Howard Schnellenberger died over the weekend. His life/career in football demonstrates an amazing association with some of the greatest players and coaches in the game and he specialized in building college football programs:
- He played college football under Bear Bryant.
- He was an assistant coach under Bear Bryant.
- He recruited Joe Namath and Kenny Stabler to Alabama
- He was an assistant coach to George Allen.
- He was an assistant coach to Don Shula – during the Dolphins’ undefeated season.
- He resurrected a moribund football program at the University of Miami.
- He resurrected a moribund football program at Louisville.
- He built the Florida Atlantic football program from the ground up.
Rest in peace, Howard Schnellenberger.
Moving on … For those of you keeping score at home, Deshaun Watson now has 19 female massage therapists/trainers who have accused him of sexual misconduct. There are dozens of reports out there describing the allegations for anyone who has not kept up with this story and is interested; Google is your friend. I will not even try to dip a toe into the smarmy puddle of what he is alleged to have done; I will simply note that if these allegations are true, he is a young man in need of significant psychological/psychiatric treatment. Even I know that – – and I am not in the business of “things psychological”.
What I wonder about is how the NFL is going to deal with all of this as a business entity. The league has its “Personal Conduct Policy”, and it has wielded it in the past. The policy seeks to protect the NFL from “conduct detrimental to the league and professional football”.
It took some careful reading for me to realize that there need not be a legal finding of criminal activity or for there to be a successful civil suit against a player for the policy to be called into play. As I was chatting with a neighbor who is an attorney – and a football fan – he pointed out to me that Ezekiel Elliott’s 6-game suspension was a result of imposing the Personal Conduct Policy sanctions on Elliott without any evidence of his guilt in a courtroom.
So, the investigative work to be done to prepare the Commissioner for his finding(s) related to the Personal Conduct policy is closely related to the legal status of the matters. In a criminal case, there are court documents that need to be presented as evidence and much of that will be public record; in other words, the police and the prosecutors – – the good guys on Law and Order – – will do a lot of the legwork for the league. So far, the Deshaun Watson allegations have remained in civil court and the nineteen women accusers are known as Jane Doe #1, Jane Doe #2 … Reports say that their filings are signed only by their attorney; so for now, there is no possibility of accusers’ names leaking out . I guess that puts the ball squarely in the court of NFL Security to get out there and do some of its own investigating.
And once I think about that circumstance, I wonder how long it will be until the Commish will have any facts in hand on which to base his judgment. Consider:
- The NFL has been investigating allegations against the Washington Football Team’s front office regarding sexual harassment and a “toxic culture” and that investigation is now in its ninth month. The accusers who came forward were known; there are pictures/videos related to some of the voyeuristic allegations; the NFL investigators knew from Day One where to begin.
- According to the Houston Police Department, there have been no criminal charges filed in the Deshaun Watson situation. So, the NFL investigators will need the cooperation of the attorney representing these nineteen women simply to know who they are so the NFL can begin to do what it is that they think they need to do. Why do I think that is unlikely to happen?
Unless there is a major sea change in this entire matter, I cannot see any way for this to be even close to “resolved” by the time the 2021 NFL season starts. NFL Security does not have subpoena power and cannot compel testimony from anyone; it would seem to me that the league will need to rely on public reporting of these incidents for much of its information until and unless one or more of the civil cases goes to trial. If there were to be out-of-court settlements in the case(s), I cannot imagine that the settlement(s) would not include non-disclosure agreements as a condition of the settlement.
- [Aside: Given the grandiose statements of the attorneys on both sides of this matter so far, I wish NFL Security good luck in making any determinations based on news releases and reporting.]
Commissioner Roger Goodell has a safety zone here; there is something called the Commissioner’s Exempt List; here is what it means in simple terms:
- The player – or coach or owner or staff member – placed on this list cannot interact with his/her team until removed from the list. That means no meetings, no practices, no games … You get the idea.
- At the same time, the player – or coach or staff member – continues to be paid while on the list so that (s)he is not penalized monetarily for being under investigation prior to any sort of conclusive findings of that investigation.
If my mental construct of this situation is correct, Deshaun Watson may be barred from playing NFL football in 2021 while this matter moves toward its conclusion. That has particular relevance because Deshaun Watson has been publicly demanding that the Texans trade him; he says he will not play for the Texans and the Texans say they have no interest in trading him. That confrontation is ongoing and is orthogonal to the sexual harassment allegations by these 19 women. In a rational marketplace, Watson would be a sought-after commodity; he would be a QB upgrade for about 75% of the league. However, he is of no value to any team in 2021 if he is on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
This story has all the appearances of one that will be around for more than a few months…
Finally, the sexual misconduct allegations above reminded me of a quip attributed to Woody Allen – – no stranger to allegations of this stripe:
“Is sex dirty? Only if it’s done right.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………