Kyle Smedley is a journalism and telecommunications major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has had 24 civil lawsuits accusing him of “a pattern of coercive and lewd behavior”, 23 of which have been settled. It was announced August 1 that Watson is set to be suspended for six of the 17 games in the 2022 National Football League (NFL) season, forfeiting only a reported $345,000 (if any) of his $230 million contract during said suspension.
Watson has had 24 civil lawsuits against him. In July 2022, the quarterback’s former team, the Houston Texans, reached settlements with 30 women accusing Watson of misconduct. It is reported that six of the women who sued the Texans, didn’t sue Watson.
All of these claims stem from Watson booking “massage appointments” where he would then, supposedly, engage in “lewd and coercive behavior”. According to an investigation by the New York Times, Watson booked massage appointments with at least 66 women.
Not only is this lax suspension the equivalent of a slap on the wrist to Watson, but it outlines perhaps the NFL’s biggest problem. What exactly is their suspension policy, if they even have one?
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended indefinitely March 7, 2022, for gambling. He is set to be suspended the entire 2022 season, if not longer. This comes after Ridley announced, after playing five games in 2021, he needed to take a break from football to improve his mental health, missing the rest of the season.
A multitude of players in the National Football League (NFL) have served one-year suspensions or longer for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Chief among them is Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Josh Gordon, who has been suspended for violating said policy (normally for using marijuana) six times.
Ridley’s suspension, Gordon’s past suspensions and so many other past suspensions have included the player being stripped of their entire salary for that season. Not only does Watson not get suspended a full season, but he isn’t set to be fined even half a million dollars.
What a joke.
Watson was said to be suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. A personal conduct policy that is less harsh than a substance abuse policy.
“Conduct by anyone in the league that is illegal, violent, dangerous, or irresponsible puts innocent victims at risk, damages the reputation of others in the game, and undercuts public respect and support for the NFL,” reads an excerpt from said policy. “...Players convicted of a crime or subject to a disposition of a criminal proceeding (as defined in this Policy) are subject to discipline. But even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, players found to have engaged in any of the following conduct will be subject to discipline.”
What does all this actually mean?
There is no set period of time a player will be suspended if he violates this policy, however, almost every time a player violates the substance abuse policy, the player is suspended a full season. I think it’s safe to say this should be the case if a player has 24 civil lawsuits filed against him, and 30 filed against his former team because of him.
If Calvin Ridley is suspended an entire season, if not longer, for gambling on NFL games, Deshaun Watson ought to be suspended two full seasons, if not longer, for such heinous allegations. The NFL has a history of largely ignoring allegations of this nature as well.
Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested in July 2014 on domestic violence charges and was promptly suspended for two games. Two months later when a video was released of Rice beating a woman in an elevator, the NFL added ten games to his suspension, resulting in a 12-game total (not a full season).
Current Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games in 2017 for domestic violence allegations, though he was never criminally charged. Current New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended three games in 2018 for sexual misconduct allegations.
There are more than just these four instances of players being suspended for shorter amounts of time for allegations against women than being caught with cannabis in their system, but you get the point. The point is, although the NFL technically has policies on these issues, none of them are clear and none of them are fair.
Watson’s latest suspension practically does nothing. It doesn’t serve justice to the 24 women who filed civil lawsuits against him, it doesn’t fine Watson enough money or suspend him enough games for him to really feel disciplined and it doesn’t set an encouraging precedent for the future.
Many around the NFL say Watson’s suspension will grow as backlash grows, and while that’s a positive, that should never be a problem in the first place. The NFL should have already suspended Watson “indefinitely”, they should have already stripped him of his $46 million salary for 2022.
If any of these allegations against Watson are true, which it doesn’t matter if one or all 30 are, the quarterback needs to do some serious soul searching, that much is clear. What should be even clearer is the NFL’s need for change as well.
While the NFL is a great league to watch world-class athletes play football at their best ability, it is deeply flawed from a professional standpoint. Change in these so-called “policies” needs to come and they need to come in this very case.