Joe Starkey: Roger Goodell has everything he needs to obliterate Deshaun Watson ruling

Joe Starkey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

PITTSBURGH — I still have no idea what retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson was thinking when she recommended such a shamefully short suspension of Deshaun Watson.

Look at her writings. Then look at her ruling. The two don’t jibe.

Here’s a sampling of what Robinson wrote ...

— “I find that the N.F.L. has carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the N.F.L.) against the four therapists identified in the report.”

— “Mr. Watson acted with a reckless disregard for the consequences of his actions, which I find equivalent to intentional conduct.”

— “I find the evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Watson knew, or should have known, that any contact between (his genitals) and those therapists was unwanted.”

— “The N.F.L. has carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson’s conduct posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person.”

If you didn’t yet know of Robinson’s ruling, and I read those bullet points to you, what would you have guessed?

The entire season? Indefinite? At least 10-12 games?

Robinson somehow concluded that six games was the right answer. In her highly questioned opinion, Watson’s actions were “non-violent.” She also cited NFL precedent of adjudicating such matters, which was odd because the league has been notoriously lenient in these kinds of situations. There was no sensible precedent to reference.

More importantly, the league and its players just hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement in March 2020. The jointly appointed Robinson thus had a chance to create a new precedent.

Instead, she handed the ball back to the NFL after basically confirming its findings — and that is bad news for Watson and the Cleveland Browns.


NFL commissioner Roger Goodell should, and likely will, render Robinson’s decision a footnote of history. And he’ll use her writings to do it. I’m betting that if a settlement of, say, 12 games and a hefty fine cannot be reached, then Goodell will make Watson’s suspension indefinite.

Multiple reports Wednesday indicated that the league is seeking just such a suspension. Owners were livid that the Browns handed Watson $230 million guaranteed and that the deal was written to cause him little financial harm in case of a suspension. The NFL played it perfectly by waiting. Goodell now has everything he needs to do whatever he wants because the players simply cannot bring themselves to rip that power away from him. They talk a lot but cave every time.

So this is how it works: The owners and players agreed to third-party arbitration in such matters, then agreed that if either side appealed, it would go back to Goodell. He could then appoint a person of his choice to make a ruling or handle it himself.

Sure, the union will have its say after the adjusted decision. It could seek to push the case to federal court, which wouldn’t be a pretty place for the NFL to have to air its dirty laundry. But as analyst Amy Trask told 93.7 The Fan this week, a federal court is likely to reject such a case on the grounds that the two sides just agreed on protocol in a recent CBA.

In other words, why do you need us? You just worked it out for yourselves.

In the wake of Robinson’s folly, Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam issued a statement indicating they respected her decision. I’ll bet they did, even if it cast a terrible light on their new quarterback.

The Haslams also said this: “We know Deshaun is remorseful that this situation has caused much heartache to many.”

Watson has not shown a shred of remorse. In fact, Robinson wrote — in the ruling the Haslams claim to respect — that Watson has shown a “lack of expressed remorse.”

Last we heard from Watson, he denied that he has ever mistreated a woman and said, “I don’t have any regrets.”

I would hope Robinson has some, but either way, she made Goodell’s case for him. The solid bet now is that Deshaun Watson won’t be playing football for a long time.

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