Intentional or not, the two-year MLB suspension of former Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer now hovers over the NFL and Deshaun Watson.
While the standards of conduct and guidelines for one journal are unrelated to the other, both are related in the court of public opinion. Especially with regards to each league’s dealings with Power and Watson – two prominent athletes in American sports recently faced disturbing allegations of violence and misconduct against women.
So far, the NFL’s handling of Watson’s accusations has alternated between vague and curious, as there are now five weeks left since separate grand jury proceedings against the Texas quarterback without indictments. Initially, the closing of Watson’s criminal profile was expected to spur momentum in the investigation of personal conduct in the league. But Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday’s league investigators were still working and there was no “timeline” for a conclusion.
But in the absence of that schedule, the MLB has now submitted a model for the NFL to consider, with Power suspended for two years in the wake of several women alleging domestic violence against the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher. The decision came after MLB allowed a five-month police investigation into Bauer to complete in February, in which no charges were brought. After about 10 weeks, the MLB ended its own investigation into Bauer’s behavior and issued a comment that resonated throughout the sports world last week.
Nowhere outside of baseball, these echoes have resonated louder than in the NFL League office, which is conducting an investigation of Watson that could now continue into 2023. Watson is currently facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging a combination of sexual misconduct or sexual assault. Watson has already begun to sit down for deposits in cases and likely to be obtained by NFL investigators, as they are not currently sealed by the judges presiding over the cases.
While the Power and Watson investigations are not necessarily more like apples, they both entail sentencing in the absence of criminal charges. But unlike Watson, Bauer did not face civil lawsuits arising from the allegations against him – which means he also did not sit down because of deposits that could have provided additional information to investigators. That likely would have resulted in MLB making a quicker decision with Bauer laying more than the NFL could end up with Watson.
Regardless of the schedule, the NFL must now approach the MLB by setting a significant example of suspension for conduct that has not been criminally charged. Baseball explained that the decision was made based on the merits of her investigation and her interviews with the women who made allegations against Bauer.
That’s basically the same space the NFL takes up with Watson. The league has already interviewed several of the women who have filed civil lawsuits against him, and has deposits and discoveries of civil proceedings that the MLB hasn’t done, that can help with whatever decision ultimately comes up. In theory, the NFL should already own more More info than baseball did with Bauer.
That will create some pressure on the NFL from an optics standpoint. Because while an independent arbitrator will decide whether or not Watson committed a breach of personal conduct, Goodell and Douri still control the length of any subsequent suspension. So it’s not as simple as suspending six games under the NFL’s domestic violence guidelines, although it could potentially lead to a fight from the NFL Players Association.
In the court of public opinion, this not only puts Goodell against Watson in terms of making a statement or setting an example of personal behavior. He also lines up against MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Bauer’s decision. If an adjudicator determines a personal conduct violation with Watson occurred, Goodell can simply issue a six-game suspension and call it a first-time violation of the league’s domestic violence policy. Then again, he can consider each of the 22 civil complaints against Watson and determine whether each should be considered a violation of its own, opening up the possibility of a longer suspension due to additional factors.
This is what awaits Goodell now. Not just wrapping up Watson’s league investigation, but how the NFL will ultimately shape its response to the results. A month ago, there was no real measuring tool, as this represented one of the most disturbing sets of allegations against a player in league history.
Now there is a measuring stick. Presented by MLB. When the Watson investigation is over, the NFL will have to decide if it wants attention.