Why was Sue Robinson involved in Deshaun Watson’s case, anyway?

Former Judge Sue L. Robinson and Deshaun Watson... partners in crime.

Former Judge Sue L. Robinson and Deshaun Watson… partners in crime.
Illustration: (Getty Images)

“During her tenure on the bench, Judge Robinson presided over an extraordinary number of complex cases, primarily involving patent disputes (including the billion dollar stent litigation), but also including numerous trademark infringement and antitrust disputes.”

That’s how NFL disciplinary officer and former federal judge Sue Robinson’s partner page at her law firm, Farnan LLP, describes her legal career.

Want more? Here you go:

“Her public service has been recognized by such organizations as the Philadelphia Intellectual Property Law Association, the New Jersey Intellectual Property Law Association, the New York Intellectual Property Law Association, and the Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation.”

So why is a former judge whose expertise is largely in complex litigation, patent, and antitrust, making a determination for the NFL on a disciplinary matter involving sexual violence? It’s a great question and one I would love to have the NFL and NFLPA answer.

Ideally, a wise and fair arbitrator in any dispute would have more than a passing knowledge of the field of law in which she is ruling. Most attorneys I know have little knowledge of specialized fields like antitrust and patent law, which are outside the realm of what most of us learned in law school. I, for one, would never presume that I know any more about patent law than the general public, and I sure as hell wouldn’t agree to weigh in on said field of law. It’s a specialized field that requires specialized knowledge.

But you know what else is a specialized field? Understanding the dynamics of sexual and domestic violence. Over the course of my career, I was required to take several courses on intimate partner violence and sexual assault. These were classes that flew in the face of everything society had taught me about violence and exposed a fair amount of the misogyny I had internalized over the course of my life. America does a terrible job educating its citizens about societal violence, but is especially bad where women and other marginalized groups are concerned. But judges? Well, Judges are supposed to be smarter and wiser than the rest of us. Judges are supposed to be well-versed in the issues they are ruling on.

So you can imagine the dismay many women felt when they read what Robinson had said this about Deshaun Watson’s disciplinary case:

“…‘(Deshaun Watson’s) pattern of behavior was egregious,” but notes that behavior was ‘nonviolent sexual conduct’ in explaining the decision to suspend him six games…”

Maybe the NFL should expand the player education about domestic violence and sexual assault to its arbitrators, but that is one of the most egregious things I’ve ever heard come out of a judge’s ruling.

If you’ll recall, the New York Times reported:

“Watson was said in both cases to have pressured women to perform oral sex during massages and was accused in one of also having grabbed a woman’s buttocks and vagina. The civil suits alleged that Watson engaged in a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, coercing them to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself to women he had hired for massages, or moving his body in ways that forced them to touch his penis. The incidents cited in the suits were said to have occurred from March 2020 to March 2021.”

In another incident, a victim alleged that Waston “was persistent in his requests for sexual acts during their massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis. Another woman says that Watson began masturbating “aggressively” during her massage session with him, eventually ejaculating on her chest and face.

Watson has continually denied the allegations against him, but has settled with most of the 24 victims who came forward.

The question, though, is in what world is having a man constantly ask you if you want his penis in your mouth not violent? How is having a man ejactulate on your face against your will not violent? Robinson’s comments harken back to a time when anything short of being grabbed, raped, and beaten in an alley was “a misunderstanding” or a case of “boys will be boys,” or the dreaded “are you sure you didn’t lead him on? After all, you were in a dark alley alone at night dressed like that. What did you expect to have happen?” It’s clear from just that one remark that Robinson has absolutely no understanding of sexual violence and, as such, she had no business arbitrating Watson’s case.

It’s understandable why the NLFPA would want someone like Robinson hearing the case. What’s inexcusable is why the NFL agreed to it. Of course, it’s in the league’s best interest to have one of their star QBs out there this season, rather than sitting out all of 2022, which is what should have happened to a player accused of sexual misconduct with at least 24 women. And the Browns have done an exceptional job of forcing Watson down our throats all offseason as if nothing was wrong. The NFL decided long ago that women were expendable as fans. And women haven’t had the political will or organization to do anything about it.

Since #MeToo exploded into our Twitter timelines in 2017, we’ve seen dozens of judges blown up for a complete abdication of their duties when it comes to cases involving sexual assault, from the judge was concerned a prison sentence would have an “adverse collateral consequences” on convicted rapist Brock Turner to the judge who initially gave full custody of a child to his mother’s rapist, it’s been no secret that there are judges across America who are always willing to give a man a pass for sexually violating women.

The NFL, though, has made a big deal out of its personal misconduct policy, which was overhauled in the wake of video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiance now wife, in a hotel elevator. The league brought in experts on violence against women like former prosecutor Lisa Friel and blasted us all with “No More” video montages. There is no excuse for the NFL, who purports to want to do right by women, to have handed over Deshaun Watson’s discipline to an arbitrator who doesn’t have a clue about what sexual assault looks like.

Can’t wait for the inevitable press conference from Roger Goodell, when he shrugs his shoulders and tell us that he really wanted do better for female fans, but his hands were tied. Meanwhile, the Watson defenders are already out in force, taking Robinson’s comments as proof that Watson’s alleged actions weren’t a big deal.

And around and around we go. By Week 8, all this will be forgotten and the few people who dare bring it up will be shouted down by the masses. It’s the way it always goes in the NFL. Happy training camp, everyone.

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