by Brandon Reiter
The NFL has consistently been inconsistent with the way they handle disciplining their star athletes. Their continuous mismanagement has been a PR nightmare on top the myriad issues they have been faced with over the last several years.
On Monday, a judge that was jointly appointed by the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association ruled that Deshaun Watson, quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, will be suspended for 6 games without pay amid (a lot) of sexual misconduct allegations against him.
Watson has been on of leagues biggest stars since he was drafted in 2017 by the Houston Texans, after he won the NCAA Championship at Clemson the year before. During his first 4 years in the league, Watson has emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, throwing for more than 14,000 yards and 104 touchdowns. He has also rushed for more than 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns, proving to be one of the best duel-threat playmakers.
Despite his prowess, Watson did not play a single game in 2021 due to the allegations against him. The Texans traded him to Cleveland this past march, wanting to move away from the drama. Watson was sued by a total of 24 women who worked as massage therapists for the quarterback. All but one of those cases has been settled according to the plaintiffs’ attorney.
The latest lawsuit was filed against Watson in May, where the massage therapist said she had two encounters with the Football star. According to her, the first session was professional, but during the second she alleged that Watson exposed himself and engaged her in unwanted sexual conduct.
Since this is his first offense with the league, the ruling of a 6 game suspension is the maximum penalty for this type of misconduct, which is classified as “conduct detrimental to the league”.
While this is the most significant punishment for an NFL player for a allegations of a non-violent sexual conduct, the league’s punishment system does not seem to follow any consistency or logic, and has led to the public questioning how seriously they take important issues like sexual misconduct and abuse.
The ruling is being compared to the suspension of another star, Calvin Ridley, a prominent wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons. In March, Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on NFL games, including games his own team played. Ridley wagered a total of $1,500 and it took place when he was not playing with the team. This is not to say that players should gamble on games as it can compromise the integrity of the game, and possibly lead fans to believe certain games are fixed if players are able to make wagers on the game. Ridley should have not done what he did, as the consequences for such an action have been in place for a while and the risk is not worth the reward.
It is also important to note that the NFL was pushing for a more severe punishment for Watson and can still appeal the ruling which came from the independent judge appointed by both sides. Watson has already stated that he will not appeal the ruling.
There have been numerous incidents involving NFL players and misconduct and physical abuse in the past which the NFL has repeatedly mismanaged. The most notorious being the Ray Rice incident, when the Running Back was caught on video punching is wife in the face. The NFL apparently had seen the videos before they were made public and were only going to suspend Rice for two games. After the public backlash following the release of those videos the Rice never played in the NFL again.
While the league went through their protocols in determining the appropriate sentence for Watson, the 6 game suspension pales in comparison to the punishment of Ridley who’s crimes are wayyyyyy less egregious and does not involve sexual misconduct of TWO DOZEN WOMEN!
The NFL’s consistent mismanagement has proven to be a PR nightmare, and puts their integrity at stake in the public eye. Viewers are forced to ask themself if the NFL only cares about the money, or they truly care about serious issues like sexual misconduct and abuse. Ridley’s offense could have a serious impact on the league’s bottom line, and his punishment serves as a huge deterrence for other players in the future. Watson on the other hand comes out with a mere slap on the wrist because he makes the league a lot of money by performing on the field, but what message is the NFL trying to send out?