The National Football League (NFL) proved their case against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson according to the Disciplinary Officer assigned to the case, retired judge Sue L. Robinson.
Robinson announced Watson will be suspended for six regular-season games without pay explaining, “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.”
She also declared that it is “appropriate for Mr. Watson to limit his massage therapy to Club-directed sessions and Club-approved massage therapists for the duration of his career, and so impose this mandate as a condition to his reinstatement.”
Finally, Robinson stated, “Mr. Watson is to have no adverse involvement with law enforcement, and must not commit any additional violations of the Policy.”
In announcing her suspension of Watson, Robinson detailed her findings. First, she noted that Watson engaged in the NFL’s definition of sexual assault. That definition is, “unwanted sexual contact with another person.” And the NFL alleged that “Watson committed sexual assault by allegedly ‘touching [his] penis to the women without their consent.'”
She declared the NFL “carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the four therapists identified in the Report. Mr. Watson violated the Policy in this regard.”
In order to get to this conclusion, Robinson explained, “It is difficult to give weight to a complete denial when weighed against the credible testimony of the investigators who interviewed the therapists and other third parties.”
“Moreover, the totality of the evidence (including the undisputed facts relating to Mr. Watson’s uses of towels, his focus points, and the not uncommon experience of massage therapists to have contact with the erect penis of their male clients) lends support to my conclusion that it is more probable than not that Mr. Watson did have erections and that his erect penis contacted the therapists as claimed by them,” Robinson wrote.
Robinson further explained that she came to the conclusion that Watson was intentional about his behavior, “In this case, Mr. Watson reached out to women whose professional qualifications were unknown and unimportant to him. He insisted on using a towel, increasing the probability of exposure. He insisted on having the therapists focus on areas of his body that not uncommonly triggered erections. And he engaged in this pattern of conduct multiple times. I find this sufficient circumstantial evidence to support the NFL’s contention not only that contact occurred, but that Mr. Watson was aware that contact probably would occur, and that Mr. Watson had a sexual purpose – not just a therapeutic purpose – in making these arrangements with these particular therapists.”
She then detailed, “Finally, I find that the NFL has produced sufficient circumstantial evidence to prove the last prong of the test, that Mr. Watson knew such sexualized contact was unwanted. … Moreover, there is credible evidence that one of the therapists expressed her discomfort of the unwanted contact to Mr. Watson during the sessions, and another of the therapists ended the session early. Given that none of these therapists accepted Mr. Watson’s invitations to engage in further therapy sessions, I find the evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Watson knew, or should have known, that any contact between his penis and these therapists was unwanted.”
As for the second charge of conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person, Robinson explained, “The evidence upon which the NFL relies for proof of this offense, however, is based squarely on the emotional responses of the four therapists to Mr. Watson’s conduct. For instance, the NFL asserts that the therapists were ‘fearful’ of Mr. Watson’s ability to ‘use his status as an NFL player to damage their professional careers.’”
She then detailed the evidence supplied by the NFL, “Further evidence identified by the NFL in support of this offense includes testimony from the four therapists: (1) one of the therapists told the investigators that she sought counseling after her session with Mr. Watson and is struggling to work; (2) another of the therapists reported that she was frustrated, upset, and embarrassed after the session; (3) a third therapist testified that she changed her business practices and suffered from depression and sleeplessness as a result of incident; and (4) the fourth therapist remained uncertain whether she would continue to pursue a career in massage therapy.”
Robinson then concluded, “Based on the NFL’s broad interpretation of this prohibited conduct as reflected in the evidence it chose to present, I find that the NFL has carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson’s conduct posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person.”
Finally, Robinson explained why Watson was also found to have committed conduct that undermines, or puts at risk, the integrity of the NFL.
She wrote, “According to the NFL, ‘[t]he matters that can affect such integrity and public confidence [in the game of professional football] evolve and change over time depending on developments within and external to the League, and the parties to the CBAs have agreed not to operate with a static or frozen definition of conduct detrimental.'”
Robinson went on to detail that while previous instances of this charge had to do with the game of football, it was not out of the purview of the NFL to expand it to a player’s private life if he uses his status as player to engage in prohibited conduct.
She then noted, “In this regard, the NFL has demonstrated that Mr. Watson identified himself as a player for the NFL to initiate contact with the therapists, and used his ties to the Texans to reinforce his requests for massages focused on his lower back, glutes, abs, and groin area. Having established himself in this context, the NFL has further demonstrated that Mr. Watson engaged in sexualized conduct during the massage sessions. I find this evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Mr. Watson’s conduct undermined the integrity of the NFL in the eyes of the therapists.”
“Mr. Watson’s predatory conduct cast ‘a negative light on the League and its players,’ sufficient proof that he violated this provision of the Policy,” she later concluded.
What do you make of Robinson’s conclusions and explanation for suspending Watson and finding he engaged in sexual assault?