“Before they were too harsh, and now in a way, they weren’t harsh enough, but this was a significantly better process and didn’t put the integrity of the commissioner and the league in query,” said Bob Boland, who leads the sports law program at Seton Hall University. “The proven fact that the result’s unsatisfying is unlucky.”
While the brand new process appears to have functioned as intended, leaving Goodell out of the review of facts and the initial meting of a penalty, the league’s policies still look like a piece in progress. LeRoy pointed to the opening line of Robinson’s conclusion: “The N.F.L. could also be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it surely isn’t necessarily a forward-looking one,” indicating that the N.F.L. is under loads of scrutiny, but its approach to discipline has been mostly reactive.
After being criticized for its handling of the case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who in 2014 was initially suspended for 2 games after he punched his fiancée in a hotel elevator, the N.F.L. rewrote its personal conduct policy to set a baseline of a six-game unpaid suspension for first offenders of specific violations: Criminal assault or battery, all types of domestic violence and sexual assault involving physical force or committed against someone incapable of giving consent.
In Robinson’s report, she concluded that Watson’s behavior toward the massage therapists was not violent under the N.F.L.’s definition of the term. Consequently, she said, she was limited within the discipline she could hand out. Robinson wrote that while it could be “entirely appropriate” to more severely discipline players for what the N.F.L. defined as nonviolent sexual conduct, she didn’t consider it was fair to achieve this given the league’s current standards.
Juan Carlos Areán, a program director for the nonprofit organization Futures Without Violence, said that he didn’t consider a six-game suspension, with none requirement for counseling or intervention, was adequate to either deter or correct the behaviors of which Watson is accused. Because violence against women can take many forms, Areán said that policies needs to be written to provide latitude to the person issuing discipline based on the specifics of every case.
“We all know that you simply don’t need to use physical force, and it’s hard to prove use of physical force, when a sexual assault happens,” he said. “We also know that other forms of assaults, emotional abuse and people sorts of things, can have a really adversarial impact in victims. These are very complex issues, and you can’t just clearly quantify, ‘well, this is far worse than this.’”