The responses were many regarding the settlement reached last month between the NFL and the NFLPA over the suspension of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. The deal comes after former NFL referee Sue Robinson decided to appeal the initial decision of the six-game suspension. Many think the ban is too lenient, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has threatened to take the matter to court if he decides to keep the ban for a full season. As a result, the two sides reached a negotiated settlement to an 11-game suspension, a $5MM fine and mandatory counseling.
There is still one victim of Watson’s actions, unlike the NFL, which refuses to agree with the new Browns quarterback. Lauren Baxley was the only one of the 24 plaintiffs who refused to agree with Watson. In an op-ed published by TheDailyBeast.com, Baxley listed what kept her from signing on the dotted line.
“I rejected all of the settlement offers, in part because they did not include any remorse or a sincere admission of wrongdoing,” Baxley explained. “Watson still refuses to admit that he harassed and indecently assaulted me. Any solution he proposed rejected his evil deeds.
This is not an unusual feeling. A senior NFL consultant made similar comments in an article by cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. Rita Smith, the 23-year-old former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who now advises the NFL on domestic violence and sexual assault cases, came on the heels of last month’s Watson scandal. When Watson apologized to his accusers before the team’s preseason game on Aug. 12, six days later in a press conference about the settlement, he maintained his innocence in the case, effectively clearing any goodwill. It looks like he’ll be apologizing in less than a week. Smith told cleveland.com that she “feels like he’s playing us.”
Again, this is not an unusual feeling. According to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, one senior owner has grown frustrated with Watson’s lack of comparison. According to Volin, one of the terms of the deal was that Watson “publicly show remorse,” but Watson continued to “stand by (his) innocence.” Like Smith above, this owner said, “We feel played by Watson.” The owner asserted that if Watson does not show remorse, Goodell may pressure Watson to reinstate him when his 11-game suspension ends.
NBC Sports’ Peter King said the push for a full-season suspension is a sentiment not shared by all owners. Like King, some owners didn’t want Watson suspended for the rest of the year. Instead, the Browns opted for less than 17 games to be punished under the fully guaranteed structure of Watson’s contract. If Watson is suspended for the entire 2022 season, his contract will run one year through the 2027 season. If Watson is eligible for some of the season, the Browns are owed $40MM despite appearing in the current six games, and his contract expires after the 2026 season.
All this remains to be seen. He may show remorse in the future, allowing the last remaining plaintiff to settle with Buckley and endearing him to the league’s counsel on domestic violence and sexual assault. He could continue to stand by his innocence and potentially prompt the NFL to extend his suspension for not complying with the terms of the deal.
For now, though, Watson appears to be consulting what the league mandated, according to King’s recent article from NBC Sports. The hope seems to be that through counseling, Watson can understand “why he sought treatment from 66 massage therapists over 18 months.” There is a very real possibility that he did something wrong. While it may take years to reach any closure on the matter, Watson’s duty to counsel is as effective as we can hope to be at this point.