Why Deshaun Watson Is Suing The NFL Probably Won’t Work

On Monday, it was announced that former Texan quarterback (and current Cleveland Brown) Deshaun Watson would be suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season for committing sexual assault in a multi-woman massage setting, as determined by former judge and current NFL. Referee Sue L. Robinson.

Prior to announcing the length of the suspension, the NFL Players Association, the union to which Deshaun Watson belongs, pleaded with the league not to appeal the duration of the suspension:

In other words, “Hey, we’ll be fine with whatever the penalty is, so owners, fans and Roger Goodell should be too!” Needless to say it didn’t work. On Wednesday, the NFL appealed Robinson’s decision, and the belief now is that Goodell and his investigative team will significantly increase Watson’s sentence, possibly all the way to a full-season suspension for 2022.

The appeal will be heard by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, a distinguished attorney and former prosecutor. No one knows what Harvey is going to do, but he was hand-picked by Goodell, so that makes predicting the outcome a little easier. Watson will probably get the book thrown at him.

On Friday, the NFLPA filed their response to the appeal, and Harvey is expected to announce its decision on any changes he makes to Watson’s suspension in the very near future. If the suspension is significantly increased, the NFLPA has already said it will sue the league in federal court on behalf of Watson.

In the past, there have been players who have sued the league for punishing players, and it has allowed them to at least get on the field and play while the courts settle things. Former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was able to play in 2015 while suing the league over his four-game suspension for Deflate-Gate. He finally served his sentence in 2016 after losing in court. Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott sued the league in 2017 over a six-game ban for domestic violence, and he was allowed to take the field at the start of the 2017 season. He ultimately lost his lawsuit and accepted his sentence at the end of the 2017 campaign.

Since Brady and Elliott were able to enforce bans and get on the field when they were suspended by the NFL, and at least kick the suspension down the road for a period of time, people assumed the same thing could happen to Deshaun Watson. However, legal experts have pointed out that it will be much harder for Watson to get a court order that will allow him to play to start the season in 2022.

In a nutshell, here are the top reasons why, unlike Brady and Elliott, Watson will likely need to take his meds and serve out his time, even if he’s suing the league in federal court:

Watson has already accepted a six-game suspension without appeal
Unlike Brady and Elliott, who disputed that they should even be suspended, Watson has already said (via the NFLPA’s statement above) that he accepts the six-game suspension, so his actions show he is facing some kind of punishment. accepts. To get an injunction that would file the suspension while the court heard this case, Watson would also have to demonstrate irreparable harm from a longer suspension, which is virtually impossible if you’ve already accepted a suspension of some sort. In other words, the difference between repairable damage and irreparable damage is not 11 extra games with an NFL suspension. In fact, a one-year suspension in 2023 would actually cause Watson MORE financial damage, as his contract in 2022 was set up to make his lost game checks for a suspension small, compared to future seasons.

The NFL and NFLPA agreed in the CBA on this method of punishment
Prior to the new 2020 collective bargaining agreement, Roger Goodell was a judge, jury and executioner in all player behavior issues. Part of Brady and Elliott’s arguments was that the process of determining punishment — essentially a one-man dictatorship — was unfair. To bring more balance to the process, the owners and players agreed to add Robinson as the recommendation for punishment, giving either side the right to appeal any discipline imposed. That’s exactly what happens. Nothing happens here outside of the agreed format. So the courts, who love it when parties can make their own decisions through arbitration, probably won’t look favorably on the NFLPA hiding the justice system and saying the process the NFLPA agreed to in the CBA is unfair.

To get a ban, precedent must show that Watson is likely to win his lawsuit
As outlined above, there are plenty of reasons why Watson’s case would likely fail in court, and his case is actually much weaker than Brady’s and Elliott’s, who both lost in court. Therefore, the precedent here is heavily stacked against Watson.

I still think you can make a good case for a 12-game suspension and a roughly $10 million fine as an appropriate punishment for Watson, and being somewhat within the precedent of previous penalties for NFL players. Robinson said the NFL’s toughest penalty she had seen for non-violent sex offenses was a three-game suspension. If they give Watson three games for each of the four cases brought before Robinson (again, the NFL only brought up four out of 24 civil cases during their hearings), and a $10 million fine for the $10 million that he received to do absolutely nothing for the Texans last year, there’s a logic to that.

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