HOUSTON — Late last week, when details of the NFL’s suspension stance in the Deshaun Watson investigation began circulating privately among parties involved in the case, a source in the middle of it all proposed that there was only one information that the league sought publicly disclosed. It was a nugget that would act as a public relations shield if Watson’s hearing before an independent disciplinary arbitrator didn’t go as the league office thought.
In the event that happened, the source believed the NFL wanted the public to know what it had asked for: a minimum suspension of one year.
“I think there’s a reason it’s happening because that’s what the NFL wants,” the source told Yahoo Sports. “What if the ref looks at everything and comes back with a 10-game suspension? If everyone knows the league wanted a one-year suspension, that gives the NFL the option to just say, ‘We’ve asked for a sanction. harsher, but we’re also not going to undermine a collectively bargained process and this arbitrator on their first big case, either.'”
Less than 24 hours after this claim was made on Friday, multiple media outlets reported that Watson’s disciplinary hearing would take place on Tuesday. And the Wall Street Journal reported that the NFL was effectively seeking an indefinite suspension lasting at least a year, at which time Watson could seek reinstatement. Shortly after, multiple outlets confirmed the report.
If the league wanted this one-year suspension wait to be known to the public, they got the word out.
Who is referee Sue Robinson?
What does this mean for independent umpire Sue Robinson, who will now be under the microscope when it comes to sorting through what the league found in its investigation?
Unlike years past when the NFL and NFL Players Association constantly argued behind the scenes over whether the league’s arbitration process was fair, Robinson’s position is the culmination of the latest collective bargaining agreement, eliminating an old beef between the league and the union. Not only was Robinson jointly chosen by the NFL and the union to act as disciplinary arbitrator, but she will also be paid for her services by both. And she comes with pretty impeccable credentials, having secured a federal judgeship under the administration of George HW Bush in 1991. Ultimately, she fulfilled her federal appointment through 2017, straddling five presidential administrations.
Now she’s sorting through the NFL’s Watson investigation that lasted nearly 16 months. When hearings begin on Tuesday, two sources familiar with the process told Yahoo Sports that the league should take a fairly narrow approach when it comes to whether Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy, although the scope still seems to be up for debate.
A source told Yahoo Sports that the NFL has zeroed in on six women who accuse Watson of sexual misconduct or sexual assault in their interactions with him. A second source said the number of women was five.
The two sources agreed on the only fundamental approach the NFL has taken: league investigators wanted to advance their suspension request based on the women with the most evidence available for presentation. This includes digital data in the form of text messages, personal social media messages, payment records and other forms of contemporaneous evidence, which could also include conversations the accusers had with others in the aftermath of their alleged meetings with former Houston Texans and current Cleveland Browns quarterback.
Why the NFL might not appeal Robinson’s decision if it’s a less than a year ban for Watson
Robinson will also hear what amounts to being the legal “aces” when it comes to attorneys assigned to each side of the case, between NFL Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel and the NFLPA heavy hitter. . , Jeffrey Kessler, who has extensive experience battling the league in labor and disciplinary negotiations.
Sources on both sides of the hearing seem to agree that three aspects will be key when everything is settled:
Where will Robinson land on Watson’s suspension prospects once she weighs all the evidence from NFL investigators presented to her? Will she find the cases believable? Will the alleged incidents meet the standard for one or more violations of the Personal Conduct Policy? And if so, what is the appropriate suspension for one or more offences?
Is there a precedent that Robinson believes applies in this case? While the number of allegations against Watson suggests this is unprecedented territory for a single player, the league’s push for a one-year ban is not. Last year, the NFL suspended Calvin Ridley for at least a calendar year after a gambling investigation. And in recent years, the league has also suspended players and coaches for various offenses following investigations (see: the Saints’ bounty scandal, for example). What precedent, if any, comes into play for offenses and lengths of suspension?
Perhaps most important for the NFL, will the league be willing to essentially reverse Robinson’s decision with an appeal if it goes in a direction that doesn’t overlap with the NFL’s punishment suggestion?
This last issue is being talked about behind the scenes more than some realize. Robinson represents a supposedly fairer new addition to the league’s disciplinary process. She is jointly agreed and jointly appointed to be the voice that ultimately finds the proper and fair middle ground. But she’s not the final arbiter if someone isn’t happy with her decision. Either side can ultimately appeal Robinson’s decision in terms of the length of the suspension, leaving the final decision to Goodell or whoever he may appoint to handle an appeal.
If this sounds like something that’s ultimately in the hands of the league, it’s because it’s – if the league wants to take him down that path.
If Robinson disagrees with the NFL in this matter and issues a less than one-year suspension, will the NFL appeal? A call that would go to Goodell or his designate?
As a source said on Sunday: “I honestly think the NFL will go with what Robinson decides because I don’t think they want to step on him in his very first big decision. That would be a bad look. for the NFL to come out and say this co-chosen federal judge with a lengthy record fundamentally got it wrong on her first attempt, then call on Roger [Goodell] or whoever he chooses, for what would essentially be a one-sided final decision on discipline. If that’s what’s happening, then what’s the point of having a disciplinary officer chosen by both parties? What’s the point if the NFL comes out and says the federal judge they helped pick is somehow incompetent from the start? »
While this issue may seem deep in the weeds of the Watson case, it may play a bigger role in what’s unfolding this week than people realize. That may also be why the NFL may have wanted the one-year suspension suggestion made public.
Now that it does, the league has an opportunity to accept Robinson’s final decision, but also let the public know that it still believes a harsher penalty is worth it. Ultimately, this could be a middle ground the NFL can live with.