Making sense of the Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Calvin Ridley suspensions

One of the more common questions raised in response to Judge Sue L. Robinson’s decision to suspend Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games flows from a fairly obvious set of comparisons.

How does Watson, who faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, get suspended only six games when Cardinal receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for trace amounts of a PED he claims he didn’t know he ingested and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended a whole season for making $1,500 in parlay wagers?

On the surface, the answer is easy. These three players were suspended under three completely different policies: Personal Conduct, PED, and gambling.

There’s a more nuanced explanation. The PED policies and gambling policies go directly to the integrity of the game, whether by cheating in it or betting on it. The Personal Conduct Policy relates to off-duty behavior, conduct that has no connection to the league’s core business interests.

The vast majority of American employers don’t, won’t, and can’t police the private lives of their employees. If an employee faces multiple civil lawsuits unrelated to his workplace behavior and/or if he’s investigated but never charged with any crime(s), the employer has no cause to do anything.

The NFL has cause to do something to players like Watson because the league and the NFL Players Association have agreed that the NFL can and should investigate and discipline players who get in trouble away from work. Despite the inherent flaws (such as the inability to force non-employees of the league or its teams to cooperate), the NFL has the right — and feels an obligation t0 — take action against employees who have gotten into certain types of trouble.

And remember this. First, the NFL focused only on four cases, not 24. Second, the NFL has the right to appeal the ruling to (checks notes) the NFL, and in turn to impose a much greater suspension than Judge Robinson’s six games.

So while the comparisons are understandable, there’s a reason for the differences in treatment of Watson and Hopkins/Ridley. For many, however, those subtleties will be irrelevant.