After months of deliberation, federal judge Sue L. Robinson has finally disciplined Deshaun Watson, suspending the Browns quarterback six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The three-time Pro Bowler had been facing widespread allegations of sexual misconduct, resulting in countless lawsuits and a criminal investigation. Watson has since reached settlements with most of his accusers and will not face charges after a Texas grand jury declined to indict him.
The NFL has three days to either appeal or accept Robinson’s ruling, which would suspend the 26-year-old through Cleveland’s Week 6 matchup with New England on October 16th. Journeyman Jacoby Brissett will presumably start in Watson’s place.
Watson, who is due a $1.035-million base salary this season, will not be fined, though, if his suspension stands, he’ll forfeit roughly $345,000 in game checks. Robinson’s 15-page conclusion also stipulates Watson can only receive massages from team-licensed therapists.
Reaction to Monday’s announcement was overwhelmingly negative with fans and analysts lamenting what they felt was an embarrassingly light sentence, equating Watson’s six-game ban to a slap on the wrist.
In justifying her ruling, Robinson described Watson’s “egregious” pattern of behavior as “nonviolent sexual conduct.” Many on social media took exception to that phrasing, wondering how an alleged sexual predator avoided major discipline compared to some of the stiffer punishments doled out to Calvin Ridley (suspended a full year for betting on games he didn’t play in) and Josh Gordon, the latter shelved multiple seasons for repeated violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Notably, Watson’s suspension is the same length as the one his former Texans teammate DeAndre Hopkins recently received for PEDs.
It's unclear if Watson missing all of last season (he was a healthy scratch for Houston’s entire 17-game slate but still received his full salary) factored into Robinson’s decision. But even in the absence of criminal charges and a general acceptance of the legal precedent “innocent until proven guilty,” suspending Watson only six games (just two games more than Tom Brady received for doctoring footballs during the Patriots’ Super Bowl run in 2014) is a slap in the face for assault victims everywhere and richly deserving of the backlash it’s sure to receive from fans, outraged by the NFL enabling an alleged sexual abuser.
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