August 2, 2022

More than two dozen women accused NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct during massage treatments from the fall of 2019 through March of 2021.

But that didn’t stop the Cleveland Browns from trading for him and then signing him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. And, apparently for now, the allegations won’t stop him from playing football this season.

In a stunning and controversial ruling, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge jointly agreed upon by the NFL and the players’ union to rule on the case, announced Monday that Watson should be suspended six games. Robinson ruled Watson’s conduct as “predatory” and “egregious,” but wrote in her ruling, “While it may be entirely appropriate to more severely discipline players for nonviolent sexual conduct, I do not believe it is appropriate to do so without notice of the extraordinary change this position portends for the NFL and its players.”

The NFL wanted at least a year’s suspension and has until Thursday to appeal the decision. The players association has already said it won’t appeal.

All along, Watson has denied any wrongdoing and no criminal charges were brought against him. But he did settle 23 of the 24 suits against him.

Before you go any further, however, read this compelling June 7 story from The New York Times’ Jenny Vrentas. After reading it, it’s hard to not be infuriated by what seems like a ridiculously light six-game suspension.

That seemed to be the general media reaction on Monday.

Speaking on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football,” co-host Kyle Brandt said, “You start to lose track of the human element of this story. This is not a player that’s being suspended for PEDS, or even gambling. This is a very poignant human story involving women … Who cares if it’s (only) one? Do you understand? It could be one and there’s also this non-violent phrase that’s being thrown out like it’s some kind of Band-Aid. The word is coercive. And I look at six and I find it very light. I hope it doesn’t stay that way personally. I think that Deshaun Watson leveraged his status as an NFL player against women. … And I think it happened more than one time and I think it was (behind) closed doors in small rooms against women who were probably intimidated. And it pisses me off to even talk about it. And frankly it pisses me off to see the number six.”

Speaking on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption,” co-host Michael Wilbon said that once you see a phrase like “predatory behavior,” the suspension should have “rocketed past six games. … It just seems weak.”

Wilbon’s “PTI” co-host Tony Kornheiser added, “It shocked me. I honestly thought he would get the full season and deservedly so. … It seems clear to me, and I’ve said this before on this show, that Deshaun Watson thinks of massage therapists as prostitutes.”

On ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” panelist Clinton Yates said he couldn’t even understand the ruling. “Non-violent sexual assault? That’s not a thing in my world in 2022. … I was stunned to hear such a ridiculously kind of old-school mentality about what we understand about how to protect women in this country as the baseline for why he only deserved a certain amount of games.”

Yates called it “very disappointing” and “very discouraging” and that it “just doesn’t feel right.”

“Around the Horn” panelist Sarah Spain noted that under this format, the NFL was essentially the prosecution in this case. “Which means,” Spain said, “that a league that has a horrific record on sexual violence and caring about women is the one expected to present a compelling case about the acts of this man and why he should be punished.”

Spain correctly said the judge’s ruling was based on precedent set by the NFL.

The ruling came under even more scrutiny considering the judge essentially agreed with the NFL that Watson was guilty. The Washington Post’s Matt Bonesteel had the four takeaways from the judge’s ruling:

  • Watson committed sexual assault against the four massage therapists included in the NFL’s investigation.
  • Watson’s conduct posed a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person.
  • Watson’s behavior undermined the NFL’s integrity.
  • Nevertheless, Watson’s behavior was not considered violent conduct.

Yahoo sports columnist Shalise Manza Young wrote, “(Robinson) thinks Watson is such a danger that she wants him, for the remainder of his career, to get massages only through his team or with a team-approved therapist. To some of us, that sounds like a predator, someone who knows what they’re doing is wrong, does it anyway and could do it again in the future. And yet given all of this, Robinson gave Watson what amounts to a slap on the wrist. His non-throwing one at that.”

To that point, The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill tweeted, “If you have to put in the ruling that Deshaun Watson is only allowed to utilize the Browns’ massage therapists, then maybe he should be getting suspended more than 6 games.”

As far as what was in the ruling, Pro Football Talk managing editor Michael David Smith tweeted, “I just fundamentally disagree with the idea that Deshaun Watson needed to be given ‘fair notice’ that there would be serious consequences for engaging in sexual misconduct with dozens of women.”

ESPN’s Mina Kimes called the ruling “utterly incoherent” and “confusing.” Kimes later noted that the NFL put this format of an independent arbitrator in charge of discipline in place to keep NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from being the judge and jury.

But she said she would like to see Goodell show a “sign that he takes sexual violence, sexual assault, domestic violence … seriously.”

This story feels far from over, with media and public reaction likely to nudge Goodell and the NFL to reexamine the judge’s ruling and reconsider the suspension.

Breaking news

Ayman Al-Zawahiri, left, sitting next to Osama bin Laden, right, in an image broadcast in 2002 by the London-based Middle East Broadcasting Corp. who reported the tape was delivered to them. (AP Photo/MBC via APTN)

In a national TV address on Monday evening, President Joe Biden announced that the United States had killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who along with Osama bin Laden, helped oversee the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Al-Zawahiri, 71, was considered by many to be the world’s most dangerous terrorist.

The New York Times’ ​​Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt wrote, “Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over the leadership of the group after the death of Osama bin Laden, was killed in the strike, the first attack in Afghanistan since American forces left last year and a significant victory for the Biden administration’s counterterrorism efforts. U.S. officials said the strike was not conducted by the military. A former official said the operation was carried out by the C.I.A.”

Biden said in his speech, “Justice has been delivered, and this terrorist leader is no more.”

Biden added, “To those around the world who continue to seek to harm the United States, hear me now. We will always remain vigilant, and we will act, and we will always do what is necessary to ensure the safety and security of Americans at home and around the globe.”

The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick wrote, “Zawahiri had led his own militant group and pioneered a brand of terrorism that prized spectacular attacks and the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians. When he formally merged his group with al-Qaeda in the 1990s, he brought along those tactics as well as an expanded vision for attacking the West. It was Zawahiri who postulated that defeating the ‘far enemy’ — the United States — was an essential precursor to taking on al-Qaeda’s ‘near enemy,’ the pro-Western Arab regimes that stood in the way of the group’s dream of uniting all Muslims under a global caliphate.”

Warrick added, “Though lacking bin Laden’s personal charisma, Zawahiri became the intellectual force behind many of al-Qaeda’s grandest ambitions, including its apparently unsuccessful efforts to acquire nuclear and biological weapons. And, after the group’s forced retreat from its base in Afghanistan in early 2002, it was largely Zawahiri who led al-Qaeda’s resurgence in the lawless tribal region across the border in Pakistan, according to longtime observers of the terrorist group.”

Fox News anchor Bret Baier said on air, “This is a major, major get.”

Baier referred to Biden’s speech as his “bin Laden moment,” comparing it to when Barack Obama announced that the U.S. had killed bin Laden in 2011.

“This is a huge, huge win for the U.S.,” Baier said.

Returning to the Times

Columnist Nicholas Kristof is going back to The New York Times. Kristof was a Times columnist for 20 years before stepping away in October to run for governor of Oregon. But in February, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Kristof was ineligible to run because he didn’t meet the residency requirements.

The Times said he will return in the fall after he completes a book that he is writing.

Times Opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury wrote, “We are delighted to have him back. Not only is Nick an excellent journalist who has redefined what a modern columnist could be, he is a terrific colleague.”

Kristof is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner — for international reporting in 1990 and commentary in 2006. He has been a finalist seven times.

Kristof tweeted he is “thrilled with the news.”

Stunning, yet not surprising

What a photo — Fox News’ Tucker Carlson laughing while standing between former President Donald Trump and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. And what a headline: “Trump and Tucker Carlson laugh along as chants of ‘Let’s go Brandon’ ring out across Bedminster golf club on third and final day of Donald’s Saudi-backed LIV tournament.”

It’s all in the Daily Mail. Check it out.

Remembering Bill Russell

People gather to view a statue of Boston Celtics basketball great Bill Russell on Monday at City Hall Plaza in Boston. ( AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

I wanted to link to a few more excellent appreciations of the legendary Bill Russell, who died over the weekend at the age of 88. Russell just might be sports’ greatest winner, having won 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons. And he made a much bigger impact off the court, fighting for civil rights. So be sure to check out:

OAN is just about gone

One America News — the far-right, pro-Donald Trump network — is now just about out of homes. Verizon stopped carrying OAN on its Fios TV service over the weekend.

Slate’s Justin Peters wrote, “… OAN’s moment is definitively over.”

Peters also wrote, “OAN probably would have remained broadly unnoticed on the back end of the channel list, shouting weird theories and paleoconservative dogma to insomniacs and shut-ins and reaping the carriage fee boondoggle. But then came the rise of Donald Trump. OAN’s moment in the sun began with Trump’s election, because Trump effectively was the network’s core demographic: an aging, inattentive crank receptive to conspiracies and addled by resentments.”

But Peters also smartly added, “Make no mistake, though: It’s likely that the demise of OAN is driven less by public pressure campaigns or those providers’ distaste for fascist rhetoric than by simple economics. (After all, DirecTV and Verizon also faced pressure campaigns from OAN fans urging them to keep the network.) If the cable and satellite business model still worked as well as it did a decade ago, OAN would likely still be on the air. Likewise, if the network was actually pulling high enough ratings, it wouldn’t matter what its anchors were saying or whom they wanted to execute: OAN would still have a place in Verizon and DirecTV’s channel lineups. America’s cable and satellite providers are more than willing to platform even the most toxic loons as long as those loons make them money.”

Meanwhile …

Another conservative network, Newsmax, looks as if it is trying to take advantage of a possible separation between Fox News and Trump. (The New York Times’ Jeremy W. Peters points out that Trump hasn’t been on Fox News in more than 100 days, although Fox News’ Howie Kurtz said over the weekend that Fox New has no edict against having Trump on and that he has invited Trump to be on his “MediaBuzz” Sunday show.)

Anyway, The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona tweeted this clip with Newmax anchors teasing a story and one saying, “Coming up — shadowbanned? Why former President Trump hasn’t appeared on the major news network in over 100 days— that’s Fox News. What’s going on there?”

Casting call

Do you live in the Los Angeles area? Can you play a little basketball? Then you could get cast for the second season of HBO’s “Winning Time,” the series about the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers. And, hey, no acting experience needed.

OK, there’s a little more required. You have to be at least 6-feet-2 inches tall, between 20 and 30 years old and, as I mentioned, you have to have some hoop skills.

Oh, and it would really help if you look a little like former NBA players James Worthy, Robert Parish, Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott or Mitch Kupchak.

Check out this tweet from Jeff Pearlman, who wrote the book “Showtime” that “Winning Time” is loosely based on.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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