Deshaun Watson –Why the NFL suspended him 6 games but two grand juries didn’t indict with even more evidence and same proof requirements.
The NFL, through an independent arbitrator, former federal Judge Sue L. Robinson, has suspended Cleveland Brown quarterback, Deshaun Watson, for six (six) regular games. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson made her decision based on only 4 cases as opposed to the two grand juries which reviewed 22 cases. The league can appeal it but for now, this is the decision based on the allegations of sexual misconduct. Watson has never admitted to any misconduct and maintains innocence.
Watson allegedly violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and according to this independent arbitrator, paid by the league, there wasn’t enough evidence to suspend him indefinitely. Watson, if you recall, was sued civilly by over 24 women for alleged sexual misconduct. Two Texas Grand Juries, however, failed to indict Watson on criminal charges. Robinson, unlike the grand juries, is employed by the league, serves at the pleasure of the commissioner, and is being paid a substantial salary for a position she likely wants to maintain in the long term. Her exact salary is unknown but she is likely be paid more compensation for her services than she ever made as an attorney or a federal judge.
The Burden of Proof
It is important to understand that the standard in a civil court, however, is much lower than in a criminal court (guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.) The civil standard and the NFL personal conduct policy evidentiary standard, however, is very similar to the grand jury standard which is prima facie (preponderance or more probable than not). Basically, a grand jury decides if a Judge or jury could find a person guilty of criminal offenses and not whether a person was actually guilty of them. With that said, the fact that the grand jury choose not to indict Watson is strong evidence to indicate that there was some major issue with the allegations as the evidentiary burden of proof before a Grand Jury is much lower.
While the NFL has issued a suspension, the league obviously is not governed by any federal or state rules of criminal or civil procedure or civil law. Ironically, however, according to Judge Robinson, the NFL had the burden to prove by “a preponderance of the evidence” that Watson engaged in sexual assault as defined by the NFL against alleged massage therapist; the same as burden of proof before a grand jury which didn’t find enough evidence to indict.
What make Watson’s case different from previous cases in the NFL?
Despite the six-game suspension, it is still not the longest suspension for alleged misconduct which is considered detrimental to the NFL. The longest suspension in NFL history was ten (10) games for Jarron Jones, who in 2001 pled guilty of multiple counts to domestic violence, followed by Kareem Hunt in 2019 and Mark Walton in 2020. Each of these men were suspended for eight (8) games, but again they pled guilty to domestic violence. Watson, unlike these men, however, was never indicted and never convicted of any crime! The NFL players Association indicated that they will not appeal the suspension, but NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, can overrule Robinson’s ruling and increase Watson’s suspension.
What made the NFL’s arbitrator decision different the grand juries’ decision
At the end of the day, the case against Watson had to result in a significant suspension to satisfy fans who would have likely boycotted games, and possibly sponsors who likely threatened to end contracts worth billions of dollars. The grand jury didn’t have these same considerations and were therefore free to make decisions based on the actual credible evidence and not on media pressure from analyst who, for the most part, have no legal education or training.
I hate to say stick to sports but believing that allegations are credible simply because there are a lot of them doesn’t make them credible. There is a legal process and the process is designed to determine credibility. When you interject a paid arbitrator who wants to keep her job, billions of dollars in sponsorship money, and the sports media into that process, it is no longer the impartial body that was intended but rather a mob seeking a result regardless of standard of proof required or the evidence.