Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Accountability starts at the top, even for the NFL

NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson has suspended Deshaun Watson for six games for his violation of the league's personal conduct policy based on allegations by four masseuses that he solicited prostitution by paying for sex acts.

Some see six games as a slap on the wrist. I don't, at least in the environment that bound Judge Robinson and her ruling.

While I don't in any way condone Watson's misconduct, the NFL would place itself in serious legal jeopardy by imposing a suspension that encourages Watson or his union to litigate.

Don’t be mad at Watson for getting off light; be mad at the NFL for its long history of giving white male owners a free pass for their own sexual misconduct. The league created the legal environment that let Watson (a Black player) off.

Judge Robinson's opinion reads like a typical labor arbitration decision. An arbitrator is bound by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement being interpreted and applied. In this case, the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players says the following: "Ownership and club or league management have traditionally been held to a higher standard and will be subject to more significant discipline when violations of the Personal Conduct Policy occur."

So what misconduct has the NFL turned a blind eye to when committed by white owners as compared to this Black player?

How about Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who was caught in a prostitution sting? He was actually indicted; Watson wasn’t. The NFL let Kraft off the hook after the charges were dropped.

Or how about Dan Snyder, the embattled owner of the Washington Commanders? He’s in the middle of a Congressional investigation regarding allegations of rampant sexual harassment within his organization, and was accused of sexual assault by a team employee. The NFL has also never disciplined him.

The NFL made its own bed here. It cannot give its white owners a pass and expect to be able to discipline its Black players. Or at least it can't without getting sued. The NFL does not want this dirty laundry litigated.

As much as I hate what Watson did, and cannot under any circumstances condone it or him, under the circumstances presented I cannot fault Judge Robinson for imposing a mere six-game suspension, which would be offensively light under any other conditions.

We should abhor what Deshaun Watson did, but we should abhor the NFL for ignoring similar misconduct when committed by owners like Kraft and Snyder. Unless and until the league starts holding its owners accountable, it cannot expect its Personal Conduct Policy to have any teeth. Accountability must start at the top, even for the NFL. It's 2022, and there is simply no longer any place for an Old (White) Boys' Club.

* Image by Erik Drost, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons