the union’s approach. The point of the league is that the rules haven’t changed, but the facts have changed. On page 12, Judge Robinson explained that the league featured their proposed one-year suspension as “unprecedented. . . because his conduct is unmatched.”
Basically, the point of the tournament is that it doesn’t change the rules. The point of the league is that it is applying existing rules to a reality it has never seen before.
As for Winston’s three-match suspension, he has only one victim. Watson has four. The NFL interviewed 12 of the people Watson allegedly assaulted, but he was sued by 24 different people — and settled with all but one of them. Although Judge Robinson tried to ignore these basic facts, most would have trouble doing so.
And some people will have trouble distinguishing “non-violent” sexual assault from sexual assault. Sexual assault is still sexual assault. If anything, it appears that the federation’s past clumsy attempts at leniency against certain players prevented the federation from getting the verdict Judge Robinson wanted against Watson.
That said, the federation secured the necessary factual findings from Judge Robinson to allow Commissioner or his designee to impose a much higher penalty, should the NFL appeal the ruling. Again, she concluded that Watson did what he was accused of. At this point, it would be a surprise if the federation did not appeal the decision to Goodell, and it would be a surprise if he did not increase the suspension.