It was reported yesterday that the NFL has formally appealed the ruling by Sue L. Robinson handed down in the case of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was suspended for six games as a result of the disciplinary officer ruling he had committed at least four acts of sexual misconduct against massage therapists he employed over a 17-month period.
The league wanted him to serve an indefinite suspension of at least a year, and with commissioner Roger Goodell wielding the authority to serve as appeals officer, that’s what many believe precisely what he will decide upon.
Because there can be no new evidence provided during an appeals case, there isn’t really much that either side can do at this point that isn’t already reflected in the record. According to Josina Anderson, however, Watson’s camp intends to invoke one name in particular: former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Although no charges were ever field, Roethlisberger in 2010 was accused of raping a woman in a bar restroom in Milledgeville, GA. That was the case that set the league precedent of dispensing discipline for conduct not taken to the criminal level.
In that case, Goodell initially suspended Roethlisberger for six games, which was later reduced to four games upon appeal. Watson’s camp intends to argue that there is no grounds for each case taking the same starting point and yet going in opposite directions.
There is, after all, only one direction this can go, as the NFLPA has already stated that it will not appeal the decision (the deadline for which is in a few hours). Either it will stay at six games, or Goodell (or his appointee) will determine that the suspension should be longer.
Part of his original argument was with regards to the discrepancy in treatment between players and owners for similar offenses, an argument that did have merit. At the same time, one must acknowledge a changing landscape, wherein we likely would not see the same discipline for Roethlisberger today as was given then.
The crucial point here is that Robinson did effectively ascent to every part of the NFL’s case against Watson, and even offered that the veteran quarterback was remorseless over it. Her only grounds for not handing out a longer sentence was that it would conflict with established precedent she believes players should be allowed to reasonably expect.
But how meaningful is a 12-year-old precedent? The league’s views, spurred on by shifting priorities in public opinion, on topics such as violence against women and sexual assault have become harsher over the past dozen years. So good luck to Watson and his camp, but don’t expect Big Ben’s case to help you out at all.