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The NFL says it holds players to account for his or her personal conduct. Is Deshaun Watson’s case shattering that illusion?

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CNN
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It’s been months because the Houston Texans agreed to trade embattled quarterback Deshaun Watson to the Cleveland Browns, however the furor over the deal – described by one NFL observer as a case of “talent trumps trouble” – just won’t go away.

In March, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, declined to charge Watson over allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct after determining there was not enough evidence to charge him with against the law. The incidents were described as “stemming from massage therapy sessions,” in accordance with a statement on the NFL website.

Meanwhile, a second grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, in March declined to indict Watson after considering evidence in a criminal grievance alleging sexual misconduct, also during a massage therapy session.

Nonetheless, Watson still faces 22 civil complaints from his accusers, a lot of them alleging sexual assault and misconduct during massage sessions.

Watson has repeatedly denied the accusations of sexual assault and misconduct made against him, and Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said in an announcement “I think that any allegation that Deshaun forced a girl to commit a sexual act is totally false.”

NFL officials were scheduled to fulfill with Watson last week, because the fallout from his trade continues, in accordance with NFL.com, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. A call on his potential suspension is looming, but timelines for this remain unclear.

Hardin told CNN that Watson met with the NFL for 3 days. The league has also requested another day, though the date and placement haven’t yet been determined, added Hardin.

Journalist Melissa Jacobs, founder and managing editor of ‘The Football Girl,’ told CNN that after Watson’s signing with the Browns, she felt “disgust, disappointment, I assume, ickiness, but additionally not surprised in any respect because we saw the makings of this happening.”

Watson’s five-year, fully guaranteed $230 million contract from the Browns could be the very best guaranteed money given to an NFL player, in accordance with ESPN. If a player is fully guaranteed, money in a player contract is protected for skill, cap and injury. Cleveland is ready to start organized team activities on May 24.

At an introductory news conference with the Browns in March, when asked about his off-the-field situation, Watson answered: “I don’t have any regrets. Like I said before, the things which can be off the sphere without delay that got here up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these individuals are alleging.”

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin told CNN he couldn’t predict the final result of the civil cases but added: “We actually strongly imagine that he didn’t do what he’s accused of doing.”

“I’m struck by the best way people have just moved on without recognizing the importance of the law enforcement decision that there was no crime committed,” he said.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski in March defended the choice to trade for Watson, saying, “I believe Deshaun’s able to make a positive impact on this community and I can let you know, just with my time spent with Deshaun prior to now few days – attending to know him and attending to know this person – I’m looking forward to this community attending to know this person.”

Nonetheless, some say the trade is tough to stomach given Watson still faces quite a few civil suits regarding allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.

One in all the civil suits filed called Watson a “serial predator,” and others also filed in April allege he “assaulted and harassed” the ladies by “exposing himself” or “touching (them) together with his penis.” One other moreover alleges Watson tried to make one woman perform oral sex on him.

“It’s to not say that Deshaun Watson should never be allowed to play within the NFL,” added Jacobs. “It’s just that there’s still civil cases ongoing and the NFL investigation is ongoing.

“So why not let the legal process play out? It’s just one of the in-your-face examples of ‘talent trumps trouble’ that I feel just like the NFL has ever had.”

Watson stays under investigation by the NFL – though Commissioner Roger Goodell said there was “no timeframe” on a call by a joint disciplinary officer.

“Obviously, these are serious charges. We’re this seriously,” Goodell told reporters in March.

“We now have obviously no less than resolution from the criminal side of it. Obviously there are still civil charges which can be occurring. So our investigators hopefully can have access to more information, and that shall be helpful obviously in attending to the conclusion of what are the facts and was there a violation of the personal-conduct policy,” he said.

Under that policy, Goodell could select to position a player on the exempt list “when a player is formally charged with against the law of violence” or when an NFL investigation “leads the commissioner to imagine that a player can have violated” the policy.

The exempt list is a tool the NFL can use to position players on paid leave while they’re under investigation if it is assumed they might need violated the league’s personal conduct policy.

What’s the exempt list?

  • The exempt list is a tool the NFL can use to position players on paid leave while they’re under investigation if it is assumed they might need violated the league’s personal conduct policy.
  • Players may also be temporarily placed on the list if a “violation referring to against the law of violence is suspected but further investigation is required” to permit the league to conduct its own investigation.
  • In line with the NFL’s personal conduct code, players found to have engaged in the next behavior shall be subject to discipline – “even when the conduct doesn’t end in a criminal conviction.”
  • Behaviors include:
  • Actual or threatened physical violence against one other person, including dating violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other types of family violence
  • Assault and/or battery, including sexual assault or other sex offenses
  • Violent or threatening behavior toward one other worker or a 3rd party in any workplace setting
  • Stalking, harassment, or similar types of intimidation
  • Players may also be temporarily placed on the list if a “violation referring to against the law of violence is suspected but further investigation is required” to permit the league to conduct its own investigation.

    Running back Kareem Hunt was placed on the exempt list in 2018 after he was seen on video pushing and kicking a girl in a Cleveland hotel. He was released by the Kansas City Chiefs shortly after.

    The Browns signed Hunt just months later, despite a league suspension hanging over his head. Weeks later, Hunt was suspended for eight games for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy, stemming from physical altercations at his Cleveland residence in February 2018 and at a resort in Ohio in June.

    On the time of writing, a call on Watson’s playing status has not been made. He would, in theory, have the ability to play when the season begins in September, though a call on a possible punishment or suspension is predicted soon.

    Just a few weeks after Watson was traded to the Browns, one other major US sports league showed its commitment to punishing players found to have violated its domestic violence and sexual assault policy. Major League Baseball announced in April it suspended Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer for 2 years (324 championship season games) without pay, for violation of the league’s domestic violence and sexual assault policy following an intensive investigation. Bauer has consistently denied the allegations.

    In February, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said Bauer wouldn’t face criminal charges for the sexual assault accusations.

    So far as the NFL, commentators say the league’s and teams’ treatment of other players accused of wrongdoing works as a blueprint for the way it regards a player’s personal conduct.

    “So far as actions off the sphere and what priorities are, I believe that line was drawn a protracted time ago with any number of individuals you might point to that were brought back to assist teams win games after various levels of transgression,” Tim Benz, a sports columnist for the Tribune-Review, told CNN Sports.

    “Whether it was Kareem Hunt or Michael Vick, or when Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual misconduct twice and was never actually charged with any crimes, he still got suspended for six games and was brought back and went on to have a profession that they only honored him for for a complete yr in Pittsburgh.

    “Josh Gordon’s one other example with their very own drug policy, which he violated quite a few times over, and each time you switch around, he gets a recent job with someone,” Benz added.

    NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy told CNN that when “players or personnel violate the policies they’re held responsible and disciplined. If a player earns his way back to playing by serving a suspension and undergoing mandatory training and evaluations we are going to consider it,” adding that that’s what happened with Hunt, Vick and Roethlisberger, who had “no further discipline issues.”

    Some women’s rights organizations see the Watson case as a continuation of policies and an attitude which can be damaging to women.

    Rosa Beltré, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, told CNN that Watson’s trade was “disheartening, but it surely was not a surprise.”

    “It is a continuous assault, in addition to revictimization, and it’s been the position of many businesses and organizations,” Beltré said.

    Football teams’ and leagues’ behaviors often don’t match their public messaging around violence against women, she said.

    “While they’ll have campaigns, or they might go ahead and have their players give their time, talent, supposedly for a cause, the choices that they make normally don’t walk alongside their talk.”

    She said that “over and yet again,” clubs and leagues have shown it’s more essential to win a championship and sell tickets than to punish players so as to exhibit the importance of the team’s values.

    “So the message that they clearly sent is that when again: money, status, wins are more essential than believing, supporting, seeing and recognizing the harm that is finished against women by their athletes, by their boards, by their executives.”

    Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, said in an announcement to CNN: “The survivors on this case have been vocal about how damaging it has been to witness the one who they reported for assault and abuse go without consequences and move on to attain success and celebrated status of their personal and skilled lives.

    “What may be very powerful in honoring the experiences of those survivors is once we as a society recognize that folks who commit acts of sexual violence sometimes abuse celebrity or authority status – and the illusion of trust that comes with it – to act in abusive ways and evade responsibility.”

    Meanwhile, Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for the ladies pursuing civil suits against Watson told CNN: “The NFL is a joke, in terms of this particular issue,” and said he believes the NFL didn’t take its internal investigation regarding Watson seriously.

    “It didn’t take me very long to work out just in that process that the NFL wasn’t serious about it. They’re just not serious. They’re serious about how many individuals you may put within the stands, how much merchandise you may sell, and the way far you may throw the football. They’re not concerned and will not be serious about, you realize, codes of conduct, things which can be said, done, off the sphere,” Buzbee said.

    He said that in interviews between the NFL investigators and Watson’s accusers: “One in all the very first questions asked is, ‘What were you wearing?’ That speaks volumes to me.

    “As if, as if the ladies by some means were within the fallacious due to something they wore at what was presupposed to be an expert massage session.”

    McCarthy, the NFL spokesperson, told CNN “the query related to what the ladies were wearing was to assist get a full understanding of the incidents,” and said the legal team for the ladies didn’t object to the query on the time.

    “It was under no circumstances intended to… make the ladies feel uncomfortable or assign blame,” he added.

    But some experts say the NFL’s handling of cases like Watson’s get in the best way of breaking the cycle of violence against women.

    “All too often our society, criminal legal system, and personal institutions fail to carry those that commit sexual harassment, assault, and abuse accountable,” Palumbo said. “Every time sexual harassment and abuse will not be taken seriously and handled with impunity, this contributes to the cycle of future harm.”

    Beltré agrees. “You can not discuss restorative justice or giving an individual a second opportunity once they never claim or admit their wrongdoing, they usually move on in life as if nothing has happened, which supplies them more power and opportunity to proceed hurting others.

    “What the NFL and other organizations have seen is that talent is more worthwhile than the harm that he’s causing together with his behavior,” she said.

    Quarterback Deshaun Watson of the Cleveland Browns speaks during his press conference introducing him to the Cleveland Browns  at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on March 25, 2022 in Berea, Ohio.

    McCarthy told CNN the league has mandatory domestic violence and sexual assault training for everybody within the NFL, including players, coaches and staff, which were developed along with domestic violence and sexual assault experts.

    Watson’s attorney Hardin said that the NFL had been “totally responsible” in the best way they’d handled things to this point.

    “What they tried to avoid is any suggestion by law enforcement, that by talking to potential witnesses and potential complainants or making accusations or so that they might thoroughly get in the best way of and hinder the official criminal investigation.

    “Law enforcement has all the time preferred that personal agencies who’re looking into the conduct of their employees wait to conduct their investigations until the official investigation is complete,” he added.

    He added that the NFL has now been “very aggressively” pursuing the investigation.

    Some fans are offended about Watson’s transfer. “I believe they care,” Benz told CNN. “I also think that they know in the event that they win, (the anger will) go away.”

    He points to the past as evidence of this.

    “There have been loads of people saying that they’d never root for the Steelers again after they brought Michael Vick in for just a few weeks. I don’t think that deadened the fan base in Pittsburgh by any stretch of the imagination.”

    Nationally, there was a “resurgence in TV rankings and streaming numbers within the NFL this yr, after two or three years of many football fans saying: ‘I’ll never watch the National Football League again due to the national anthem controversy,” said Benz, referring to player protests that began with Colin Kaepernick refusing to face because the national anthem played before NFL games.

    “That’s disappeared,” he added.

    “So far as the Browns case particularly, there’s a franchise that’s starved, perhaps greater than any of the National Football League, for a Super Bowl and a football-rabid community.

    “And if Deshaun Watson finally ends up getting them there and winning them one, I don’t think any concerns that the Browns might need in regards to the response of the fan base shall be a whisper of their ear by the point the Vince Lombardi Trophy is hoisted in Cleveland, should it come to that,” he said.

    Jacobs said the NFL’s handling of comparable situations points to a reactive, not proactive, strategy.

    “I believe the NFL may be very inquisitive about problems going away, they usually’re very reactive to issues like diversity, and back when the Ray Rice tape got here out and there was a lot anger on the market, and that’s once they instituted their policy,” she said, referring to the previous running back for the Baltimore Ravens, who viciously knocked out his fiancée Janay in a casino elevator in Atlantic City, Latest Jersey, in 2014 after an evening of heavy drinking. The incident was captured on surveillance video.

    Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL for violating its domestic violence policy – a call he successfully appealed, though no teams went on to sign him during his free agency.

    “They’re never on top of these items, like ever. Those parts of their history should be written,” added Jacobs.

    Once a player has been punished, she said, some TV broadcasters rarely repeat why a sanctioned player has missed games, simply telling audiences, “Oh, he was suspended for 4 games. Now he’s back.”

    Within the aftermath of a scandal and when a player is back on the sphere, “it’s more of the identical,” Jacobs said.

    “They only type of gloss over things to make it seem as if everybody is this glorious, altruistic person,” she said.

    McCarthy told CNN that the league’s official website (nfl.com) and TV network (NFL Network) report on every incident and suspension.

    “After Ray Rice, there have been PSAs on the market,” Jacobs said.

    Los Angeles-based filmmakers Made by Women Media created a public service announcement “NO HITS” calling on the NFL to “stop tolerating abuse.”

    In 2014, following the furor over Rice’s behavior, the union for skilled football players, the NFL Players Association, put together a commission on domestic violence to present recommendations on easy methods to tackle domestic violence and other issues facing the league. The NFLPA is a company separate to the NFL.

    “They’d brought on an advisory committee they usually went to coach players and particularly men to arise once they see something. After which that just went away,” Jacobs said, adding that members of the commission quit because their recommendations weren’t taken seriously.

    Deborah Epstein, one among the commissioners who resigned, said that she did so due to a failure by the union to act on recommendations.

    “My NFLPA contacts would initially greet these ideas with a burst of enthusiasm and a sign of likely implementation, but efforts to follow up would yield nothing in the best way of specific plans, and eventually communication would fade into radio silence,” she wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Post in June of 2018.

    Jacobs made clear she isn’t implying Watson is guilty.

    “Nonetheless, when you’re going to permit the Deshaun Watsons of the world and folks perhaps in that ‘probable, not definite but perhaps’ [category] then I do think, you as a league, have a responsibility to be open about violence against women, sexual assault, all those things like as an everyday a part of your programming.

    “Again, discuss why these people were suspended, and offer programs to players. There just must be more invested into this [sports] world when you’re going to permit potential perpetrators to exist in your league,” she said.

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