Sue Robinson’s long-awaited ruling came down Monday, but that may well only be part of this saga instead of a conclusion. The NFL and NFLPA have 8am CT Thursday to file appeals, via ESPN.com’s Jake Trotter (on Twitter).
While the NFLPA said it would not appeal Robinson’s ruling, it would be unlikely the union stands down in the event the NFL appeals. Roger Goodell or a commissioner appointee will oversee an appeal, as outlined in the 2020 CBA. The NFLPA has been linked to taking this matter to court, Goodell should bump this ban up to a full season.
From the NFL’s side, an appeal is under consideration. Its statement indicated a review of Robinson’s ruling is ongoing (Twitter link). While the NFL did not make its push for a full-season suspension a secret, the NFLPA is still displeased with Robinson’s decision for a six-game ban, per Josina Anderson of CBS Sports (on Twitter). The union “firmly maintain”[s]Watson should not have been suspended for his alleged sexual assault and/or sexual misconduct against more than 20 women.
In her report, Robinson labeled Watson’s pattern of nonviolent sexual conduct as “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL.” Watson had denied all allegations of wrongdoing, but the report indicates “It is difficult to give weight to a complete denial when weighed against the credible testimony of the investigators who interviewed the therapists and other third parties.” Robinson’s ruling also prohibits Watson from seeing a non-team-approved massage therapist for the rest of his career.
Robinson sided with the NFL by stating Watson violated the personal conduct policy on all three counts (sexual assault, conduct that endangers a person’s well-being and safety, and conduct that undermines the NFL’s integrity), ESPN.com’s Jake Trotter tweets. The gray area of this being deemed nonviolent sexual conduct came into play regarding the six-game suspension, but Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes Robinson’s findings — including a passage that deems it is more likely than not Watson lied to NFL investigators — could point to Goodell having enough justification to increase the Browns quarterback’s suspension length.
Given the NFL’s push for a full-year ban and its effort to protect against PR backlash, it is not hard to see a scenario in which Goodell follows through with adding games to Watson’s suspension. This would open the door to an NFLPA countermeasure that moves this to court. The CBA and recent precedent would not be on the union’s side in court, but a legal process playing out could delay Watson’s ban. Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott were able to play under injunctions; Watson could end up doing the same. Brady and Elliott, however, did end up serving their commissioner-determined suspensions eventually.