Domestic violence and sexual misconduct are the newest taboos in professional sports. It started when Ray Rice was suspended by the NFL and effectively blackballed him for the rest of his career. Of course, he had the misfortune of having his misdeeds broadcast on video for everyone to see. Suddenly, the NFL had a public relations disaster on its hands and Roger Goodell learned a very important lesson.
The commissioner’s exempt list was born out of that catastrophe. Essentially, it allows the commissioner to suspend someone indefinitely with pay until the league can figure out an appropriate punishment. In subsequent cases, the league has punished players in spite of the absence of criminal charges or at least the absence of convictions. Many predicted we would go down that road with Deshaun Watson. Then, on Friday April 29th, everything changed.
Star Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer was suspended by MLB for 324 games. If the suspension is upheld then he would be eligible to come back in April of 2024 after his Dodger contract has run out. Of course, he will appeal the suspension, but if that suspension holds the Dodgers will be free and clear of his contract. Bauer could also end up experiencing the same fate as Ray Rice.
What makes this situation unique is that Bauer has not been convicted of any crime. He has been accused by at least two women of assault. Most of us aren’t lawyers and didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so we shouldn’t comment on what this means long-term. However, it is interesting to consider one sport’s penalties when another sport has to make a final decision on a high profile player.
No two situations are the same, but one can’t help to see the similarities between Bauer and Watson. Watson was accused of sexual assault by multiple women and ended up being referred to multiple grand juries. Even though those charges were not sustained, he still faces 22 different civil lawsuits for his behavior with women during massages. Is one worse than the other? I guess that depends on the point of view of the alleged victims involved.
Either way, it is a very different league from when Ben Roethlisberger was suspended by the NFL or even when Ezekiel Elliott was suspended by the league. The prevailing wisdom has been that Watson’s punishment would be similar to their punishment. None of the three were convicted of anything, so the situations would seem analogous. Of course, they aren’t exactly the same and time has passed since then. The social climate has changed and the NFL might feel the pressure from the Bauer suspension to hand out something similar to Watson.
What would a Watson suspension look like?
We do have to remember that Bauer was essentially suspended for nearly half of the 2021 season. So, if you count that then he would be facing a suspension the equivalent of 400+ games. I have my doubts that two seasons will stick. It is an entire season beyond the longest suspension the league has ever handed out for similar behavior. No charges have been filed against him and he was legally exonerated in the first case.
So, let’s say that the sentence is commuted to one season. That would still be an 18 month suspension in reality since he missed half of the last season. That still ends up being the biggest suspension for a domestic violence/sexual assault accusation in the history of the three leagues. All three sports are jockeying for eyeballs and the biggest untapped group belongs to women. I don’t know if the Bauer suspension gives baseball more women fans, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Roger Goodell and the NFL will try to keep up.
So, if I were a betting man, I would set the new over/under on one season. Watson sat out last season by choice and the commissioner could put him on the exempt list and give him his money, but hold him out of games for another season. That would put him roughly on par with the Bauer suspension.
Why do we care?
I would say any fan with a heart and conscience should care about holding athletes accountable in some degree. Most of us would find ourselves in jail if we did the same thing, so the least they could do is hold them out of a few games and hit their pocketbook for awhile. However, Texans fans obviously have a different incentive than the rest of the country.
The Browns traded valuable draft capital for a guy that may be locked out of the building for a season. If that happens they will be forced to go with Jacoby Brisset and will have to play in one of the deepest divisions in the NFL. The Bengals just went to the Super Bowl. The Ravens and Steelers are perennial nine to eleven win teams depending on their health. A Super Bowl contending Browns team likely tumbles out of the playoffs. That would give the Texans another top 15 pick. Pair that with whatever selection they get from their own ineptitude and you could be looking at enough ammunition to enter the 2023 quarterback bonanza.