Since March of 2021, 25 women have filed civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson accusing him of sexual assault during massage appointments. As a result of this, Former Judge Sue L. Robinson was appointed by Roger Goodell, the NFL’s commissioner, to decide his punishment. After months of private investigation and hearings, Robinson decided to suspend Watson for six games for “violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy” on Monday, August 1st.
The NFL appealed the decision on August 3rd as they sought an indefinite suspension that would last at least a full season. After two weeks of arbitration, the NFL and NFLPA agreed upon a new punishment for Watson on August 18th: An 11-game suspension, a $5 million fine, and mandatory counseling. He is now set to return to the team for their week 13 matchup against his former team, the Houston Texans, on December 4th.
When the Cleveland Browns traded for Watson earlier this year and gave him a $230 million fully-guaranteed contract, they proved to the rest of the NFL, as well as the fans, that they do not take sexual assault seriously. The speculation that the victims in March of 2021 were just going after Watson and his money is void considering 25 women have made very similar accusations regarding Watson’s actions.
Leading up to this decision, the NFL had an opportunity to set a new precedent for the way it punishes players that commit heinous acts like Watson did, much like the NBA currently does with Miles Bridges.
In 2014, the NFL suspended Ray Rice for just two games after a video surfaced of him repeatedly hitting his fiance. In 2018, the league suspended Kareem Hunt for eight games after a video was released of him kicking his girlfriend and throwing her to the ground.
Instead of setting a new precedent, the NFL let Watson go almost completely unscathed. In fact, in her 16-page report on the suspension, Sue Robinson cited precedent and a lack of violence for Watson’s short suspension. Despite calling Watson's actions "predatory," Roger Goodell decided 11 games was long enough. 11 games and $5 million are barely anything for Watson given his new contract. This will allow Watson to return to his team and play in December despite the terrible things that he has done. It also gives the Browns very little penalty for not caring about Watson’s actions either.
In the last few years, the NFL has issued harsh punishments to some players. Less than a year ago, Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022-23 season for betting on football games that he was not playing in. In 2018, Martavis Bryant was suspended indefinitely for marijuana use and has yet to be reinstated. For this upcoming season, Deandre Hopkins was suspended for six games for using performance-enhancing drugs. For the very same NFL season, the league has suspended two players the same amount of games: Hopkins for having trace amounts of a performance enhancer and Watson for sexually assaulting 25 women.
The NFL continues to prove that the only thing they care about is the play on the field. Whatever the players are doing off the field, minus sports betting and banned supplements is not of concern to the league. As a football fan, this decision makes me extremely sad and angry because the only thing that the league wants is to cash their massive checks and let terrible people profit off of their talent. While this situation with Deshaun Watson is unlike any the NFL has seen before, they have failed miserably to bring justice in a situation that has had none thus far as almost all of the lawsuits filed against Watson have been settled.
This article was updated on August 18 at 12:30 EST to reflect the changes agreed upon regarding Deshaun Watson's suspension.