“Sources” told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Saturday that Deshaun Watson’s hearing with the NFL’s disciplinary officer will begin this coming Tuesday. It’s a hearing that will be almost entirely performative given that we pretty much know the NFL wants to give Watson a year’s suspension—which is nothing compared to the damage he did to the massage therapists he hired and allegedly harassed or sexually assaulted while they were trying to do their jobs, but is a lot in terms of what the NFL will be punishing him for, which is embarrassing the shield and staying in the news for 15 months.
The only real issue for Tuesday is whether Watson and his lawyer Rusty Hardin will bring up the league’s exposed image liability re: Bob Kraft and, much worse, Danny Snyder. Kraft was not punished for his trips to a Florida massage parlor, and Snyder is being his stubbornly asstastic self as his team is being exposed for its systematic mistreatment of women. There is considerable thought that Watson and Hardin might bring up the owners and the protections that they are afforded as employers when they bring up Watson’s behavior and the league’s plan to make him pay, even marginally, for his own.
In that way, and in only that way, is Watson worth rooting for here. Not for what he did, the 20 settlements he will pay or the cases still moving forward in court, but for how willing he is to make the owners into fellow defendants. It’s the old “yeah, but they did it too” defense that has failed in grammar school principals’ offices for centuries. But its sole value, as an irritant against the league’s evident green wall of hypocrisy, might well be worth the continued attention to this cauldron of excrement.
Watson and Hardin know what’s coming because Watson’s new, all-guaranteed, and suspension-proofed contract with the Cleveland Browns was structured in such a way that the amount of money Watson will forfeit in a suspension is not one fifth of his $230 million ($46 million) but forty-five one-thousandths of it ($1.035 million), an act of magnificent cynicism that is more of an admission of guilt that the 20 settlements Watson already has agreed to pay.
Sue Robinson, who was jointly appointed by both the league and the players’ union to hear this fetid marsh slime of a case, probably won’t be the final say in the suspension as Watson can appeal. She will just have the burden of listening to what Schefter described as “only a fraction of those women’s testimony, as the league was unable to speak with a number of women who interacted with Watson.” There are going to be some stiff drinks in her immediate future to forget what she is about to hear, and there isn’t even the ancillary fun that comes with delivering the final and binding retributive hammer.
Eventually it will come, as these things usually do, to the desk of R. Stokoe Goodell, in consultation with the 32 pairs of feet that jointly use him as their $60 million rec room ottoman. And the only real issue to be determined here is how willing Watson and Hardin are to make Snyder and Kraft issues, either in the hearing or afterward. Hardin is not the kind to pass up an opportunity to burn down a village to save the hut at the end of the road, so we might still be in for some unsavory (which is to say standard NFL issue) hijinks. The league has an apparently unending supply of them, and it just is our job to wait to see how Watson et al. want to use them in their own otherwise useless defense.
Still, Tuesday will be treated as a big day for the league and its role as the 365-days-a-year newsmaker and punditry caretaker. It just comes down to seeing what the side dishes are, and to finding out how little the actual victims here matter to the process. If that’s what you can call it.