NFL's Past Personal Conduct Policy Suspensions Speak To Trouble Deshaun Watson Faces

Anyone paying attention to the legal ebb and flow of the Deshaun Watson case understands the Cleveland Browns quarterback may not face any criminal charges for his alleged acts of sexual misconduct against female massage therapists (not at this point, anyway) but an NFL suspension almost definitely looms.

Regardless of how much Watson is denying all the allegations brought by a mounting number of massage therapists -- 24 is the latest number -- the NFL has seen similar cases in the past, with similar vigorous claims of innocence.

And despite all that, the league has handed down sanctions.

Because the NFL doesn't need an arrest to hand down suspensions for breaking its personal conduct policy.

It doesn't need an indictment from a Grand Jury.

It doesn't even need to meet standards for establishing responsibility required in a civil trial -- which is where Watson still faces those 24 lawsuits.

The NFL has a history for passing down suspensions to some of its top players after determining they violated the personal conduct policy despite there being no arrests, no criminal or civil trial and no admission of guilt by those players.

The NFL's history is clear on this. And if past standards remain and history has a say, Watson definitely is going to miss games once the NFL reaches the conclusion of its current investigation.

So what's the history?

Well, let's examine cases where the league suspended players for violating the personal conduct policy without a court or police department getting involved -- thresholds the Watson situation has already passed.

On Sept. 23, 1996, for example, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Jeff George was suspended after three games for the entire rest of the season for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy, stemming from an argument during a game with Falcons head coach June Jones.

That was it. The two men argued. And George missed 13 games.

In 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games after a 20-year-old college student accused him of sexually assaulting her in a Georgia nightclub. Prosecutors declined to charge Roethlisberger criminally, but commissioner Roger Goodell handed down the punishment a week later.

Roethlisberger also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation -- something that has accompanied other personal conduct policy sanctions.

Roethlisberger's suspension was later reduced to four games after he met all the criteria of his punishment.

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games in 2017 for violating the personal conduct policy after the NFL spent over a year investigating domestic violence allegations raised by Elliott’s former girlfriend in Columbus, Ohio.

She filed police reports and went to the Columbus City Attorney’s office to pursue charges in July 2016. Elliott was never charged with a crime but was suspended anyway because the NFL determined Elliott was violent toward the woman on three separate occasions.

When he was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jameis Winston was suspended for the first three games in 2018 for violating the league's personal conduct policy. A league investigation found the QB inappropriately touched a female Uber driver in March 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona "without her consent."

Winston, who was never charged or arrested, was also required to obtain a clinical evaluation and fully cooperate with any recommended therapeutic intervention program.

There are numerous other instances when the NFL has handed down sanctions for violation of its personal conduct policy but the ones involving Roethlisberger, Elliott, and Winston all involved players acting against women like Watson's case does.

None involved arrests, charges or criminal trials, same as the Watson saga.

All, in other words, meet the same criteria the Watson case is meeting with the exception that Watson is facing allegations from two dozen women rather than just one.

Given this history it is hard to see the NFL not sanctioning Watson unless the 24 individual stories of 24 different women suddenly and unexpectedly get entangled in a web of deceit.

That's basically what Watson is claiming is holding him up to scrutiny now: That a conspiracy of lies from 24 women has somehow held together over nearly one year while Watson's legal team has conducted depositions and various NFL teams and the media have probed for exculpatory flaws in their accounts and so far uncovered none that are public.

None of this, by the way, speaks to the public relations pressure the NFL faces over its personal conduct policy that is basically written to keep the league from looking bad.

The NFL weeks ago suspended Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for the entire 2022 season because he placed bets on his team and other teams last season -- a violation of league policy.

Ridley has admitted he gambled a total of $1,500.

Like it or not, that puts the NFL in a difficult position -- where the word of 24 women claiming sexual misconduct by one player cannot seem to mean less to the league than another player placing a $1,500 bet.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero