One step forward, and two steps back. Though this is a common idiom in literature, it’s becoming all too real in terms of the NFL trying to perfect its image. They have taken steps towards equality since 2015, with Jen Welter becoming the first female coach in NFL history in 2015. Since then, multiple scandals have rocked the league, with the most recent (and certainly most concerning), being the handling of the Deshaun Watson case. Since it hit headlines, nothing has really happened. That is the problem.
On the flip side, the MLB is dealing with an issue that is similar in nature. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Trevor Bauer was placed on administrative leave pending the result of sexual assault allegations that were pitted against him. Though the MLB decided to leave any definite punishment for the end of the season, they placed him on leave almost as soon as they could have investigated the issue, making their stance clear. The NFL, however, did not do the same. That is where the issue lies.
Though the NFL has made many strides in terms of equality for women and standing up against racism, they have not made their stance very clear regarding the situation of Deshaun Watson, which has made some speak up against them. They have not made the decision to place him on the commissioner’s exempt list, which has been done in the past to players like Kareem Hunt and Reuben Foster. In the past, the NFL put players on this list, removing them from the field even before an investigation had been completed.
There is one small caveat that the NFL must deal with before Watson is handed any type of punishment. Per Article 46, Section 4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, “the Commissioner and a Club will not both discipline a player for the same act or conduct.” Under this section, Watson cannot be punished by the Houston Texans and Roger Goodell. Though Watson has not played a game through five weeks of the NFL season, this has been listed as a “coach’s decision.” It is essentially left up to interpretation if this is considered to be a punishment because, if it is, then Watson in turn cannot be suspended by the NFL. Given that the Houston Texans never explicitly punished Watson for these allegations, it’s been left up to the NFL. Therein lies the issue, because the NFL has every opportunity to do something, yet nothing has happened to this point.
This limbo that Watson has been left in was created through the poor handling of this case by the NFL, as there was a clear step that could have been taken that never was. The MLB made their thoughts on the Trevor Bauer allegations very clear, and as a result, they have caught less attention than the NFL has from the media, given that the NFL never crafted any response on how they wanted to handle this situation. Though the situation is extremely sensitive as well as still evolving, a case as serious as this, you would think, would warrant a response from a corporation as massive as the NFL. Though the company may have a lot on its plate on any given day, it should be assumed that crafting its position regarding this issue would be on the top of its agenda.
Jon Trusz is a Junior at the University of Connecticut studying Political Science and Communications, and can be reached at [email protected].