NFL’s Deshaun Watson faces suspension after sexual assault claims

Two major stories have emerged in the world of sports. Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was recommended to receive a six-game suspension without pay after accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of women. Plus, we look at the life and legacy of basketball giant Bill Russell. Howard Bryant, a columnist for ESPN and author of 10 books, joins Jeffrey Brown to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, tonight, two major stories in the world of sports.

    First, Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson has received a recommended six-game suspension without pay after more than two dozen women accused a football player of sexual misconduct.

    Jeffrey Brown has more on the latest NFL controversy. And then he takes a moment to reflect on the life and legacy of basketball giant Bill Russell.

    And joining me for that is Howard Bryant. He's a columnist with ESPN, commentator for NPR, and author of 10 books.

    Howard, thanks for joining us once again.

    I want to start with Deshaun Watson.

    This was a new protocol. It was an approach agreed to by the NFL and the Players Association to kind of work out a balance between improper behavior and proper punishment. Did it clarify anything?

  • Howard Bryant, ESPN:

    Well, if anything, it's certainly clarified that the power of the Players Association is stronger than it's been for decades.

    One of the things that the Players Association has been fighting for, for forever has been reducing the power of the commissioner, that the — Roger Goodell has been long known as the law and order commissioner and that the appeal process in the NFL has gone — the commissioner would lay down a fine or lay down a decision, and then the appeal process would go to the commissioner.

    So, on the one hand, having this new process in places is enormous in terms of the players trying to get fair treatment, because, in the past, they never had it.

    On the other hand, you also knew that this was going to be a favorable decision toward the players because the Players Association put out a release last night that essentially said there that we need to respect the decision, which really did telegraph the fact that this was going to be very much in favor, in my opinion, of Deshaun Watson.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So what kind of reaction have you been seeing? And what's your own reaction?

    The NFL has said that it's studying to see if he wants to review it. What do you think?

  • Howard Bryant:

    Well, I would tend to think that the NFL is going to appeal this, even though there has been a sort of agreement that they're — that they were going to respect this.

    But I think that the decision is egregious in a lot of ways, that the league was asking for a year suspension and Deshaun Watson received a six-game suspension, which really does run counter to when you think about Calvin Ridley was suspended 17 games for gambling on a $1,500 bet, which obviously is affecting the play on the field of the integrity of the sport, even though the game has gone 1000 percent into the gambling world.

    You had Josh Gordon, who has been suspended more than 20 games, 25 games-plus, for marijuana. And Deshaun Watson get six games?

    And the decision by the judge, Sue Robinson really did suggest the — that there was nonviolent contact, even though it was not consensual, which, of course, has women's groups enraged right now. How can you have nonconsensual touching that's not considered violent?

    And so I think that there's going to be a great deal of criticism beyond what we have seen today toward this ruling. I think that it's going to be a very interesting place that the Players Association finds itself in. They obviously have to defend their players. It's their job to do that. They did that to the best of their abilities.

    But, obviously, if you look at that, and look at what the — what's happening with the Washington Football Team, with the Commanders as well, in terms of that Daniel Snyder case, which is still ongoing, it's not a great day to — if you're a woman, to believe in the NFL having any sort of interest in looking out or protecting you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, well, that's a still-developing story, and we're going to follow it over the coming days.

    I want to turn to Bill Russell, the great Bill Russell, and to talk about how he transformed the role of athletes, but, first, how he transformed the game itself, the way he played, his approach to it, and perhaps defining what we mean by a champion more than any American athlete in any sport, right?

  • Howard Bryant:

    Yes, no question.

    When you go back and think — go back and look at all the old black and white photos of the NBA, the center was the big, plodding, dumpy-looking guy in the center who was sort of nailed to the floor, until Bill Russell came along. And then, all of a sudden, the center position was an athletic position. It was a defensive position. And now it was a position that created the aerial game that we would later see that now is commonplace today, started the fast break, got the game going, was an intimidator.

    The Boston Celtics were famous for what they used to call the "Hey, Bill" defense, which was, when one guy got beat, they would just yell, "Hey, Bill," and Bill Russell would go over and not only cover his man, but then go over and cover somebody else's man, because he was that athletic, that dominant, totally changed the way the sport was played.

    Obviously, a couple of years later, Wilt Chamberlain comes along and then goes on top of that in terms of just the dominant, athletic big men, and the game has just gotten more and more and more athletic after that.

    To your other point about being a champion, there's no greater champion when you look at Bill Russell, 11 championships in 13 years; 12 of his 13 years, he goes to the NBA Finals. Before that, he wins — has a 56-game win streak, wins two NCAA titles, goes to the Olympics and wins gold in Melbourne in 1956.

    He's the greatest winner in the history of American sports. And there's no close second.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I mean, I have to make a persona — I saw him play in Boston when I was a young kid.

    But then I read his memoir, "Go Up for Glory," and saw the costs relate to him of playing in a city like Boston and in a country like America at the time.

    So, just in our minute left here, so, what about that later legacy of him as a civil rights activist, as an advocate, as a kind of engaged athlete?

  • Howard Bryant:

    No, he's a giant in that regard, because the one thing that he did that a lot of athletes don't do is, he stood very clearly about what his values were in terms of being a Black man in this country.

    When we spend so much time telling athletes that they have to be grateful, he was willing to say: I will pay the price for being my own person. And if that includes me not showing up to certain events because it runs counter to my values, so be it. I will pay that price. I'm going to be considered standoffish to some people and uppity to others, but I will have my morality.

    And he didn't — he never separated the greatness of being a player from the civil rights and from what — advocating for African Americans.

    Incredible man.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, the legacy of the great Bill Russell.

    Howard Bryant, thank you very much.

  • Howard Bryant:

    My pleasure. Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Jeff and Howard.

    And I have to say, I had the great fortune to meet Bill Russell at one point. It was a highlight of my life.

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