Roger Goodell’s strong comments about Deshaun Watson could be used against NFL in federal court

As the Miranda warnings explain, Anything you say can and will be used against you. That concept applies in plenty of other legal contexts and settings.

When it comes to the blunt, candid comments made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday regarding Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, a question has emerged as to whether Goodell’s remarks will be repeated by the NFL Players Association in any eventual legal battle regarding the inevitable suspension imposed on Watson by appeals officer Peter Harvey.

Why wouldn’t they be? Goodell’s comments could be characterized as an effort to send a strong and clear message to Harvey, who surely wants to retain his relationship with the league and who will be inclined to give Goodell what Harvey thinks Goodell wants. Goodell is trying to tip the scales of in-house justice his way by making sure the judge knows what he who butters the judge’s bread would like to see happen.

That said, Harvey already knows what Goodell wants. The league consistently has been seeking a suspension of at least one calendar year in duration. As the preseason opener approaches and the prospect looms of Watson playing in an NFL game for the first time since the conclusion of the 2020 regular season, Harvey undoubtedly realizes that Goodell wants Watson to be blocked from doing so.

Goodell could have handled the appeal himself, ensuring that he’d get what he wants. But since he knows Harvey will give Goodell what he wants anyway, why not build in a layer of insulation if he knows he’ll get the same result he would have secured if he had done it himself?

“There were multiple violations here, and they were egregious an it was predatory behavior,” Goodell told reporters regarding Watson. Egregious. Predatory. How will Watson not be suspended for a full year?

Would it have made more sense for Goodell to say something like, “We’ll defer comment until the legal process ends”? Sure. But legal niceties must be balanced against P.R. realities. Beyond those Browns fans who struggle (and understandably so) to separate their rooting interests from the question of whether Watson has had a full and proper reckoning, most NFL fans want to see Watson suspended for a full year. Last week, a PFT Twitter poll that asked for the preferred length of suspension with the choices being six games, eight games, 12 games, and a full season, nearly 71 percent responded by selecting the longest duration.

The NFL is sensitive to this reality. Although some have accused the NFL of being overly concerned with optics, the entire Personal Conduct Policy is based on optics. The vast majority of American employers don’t (and shouldn’t) care about off-duty behavior. The NFL, with the agreement of the NFL Players Association, does. It has to. Fans who are expected to devote money and time to the product expect that action will be taken against players who misbehave, even when the misbehavior has nothing to do with the NFL. (Of course, in this case, Watson used his status as an NFL quarterback to secure massages that he tried to flip into sexual encounters. That will not help him on appeal.)

There’s an obvious disconnect between law and optics. It’s why four violations, within the four corners of the Personal Conduct Policy, become 24 (and up to 66) within the minds of anyone and everyone who has been paying attention. That’s another reason why the NFL will throw the book at Watson. The league knows it’s 24 (and up to 66). Harvey knows it, too. The federal judge who presides over the case, if/when there is one, will know it, too.

Maybe that’s why Goodell said what he said. Why he doesn’t care if his words are repeated in court as part of an argument that Harvey was partial or biased or whatever. Four is really 24, and is as many as 66. Everybody knows it. And it will be difficult for anyone to set it aside.