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Three Reasons Deshaun Watson Didn't Receive Indefinite Suspension

The 11-game suspension Deshaun Watson received was controversial at the time and left a lot of unanswered questions. Gary Gramling and Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated delved into what caused the NFL to back off their demand for an indefinite suspension.
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The NFL was adamant that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun would receive an indefinite suspension lasting at least one year due to violations of the personal conduct policy connected with allegations of sexual assault and misconduct from at least two dozen women. That isn't what happened. Instead, Watson was given an 11-game suspension, which is why he's primed to debut for the Browns against the Houston Texans.

There were plenty of rumors as to why the league was willing to come down from their demands, some of which proved to be true. In an exclusive, Gary Gramling and Alex Prewitt of Sports Illustrated got the details of the lengths the NFLPA was willing to go, expanding the argument from simply being about Watson and putting the focus on the rampant hypocrisy of the league.

Jeffrey Kessler crafted a 13-page letter that included three main points of contention.

1. Past transgressions of Owners

This was expected and loudly rumored throughout Watson's process and the resulting appeal. The NFLPA's contention was the league was soft on owners and at times completely ignoring their conduct entirely.

It was expected to shed light on a list of complaints labeled against Daniel Snyder, the current owner of the Washington Commanders. That likely would not have been provocative given that so much of it was already public as a result of investigations spearheaded by the Washington Post. Snyder may end up selling the team.

Likewise, bringing up former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson wouldn't have been terribly convincing since he's no longer in the league. However, conduct by both Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys was a real threat.

This article might raise some questions about those owners and incidents, but it's not as damaging as if the NFLPA was parading this on a daily basis, making it a regular news story, the implicit threat.

2.  Former Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

The NFLPA threatened they'd be willing to cite the handling of multiple accusations of forcible rape by former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as a bias regarding race and was even willing to compare the severity of complaints regarding the two quarterbacks.

Part of the problem the league ran into was they only brought complaints by four women against Watson to Sue Robinson, a former federal judge appointed to be the league's arbitrator on this matter. Four out of a possible 28, the number of accusers at that time. 

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, had two charges of forcible rape go before the league. The NFLPA threatened they were willing to compare and contrast four complains of sexual assault and misconduct against two cases of forcible rape. Roethlisberger was suspended just four games, down from six. Neither quarterback was charged for any of the alleged incidents.

3. Roger Goodell

The NFLPA was prepared to argue that the league's commissioner had already made the determination to ignore the recommendation by Robinson with every intention of increasing the punishment if she didn't come to the conclusion he wanted.

The players wanted to reduce the involvement of Goodell in terms of these types of decisions. There are owners who felt the same way. Pressure on the NFL to punish Watson severely in an effort to combat bad PR may have resulted in Goodell being too open of his intentions, undermining the process that had only recently been agreed to in the collective bargaining agreement.

Yes, Goodell does have the ability to rule in event of an appeal, but there was a belief that he had determined his course of action before Robinson had heard arguments.

There isn't a right answer here. Watson's punishment continues to be disputed. He wasn't charged for crimes that are difficult to prove under the best circumstances. Meanwhile, the league's track record on these issues is embarrassing. There is also a difference between how the transgressions of owners are handled as opposed to the players.

Maybe Watson's defense wasn't the best case in which to make these arguments, but they were nevertheless important to make. Unfortunately, there's no clear indication of how this situation gets remedied going forward. The NFL tried to sell people on the fact they wanted to punish Watson more harshly, but they also benefit by having him come back sooner since his talent can enhance the league, sell tickets, drive ratings and make them more money.

Deshaun Watson's alleged conduct should be the absolute worst of behavior, but the NFL hasn't been any better.