If the NFL has any integrity left, it will allow the Deshaun Watson suspension to stand. But this is the NFL, so the media reaction to the suspension will play a key role.
Prior to the announcement, Watson and the NFLPA announced that they would not appeal the ruling of Judge Sue Robinson, a jointly appointed independent arbitrator.
They also urged the NFL to do the same.
The NFL, however, has not agreed to live by the ruling of Judge Robinson.
More than just a suspension
At stake is more than the suspension of Watson. At stake is the very disciplinary process as collectively bargained in the new collective bargaining agreement.
While NFL players, and former Browns center J.C. Tretter who was the NFLPA player president, were sitting out of OTAs for health reasons, the NFLPA was negotiating a new agreement with the NFL owners. The issues on the table were player safety, adding more games to the schedule, and the number of preseason games.
What should have been on the table was the dysfunctional disciplinary process. The former agreement let the NFL commissioner arbitrarily set discipline. Players and the NFLPA often found the punishment failed to fit the crime. More importantly, the system didn’t allow an appeal process with any meaning. The buck literally stopped at the commissioner.
The new collective bargaining agreement isn’t much better. Although gains in the area of player safety, post-NFL benefits, and adding games to the schedule are important, the dysfunctional disciplinary process remained relatively intact. Except the new agreement rears the dysfunction while putting make-up on it.
But a pig with make-up on is still a pig. The new process now has a “jointly appointed independent arbitrator” to hear the player’s case and make a determination. But, should either side not like the decision, the players or the NFL itself can appeal the decision.
At this point, the NFL commissioner has the final power to levy discipline with no recourse for appeal. Now, if you are thinking this sounds just like the old CBA, then you are correct. The pig is still a pig.
Now that the suspension of 6 games has been announced, the only real question remaining is: Will the NFL appeal the suspension?
The NFL’s stance has long been in favor of an indefinite suspension for Watson. Even though he settled three more cases today leaving only one remaining, the NFL is looking to make an example of him and to come out ahead in the public relations game.
The NFL is out of control
Watson and his team have demonstrated the obvious hypocrisy of the NFL when it comes to disciplining players versus disciplining owners. They have correctly argued that the NFL’s own policy is to treat owners more severely in matters of discipline. A similar case to Watson’s occurred with New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft. Kraft was not disciplined.
One can make the case on legal grounds that Watson was over-disciplined already. That is, Judge Robinson’s punishment was excessive given relevant NFL policies and recent history. But that’s the legal argument. The moral argument, i.e. the argument of public perception, is a different case.
Should the NFL appeal the suspension, they will demonstrate just exactly how far gone the NFL is as an institution. For years, the NFL has had no real supervision and acts arbitrarily due to whatever wind blew that morning.
Should the NFL decide to appeal the case to the commissioner, it would demonstrate a combative attitude toward its players. It would also shake what little faith the players have in the NFL’s ability to discipline players justly.
But more importantly, should the NFL appeal this ruling, it will be spitting directly in the face of its own policies and procedures. It proves they negotiated the latest collective bargaining agreement in bad faith. In short, it should demonstrate to the rational world that the NFL is out of control.
Ultimately, it will show that Tretter’s desire to lead an all-player refusal to participate in OTAs was misguided. It not only hurt the Browns last season, but it took the focus off the real issue: the need for a fair and just disciplinary system.
It’s all in the hands of the NFL now. Will it be rule of law? Will they respect their policies and agreements with the players when it looks bad? Or will they bow to the pressure of bad press? In doing so, will they demonstrate just how out of control the whole organization is?
If I had to wager a guess, get ready for an appeal. The NFL has demonstrated no respect for its players in the past. Why should they start now?