Lisa Banks, the attorney who represents 40 former Washington Commanders employees, said Wednesday that the NFL‘s appeal of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson‘s six-game suspension represents another chance “for them to do the right thing” as she and her clients await the findings of the league’s investigation into team owner Dan Snyder.
The lawyer said she’s closely monitoring the outcome of the appeal, given her interest in how the league will also handle Snyder.
The NFL will now reportedly seek at least a year-long suspension, a monetary fine and treatment for Watson after a former federal judge earlier this week issued a six-game ban to the quarterback for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can now personally hear the appeal or appoint a designee to do so.
The six-game decision was met with harsh criticism from the public as Watson had been sued by 25 women who accused him of sexual assault and other misconduct during massage sessions while he was a quarterback for the Houston Texans. No criminal charges were filed, and Watson has since settled 23 of 24 claims (with another case dropped).
Sue L. Robinson, the former judge tasked with the initial ruling, found that Watson had committed “predatory conduct,” but kept the punishment at six games because no player had ever been suspended longer than that for “nonviolent sexual” misconduct.
“My clients and I are working every day to try and convince Roger Goodell and the league that they need to take these issues more seriously,” Banks told The Washington Times. “And that there has to be accountability for sexual violence against women. To date, they haven’t shown a whole lot of willingness to have true accountability in that regard. … Hopefully this time they won’t blow it.”
Beyond Watson, the NFL is also investigating Snyder after former employees accused him of sexual misconduct and financial improprieties. This is the league’s second probe of Snyder after fining the team $10 million in July 2021 for a toxic workplace culture in which more than 40 of the team’s former employees said they witnessed or experienced sexual harassment.
In February, the NFL hired former Securities and Exchange Commission chair Mary Jo White to investigate a new round of claims against Snyder, all of which the owner denies.
Tiffani Johnston, a former Washington cheerleader and marketing manager, told members of Congress that month that Snyder made unwanted advances at a work dinner by touching her thigh underneath a table and later trying to coax her into his limo.
The scope of White’s probe then expanded when former sales executive Jason Friedman accused Snyder and the team of committing multiple acts of financial improprieties such as intentionally withholding security deposit refunds from season-ticket holders. Banks represents both Johnston and Friedman.
Banks said Wednesday she believes White is close to issuing a report, but noted the investigator “may have a couple of more interviews she needs to do” with her clients.
This week, the NFL announced the findings of a separate White probe in which the Miami Dolphins were docked two draft picks and owner Stephen Ross was suspended until mid-October for tampering.
Ross’ punishment stood in contrast to how the league handled its first investigation of the Commanders when Snyder was not formally suspended. The league said Snyder had voluntarily agreed to cede day-to-day control of his club for several months to his wife, Tanya.
“It’s nice to see that they’re able to pull that trigger when they need to,” Banks said. “But why do we have Dan Snyder still at the top of the Washington Commanders organization? Why has nothing happened to him when he has been responsible for 20 years of harassment and abuse of women? …
“They have to be able to take action against owners, and maybe that’s a sign they’re willing to do more, but they have to do more with respect with the Commanders. And they’ve shown us that they don’t really give a damn.”
Coincidentally, Ross’ return is set to coincide with Watson’s potential season debut — should the quarterback’s initial ban be upheld.
Though the suspensions start at different points — Ross is suspended now, Watson’s ban takes effect in Week 1 — Ross’s suspension ends Oct. 17 and Watson wouldn’t be eligible to play until after the Browns’ Week 6 contest on Oct. 16 against the New England Patriots. Watson, however, is allowed back at the team facility beginning in Week 4.
Critics of the league have long argued that players and owners face double standards when it comes to punishment, an argument that the NFL Players Association focused on when advocating for Watson. The players’ union argued that team owners had not been punished for similar offenses.
Robinson, in a footnote, appeared to agree— noting the personal conduct policy is equally applicable to team owners and management.
Banks said “all eyes” will be on Goodell to see how he addresses Watson and Snyder. Both cases, she said, deal with the NFL’s relationship with women.
“I don’t think the old way of doing business is going to fly any more,” Banks said. “Certainly not without a lot of blowback from people like me and my clients. So I think, they’re going to have to change their ways in the league and so I’m hopeful that starts now with Watson and the Mary Jo White investigation.
“We’re not done in terms of the Washington Commanders and Dan Snyder, so we’ll see where it all leads.”
• Matthew Paras can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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