ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith broke his First Take hiatus to discuss the biggest news of the NFL offseason as Deshaun Watson received his suspension Monday morning.
More than 16 months after sexual assault allegations against Watson were made public, Judge Sue L. Robinson ruled the Cleveland Browns quarterback violated the league’s Personal Conduct Policy and suspended him for the first six games of the season. The NFL will have three days to decide on whether they want to appeal what seems like a rather light suspension.
Typically, Smith reacting to significant NFL news on First Take is not a surprise, but the ESPN host has been off his daily show since Friday, June 24, the day after the NBA Draft. Monday morning, however, Smith recognized the severity of the Watson news and joined First Take sooner than anticipated to put the NFL on blast.
“The simple fact that Deshaun Watson found himself in this situation,” Smith began. “If you’re the National Football League, ‘OK, you’ve impugned the shield because you brought this unwanted attention to our brand and as a result, that is the reason we want to hand down whatever suspension it is that we want to hand down.’ Because the NFL has been trying to make amends for their dereliction of duty as it pertained to Ray Rice, they’ve gone the route of, as far as I’m concerned, trying to resemble law enforcement.”
Watson was accused of sexual assault by 24 different women who alleged misconduct during massage therapy sessions. The quarterback and his legal team have settled civil cases with 23 of his 24 accusers, with the three most recent settlements being reported on Monday. Watson never faced criminal charges, but considering the allegations against him, many expected the quarterback to receive a harsher punishment than six games.
The NFL argued for an indefinite suspension for Watson, seeking flexibility to adjust the penalty if additional cases were brought against the quarterback. Smith’s argument against the NFL is that the league sought to investigate the allegations rather than simply punishing the quarterback for damaging their brand. The NFL’s investigation of Watson began in March 2021.
“The NFL has gone through extraordinary lengths to try to do what law enforcement is supposed to do,” Smith said on First Take. “That’s my problem with all of this. Where there’s smoke there’s fire. There is no way in hell that Deshaun Watson can claim complete innocence. But to be fair to him, he has ADAMANTLY expressed the fact that he has been innocent of this.”
After waffling over Watson, stating the quarterback can’t claim complete innocence, but acknowledging Watson has claimed complete innocence, Smith offered a more definitive view of the NFL.
“What we do know is what the NFL has decided to do,” Smith said. “And I think they’ve made a huge mistake by trying to resemble law enforcement and it’s going to come back to haunt them in a very big way.”
On July 14, Smith announced he underwent shoulder surgery and would be off First Take for at least a couple more weeks. First Take was preempted by Wimbledon on ESPN during the last week of June, so it wasn’t until after July 4 that Smith’s lengthy absence started to become apparent. Recently, Smith announced he would return to his show on August 15, but credit him for recognizing the importance of Monday’s news to break his hiatus.