Deshaun Watson’s flawed punishment is a lesson for Roger Goodell’s NFL


Deshaun Watson’s inadequate six-game sentence for sexual misconduct is nonetheless the NFL’s cleanest legal process to date under Roger Goodell — and that’s a terrible thing to say. You know you’re in a bind when the NFL can decide to call in himself on the actions of the judge he helped appoint. The skeins of illogicality in this matter will only create even bigger knots in Goodell’s tie. But perhaps an injustice in this case will help prevent future extreme swings in the NFL’s pendulum of injustice.

Watson’s punishment, handed down by former judge Sue L. Robinson, is shockingly light, but at least it was handed down by a neutral and independent referee, and that made her decision worthy of more respect than the previous precinct proceedings conducted by the subject Goodell. It’s a terrible choice, isn’t it? Which is better: let Goodell have complete and heavy dominance or seek to limit his power and end up with a half-passenger like Watson’s? It sucks to say it, but this latest version of Flawed Justice is better.

Deshaun Watson suspended for six games by a disciplinary officer

The only reason Robinson was even able to give Watson a penalty was because NFL players had come to distrust Goodell’s motives so much that they insisted on some form of independent arbitration in the convention. Collective of 2020. Robinson’s nomination, formerly of the U.S. District Court, was mutually agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA, and now the league can live with her. Or, if Goodell wants to exercise his persistent role as overlord calling for unilaterally imposing a harsher sentence, he can face the strident legal response – and explain in open court the difference between his treatment of Watson and Washington Commanders owner Daniel Snyder. for overseeing a franchise plagued by serial sexual harassment.

Robinson’s reasoning in her 16-page decision is fascinating in that she finds not one but two culprits: in the first half she finds Watson guilty of unwanted sexual touching, and in the second half she finds the league guilty of wayward standards. What is proportionate sentencing? It shouldn’t have been such a tough question in Watson’s case – except it was because of the league’s history of handing out six-game love taps to even its most violent aggressors. women.

As Robinson pointed out, in the NFL, “By far the most common discipline imposed for domestic or gender-based violence and sexual acts is a 6-game suspension. Only two players have been suspended for 8 games, one for multiple incidents of domestic violence and the second for the assault of multiple victims.

Let’s be clear: the NFL has proven that Watson forced unwanted sexual touching on multiple massage therapists, and it has settled 23 civil lawsuits. But the judge could see no precedent – as a fundamental matter of legal fairness – by which she could grant Watson the one-year suspension the league was seeking, thanks to all the lousy march of this case, dating of Goodell’s decision to give Ray Rice only played two games for hitting his future wife in 2014. She found the NFL’s one-year suspension request against Watson more a response to the “outcry general” than in accordance with its policy.

“Here, the NFL is attempting to impose a more sweeping change in its culture without the benefit of fair notice – and consistency of consequences for – those in the NFL subject to the policy,” Robinson wrote.

Why are precedent and proportionality important? Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, answered the question better than anyone in his book “Doing Justice.”

“People will consider an outcome fair if they consider the process leading to it to be fair and if they believe the people responsible for it to be fair,” he wrote. “It is often said that not only must justice be done, but it must also be seen as such.”

Four takeaways from Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension decision

Nothing about NFL player penalties in recent years has seemed right on track or just witty. Goodell’s imposition of “discipline” – a childish word for adult conduct in the workplace – oscillated between political calculation and angry. Either he’s puffing out air or he’s making decisions with the nuance of a press gang. Above all, he seems to care about changing public opinion.

The NFL is a victim of its own terrible mistakes in previous highly charged cases. It ended with a judge who treated the issue of Watson’s sentence as she would a case in court and refused to exercise too much latitude. That’s to be expected when you hire a retired federal judge. Good judges try not to wither or pander to popular outrage – it’s not a system, frankly, none of us would want to live by. As the NFL demonstrates, it’s a system that quickly turns into inconsistency, with penalties alternately cruel and toothless.

What you want in a judge, or an arbiter of anything, is someone impartial, with a decent sense of previous context. Whatever you may think of the wisdom of Robinson’s decision, it operated at least in context. “I am bound by standards of fairness and consistency of treatment between like-minded players,” she wrote.

No one can rejoice in the lightness of the sentence. But you might feel much worse if you had to work in a world without consistency-seeking judgments.

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