WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

If you think the Deshaun Watson verdict is bad, consider this

Deshaun Watson will be suspended for six games. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

Now that former federal judge Sue L. Robinson has handed down her long-awaited verdict - Deshaun Watson will be suspended for the first six games of the upcoming NFL season but will not be fined - the question facing Watson, the NFL and 24 women who filed lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct or sexual assault by Watson is ... where do we go from here?

The NFL has three days to accept Robinson's decision or push for a longer suspension and possible fine. The National Football League Players Association announced earlier that it would accept Robinson's decision whichever way it went and challenged the league to do the same, which it didn't. The league had long let it be known, or leaked, that it was hoping for Watson to be suspended indefinitely with an opportunity to apply for re-admission in one year. If the league appeals Robinson's ruling the ultimate decision will lie with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates to re-try the Watson case while acting as judge and jury.

If Goodell decides to let Judge Robinson's decision stand, Watson will be allowed to continue practicing with the Cleveland Browns and play in pre-season games. However, once the regular season starts, he will be prohibited from practicing with the team for three weeks, half of his suspension. He can start practicing in Week 4 in preparation for starting at quarterback for the Browns seventh game. While he will not be paid during his suspension, the ruling does not otherwise affect his fully guaranteed 5-year contract worth $230 million. The Browns, who expected Watson to be suspended without pay for some of this season, structured Watson's contract so he is paid only $1 million this year and $46 million each of the next four years.

I'm guessing that Goodell will not challenge Judge Robinson's decision. While Goodell is protective of The Shield's image, he also wants this whole Watson mess to go away. The quickest way for that to happen is to hold the league's nose, let Watson serve his suspension and get back on the field. It is in the NFL's interest to have one of its brightest young stars playing, not sitting. Goodell also must know that many will question the NFL's judgment for suspending Atlanta Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley for a full season without pay for placing legal bets on football games during a period when he was away from the team addressing mental health issues, while allowing Watson to escape relatively scot-free.

While the NFL strictly forbids players from betting on games, most fans probably have put a few bucks on a sporting event. Most fans however can't relate to hiring "at least" 66 masseuses, according to the New York Times, with 24 filing lawsuits alleging sexual misbehavior.

Watson has settled out of court with 23 of the 24 masseuses who have sued him. The Houston Texans reached a settlement with 30 different women involved in the Watson case. Robinson, in explaining her decision to suspend Watson for six games, said his pattern of behavior with the masseuses was "egregious" but "non-violent." Let's see what psychologists and women's support groups think about that.

The Browns, who many believe did little, if any, investigation into Watson's situation before trading for Watson, now have a public relations headache. While fans will cheer Watson at home games, they're already greeting Watson warmly at practice sessions, the Browns quarterback can expect to be jeered at road games. Steelers fans are sharpening their vocal cords for Jan. 8 when the Browns visit Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh.

It will be interesting how Houston fans react when the Browns visit the Texans on Dec. 4. Before charges of sexual misconduct were filed in March of last year, Watson perhaps was Houston's most beloved athlete. Although the Texans did not play Watson in any games last year, he received his full salary.

Watson insists he did nothing wrong during the dozens of massage sessions he solicited. In fact, his camp reportedly believes that Robinson's six-game suspension was too severe. Because there was no proof of misconduct, Watson supporters think any punishment was undeserved.

By saying he has no regrets or apology for his behavior, and allowing his camp to complain about the suspension, Watson runs the risk of playing the victim in the whole sordid affair. Not a good look for him, the Browns, the Texans or the league.

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