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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Mattress Mack and the Astros host Pearland Little League at Wednesday night's game. Photo by LittleLeague.org

Sure, it’s impressive that the Astros have made four World Series appearances in recent years, but they’re not alone. There’s another baseball team around here that’s also headed to its fourth World Series since 2010.

Pearland defeated Oklahoma, 9-4, on Tuesday to win the Southwest Regional and qualify for the Little League World Series starting Aug. 17 in South Williamsport, PA.

Most fans and media say the Little League World Series is held in Williamsport, but it’s South Williamsport, just a 5-minute stroll across a bridge over the Susquehanna River in north central Pennsylvania.

Pearland is on a torrid 13-game winning streak that swept through district, sectional, state and regional tournaments to earn the Little League World Series bid.

Here’s how difficult the road to the Little League World Series is. There are 15 teams in MLB’s American League. If the Astros finish with one of the two best records, they’ll have to win two playoff series to play in the World Series.

Little League is a little bigger than MLB. Little League is the largest youth sports organization in the world, with 2.5 million kids playing for 180,000 teams in more than 100 countries on six continents.

Pearland, representing East Texas, had to defeat All-Star teams from West Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado to win the Southwest Regional. The Little League World Series will host 20 teams - 10 from the U.S. and 10 from international regions.

If you have children that play Little League, or you’re just a fan, attending the Little League World Series should be high on your baseball bucket list.

I covered the Little League World Series in 2010 when Pearland made its first appearance and made it all the way to the U.S. championship game. It may have been my most fun assignment ever.

The Little League World Series is played by 11 and 12-year-olds in Little League’s major division. When ESPN and ABC air these games, they’ll present the players as innocent little kids, like Beaver and Wally or Tom and Huck. They’ll show the kids playing Simon Says with the Little League mascot called Dugout. They’ll ask the kids who’s their favorite big leaguer.

I was a Little League coach. I followed Little League All-Stars across Texas all the way to South Williamsport. These kids are absolute baseball maniacs with $400 gloves, $500 bats and Oakley sunglasses. I thought the Astros might call and ask where they got their super neat equipment.

Especially in Texas, these kids are built tough with long ball power and play year-round travel baseball with high-priced private coaches. This isn’t a choose-up game in the park where kids play in their school clothes, one kid brings a baseball and the players share bats. I looked at some of the Little Leaguers and wondered if they drove to the stadium.

I half-expected, when ABC asked who their baseball idol was, they’d answer “me!”

Here’s how seriously good these kids can play the game. Justin Verlander throws a 97-mph fastball. That’s pretty fast. It’s not rare anymore for a Little League pitcher to reach 70-mph on a fastball. The Little League mound is 46 feet from home plate. A 70-mph pitch in Little League gets to home plate in the same time as a 91-mph pitch from 60 feet 6 inches in MLB.

In 2015, a pitcher named Alex Edmonson fired an 83-mph heater at the Little League World Series. The reaction time a Little League batter had against Alex’s pitch was equal to a Major Leaguer trying to hit a 108-mph fastball. Good luck with that. Alex pitched a no-hitter and struck out 15 batters in six innings at the Little League World Series. Now 20, Alex is a relief pitcher for Clemson.

The Little League World Series is a trip. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Philadelphia and drive to South Williamsport. I sat next to CC Sebathia’s mother on the plane.

Admission to all Little League World Series games is free and snack bar prices are reasonable. A hot dog is $3. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited.

The first Little League World Series was held in 1947. Only 58 players have played in the Little League World Series and later played in MLB. The most famous are Cody Bellinger and Jason Varitek. Only two players from the Houston area made the leap: Brady Rodgers and Randal Grichuk both played on the 2003 team from Richmond, about 30 miles from Houston in Fort Bend County.

While you’re in South Williamsport, you should visit the Little League museum and Hall of Excellence. Among the inductees: Presidents Joe Biden and George W. Bush, Astros manager Dusty Baker, Kevin Costner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dick Vitale, Rob Manfred and someone who’d later play stadiums in a different way, Bruce Springsteen.

Speaking of Springsteen, I shattered a record at the 2010 Little League World Series. The record was Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. I was talking to a Little League executive while teams were warming up on the field. Born in the U.S.A. came over the stadium loudspeakers.

I told the executive, I’m a big fan but maybe this isn’t the best song you should be playing. The executive asked why not? Well, you might want to listen to the words. Born in the U.S.A. is a depressing song about a U.S. soldier who is sent to Vietnam and can’t find a job when he gets back home. It’s not exactly Yankee Doodle Dandy. You have teams from Asia here (Japan won the tournament that year). The executive said, please tell me you’re kidding. Here’s one verse:

Got in a little hometown jam

So they put a rifle in my hand

Sent me off to a foreign land

To go and kill the (what is considered a slur for Asians).

Later I got an email from the president of Little League International.

“Quite honestly, I've never listened closely to the words of Born in the USA. I see clearly how it is offensive to our Little League friends from Asian nations. I have directed our folks who coordinate the stadium music to discontinue playing it in the future.”

Play Centerfield by John Fogerty instead. The message of that song is, “put me in coach.” Little League couldn’t say it any better.

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