Math is an important part of all sports.
The calculations for batting average in baseball, field goal percentage in basketball and completion rate in football are all embedded into the sports fan’s brain.
But when it comes to the NFL’s punishment policies — with Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension as the latest example — the math just doesn’t seem to add up.
Shortly after former federal judge Sue L. Robinson ruled Monday morning that the embattled Browns quarterback will serve a six-game suspension, social media erupted with takes about the punishment. The most common one — even more than the outrage that Watson would miss only six games and lose barely any money after being accused by two dozen women of sexual assault and harassment — was befuddlement about the NFL’s inconsistency with suspensions.
ESPN’s Kimberley Martin reported that an NFL general manager told her that the suspension is a “complete joke,” comparing it to the number of games players oftentimes get punished for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
“He gets the same amount as someone who took a PED. Makes no sense,” the executive said.
Watson’s punishment for violating the league’s personal conduct policy isn’t official yet. The NFL, which requested an indefinite suspension of no less than one season, has three days to appeal the ruling from Robinson, an independent disciplinary officer. Both Watson and the NFL Players Association have said they will not appeal the ruling.
Considered one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL after making three Pro Bowls in his first four seasons with the Houston Texans, Watson sat out the 2021 season amid the allegations due to disputes with the team. Two Texas grand juries declined to indict the 26-year-old on criminal complaints by 10 of the women, and he’s settled in civil court with 23 of the 24 massage therapists who accused him of misconduct. Watson has denied the allegations.
Robinson wrote in her report that Watson’s behavior was “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL,” but added that it was “nonviolent sexual conduct.” However, the suspension will barely hurt his bank account, as he’ll only miss out on $345,000 in game checks after signing a fully guaranteed, $230 million contract with the Browns in March.
NFL fans don’t even have to go back far to find suspensions to compare to Watson’s six-game penalty. Just this offseason, Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games after testing positive for PEDs. And Atlanta wideout Calvin Ridley was suspended at least one full season for gambling $1,500 on NFL games while he was on personal leave from the Falcons last season.
“I’ve covered this league long enough to not be surprised about the disparity between Calvin Ridley’s suspension and Deshaun Watson‘s,” SB Nation’s Jeanna Kelley tweeted. “But personally, I sure wish the NFL gave more of a s—- about sexual violence against women than betting on a few games with no inside info.”
There are salient precedents that Robinson may have followed, though. But even those raise questions about Watson’s suspension.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was given a six-game suspension by the league in 2017 after a domestic violence allegation from his ex-girlfriend. Seven years earlier, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games (later reduced to four) after being accused of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student.
“Ben Roethlisberger had a single accuser who accused him of doing something on a single night,” NFL Network’s Kyle Brandt said. “And it was six games. This is 30 women … over several months. And for the people who are speaking up for Deshaun, what is the take at this point?”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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