How long will Deshaun Watson be suspended?  What NFL's history tells us.

How long will Deshaun Watson be suspended? What NFL’s history tells us.

After the NFL came under fire for suspending Ray Rice for just two games after the horrid assault of his wife in a Las Vegas elevator in 2014, commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he mishandled the situation and vowed to do better. He’s about to be put to the test.

Former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is facing 24 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Grand juries in both Harris and Brazoria counties declined to file criminal charges against Watson, who has denied any wrongdoing. However, the NFL has conducted its own investigation and the absence of criminal charges has never stopped leagues from suspending their players.

Watson’s situation is most often compared to what Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faced when he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Georgia nightclub in 2010. As in the Watson case, prosecutors declined to pursue criminal charges, but the NFL still suspended Roethlisberger six games . The suspension later was reduced to four games when Roethlisberger agreed to undergo behavioral evaluations.

The Roethlisberger suspension was before Goodell was embarrassed by the Rice situation, and long before the “Me Too” era.

A more recent example is the eight-game suspension the NFL handed Kareem Hunt when the Browns running back, who was with the Chiefs at the time, was filmed shoving a woman to the ground and kicking her. The woman didn’t press charges, but the video was damning enough to force Goodell to act.

In Watson’s case, there’s no appalling video evidence, but the sheer number of 24 different women accusing him of disturbing behavior has caught the world’s attention.

New York Times’ columnist Kurt Streeter has called for a lifetime ban of Watson. Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote wrote that the NFL must suspend Watson for more than a year, considering that the league banned Ricky Williams for a year for marijuana and gave Michael Vick a two-year suspension for dogfighting.

There just isn’t a recent NFL precedent that tips the hand of what Goodell might do with Watson, but Major League Baseball set a pretty bold one in April. It suspended Trevor Bauer for two years when three women accused him of violent assaults during sex. The suspension was handed down even after a district attorney decided not to pursue criminal charges against the Dodgers pitcher. That’s a big leap in severity from what MLB did in 2018 when it gave Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna – who the Astros later traded for – a 75-game suspension after he was arrested and charged with assaulting the mother of his child. The charge was later dropped when the woman refused to testify.

Football fans and non-fans alike are waiting to see how seriously the NFL is going to take the Watson cases. In Houston, football fans will be paying attention for completely secondary reasons: The Texans will play the Browns in the 13th game of the season and they own the Browns’ first-round draft picks for the next two years.

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