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Response to Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension represents essential litmus test for NFL

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None of that’s as essential, though, as this, from Robinson’s ruling: The NFL, she wrote, had proved, “by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL) against the 4 therapists identified within the Report.”

Read that again. Watson was a repeat sexual assailant. That makes a six-game suspension mystifying and disheartening, as a lot of the behavior by so many individuals involved on this case has been.

Somewhat incredibly, considering she said Watson’s behavior was predatory and amounted to sexual assault, Robinson stressed that there was no violence involved in Watson’s assaults, a consider her decision to decide on six games. That, at best, implies that causing unwanted sexualized contact isn’t inherently violence against the victim.

The NFL’s request for an indefinite suspension of at the very least a 12 months was rebuffed by Robinson, who settled on six games, because she thought such a lengthy suspension represented a “dramatic shift” in its culture without providing fair notice to players about what was expected from them and what the fallout might be. So Robinson relied on the precedent set by other cases. But there isn’t a analogous case to Watson’s, due to the amount of accusations. Robinson was presented with 4 cases (of the 24 accusations originally made in civil suits). The precedents on which Robinson relied didn’t have multiple victims, and, perhaps more importantly, a few of those precedents were products of a distinct era, before the recent awakening to violence against and harassment of ladies that was birthed by the Me Too movement. Jameis Winston, as an example, was suspended three games for inappropriately touching a lady. One woman. Issuing a significantly longer suspension, in a case involving 4 victims of sexual assault, doesn’t sound like a “dramatic shift.”

The NFL’s response to Robinson’s decision represents a crucial litmus test for the league, which has not had a case as high-profile and disturbing involving behavior with women since 2014, when Ray Rice was initially suspended for just two games after knocking out his fiancée in a hotel elevator. The league’s disastrous handling of that episode of domestic violence — the next release of a video showing the attack forced the NFL to suspend Rice indefinitely, essentially ending his profession — was one among the bottom moments within the league’s history. Robinson cited the Rice case when she noted that the NFL often reacts to public outcry. After all, so do all businesses.

The approach with Rice revealed a cluelessness and — worse — a callousness that the NFL badly must prove it has since remedied. Whatever gains have been made by subsequent years of private and non-private programs about domestic violence and workplace harassment, and all of the celebrations of Women’s History Month, would largely be erased if the NFL is satisfied with the same slap on the wrist for Watson.

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