HOUSTON – For the past 16 days, the NFL had the luxury of time and patience as civil lawsuits mounted against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
While attorneys tossed accusations back and forth through litigation and statements in the media, the league has been able to conduct its due diligence without a criminal investigation clock hanging over its own disciplinary process. The bottom line? If Watson was not part of a police investigation, the demand to the NFL to make something her status on the list following allegations of sexual misconduct was mitigated.
That changed significantly on Friday, when the Houston Police Department announced that a complaint had been officially filed with authorities regarding Watson.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, followed up that statement with one of his own, which appears to indicate that the complaint was related to civil litigation directed at the quarterback.
“We welcome this long-awaited development,” Hardin said in the statement. “Now we will know the identity of at least one accuser. We will cooperate fully with the Houston Police Department. “
Those two statements now place NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at a crossroads. He now has to process an ever-growing collection of complaints and investigations into Watson, highlighting how Goodell picks and chooses players and the incidents he thinks warrant invoking the status of the Commissioner’s Exemption List. The exempt list is essentially a form of paid leave for players, which used to come into play when authorities or the league (or both) began sorting out criminal misconduct charges.
With the Houston Police Department filing a criminal complaint and launching its own investigation, albeit one that has yet to define the details behind the complaint, Watson appears to fit that description. That is a significant change in status. Before that happened, Watson was simply the target of a growing civil litigation that did not generate criminal complaints and justified a low bar to make an accusation. Essentially, anyone can file a civil lawsuit at any time and prove nothing. But a civil lawsuit coupled with a criminal complaint that triggers a police investigation leads the NFL to delve into its own definitions of what justifies an exempt list situation.
So here are the four realities that are now related to Goodell’s vantage point on whether Watson should be included on the exempt list:
* The quarterback has 21 civil lawsuits alleging some element of sexual misconduct, ranging from stalking to assault.
* A 22nd woman has alleged what she believed to be inappropriate behavior by Watson during a massage session, in a Sports Illustrated account.
* An undisclosed criminal complaint against Watson has been filed with the Houston Police Department.
* Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, has indicated that the criminal complaint has ties to at least a portion of the civil litigation currently pending against the player.
* The NFL is scheduled to begin team activities later this month, at which point Watson would be eligible to begin offseason work with the Texans (even if that seems unlikely).
According to the league’s personal conduct policy:
A player may be placed on paid administrative leave in accordance with the Commissioner’s Exemption List in any of the following circumstances:
First, when a player is formally charged with a crime of violence, which means that he is accused of having used physical force or a weapon to injure or threaten another person, of having participated in a sexual assault by force or a sexual assault of a person. that you were unable to consent, have engaged in other conduct that represents a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person, or have engaged in animal abuse. Formal charges can be in the form of an indictment by a grand jury, the presentation of charges by a prosecutor, or a arraignment in criminal court.
Second, when an investigation leads the Commissioner to believe that a player may have violated this Policy by committing any of the behaviors identified above, they may act when the circumstances and evidence warrant. This decision will not reflect a finding of guilt or innocence and will not be guided by the same standards and legal considerations that would apply in a criminal trial.
So far, Watson has not been charged with any crime and does not apply to the first standard. But the second standard is very open and leaves Goodell with considerable freedom of knowing whether Watson “may have violated” the personal conduct policy. Previously, Goodell only had his own league investigation (which is underway) to make that kind of determination. You now have the Houston Police Department participating in your own investigation.
The key at this point is that Goodell need not know that Watson is guilty of violating the personal conduct policy. He just has to believe that the quarterback “could have raped him.” And this is where the pressure starts to build. Looking at the 21 pieces of civil litigation that have been filed accusing Watson of sexual misconduct, along with the Sports Illustrated account reflecting some parts of the pending lawsuits and the criminal complaint filed with the Houston Police Department, it now begins. a question for Goodell. form.
If this is not the threshold for a situation where Watson “may have violated” the personal conduct policy, what is the threshold?
Eventually, Goodell will be pressed for that description. And the development of Friday will have played an important role in the search for that answer.
More from Yahoo Sports: