The hearing ended 11 days ago. At some point today, the NFL and NFL Players Association will be submitting their written paperwork to Judge Sue L. Robinson regarding the question of whether Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should, or shouldn’t, be suspended.
It’s technically called a post-hearing brief. It’s a common step in a situation like this, where one person hears the evidence, determines the facts, and applies the relevant law (here, the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy) to those facts.
Judge Robinson eventually will make a decision. She will (or at least should) prepare a lengthy, written ruling that identifies the specific things that she believes happened, or doesn’t believe happened. She will (or at least should) explain carefully how the policy does, or doesn’t, point to discipline.
The league will (or at least should) make her entire written ruling available for review by fans and media. (Since it doesn’t involve a team or an owner, the league probably will.)
A decision could come at any time. I’ll be watching the week of July 25, with the possibility of a decision coming on Friday, July 22. If she generates a ruling too quickly, it may seem rushed. She needs the public to understand and accept her findings and reasoning. Part of achieving that is to wait just long enough so that people will believe that she spent enough time working on it.
A settlement also could come at any time. As someone said last week, an agreed resolution isn’t likely while the lawyers are running the hourly meter on generating the written briefs. Once the paperwork is in, maybe the lawyers can bill some time to trying to negotiate a deal.
It still won’t be easy, especially for the league. Above all else, the NFL can’t afford to be perceived as being too lenient with Watson. Judge Robinson’s decision will give the league cover, if she decides that he shouldn’t be punished to the extent that the NFL wants him to be punished.
And, yes, public reaction is critical. The entire Personal Conduct Policy apparatus is a P.R. tool. The vast majority of American employers do not discipline or discharge employees based on off-duty misconduct. As long as the employee is able to show up for work (and isn’t, you know, in prison), it’s not the employer’s business.
The NFL, with the agreement of the NFLPA, has made off-duty behavior its business, because it believes fans will be less enthusiastic about paying for tickets or watching games if the NFL shrugs at players, coaches, executive, owners, etc. who do things while not at work that result in arrests or charges or allegations or some combination of the three.
This will be the first application of the new procedure crafted by the league and union in 2020. And, as it was under the old procedure, Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to have final say — unless Judge Robinson finds that Watson shouldn’t be disciplined at all.