Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was handed a six-game suspension and no fine for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy following accusations of sexual misconduct.
Retired federal judge Sue Robinson handed down the ruling after hearing arguments from the league, the players’ union, and Watson’s attorney during a three-day hearing held in Delaware in late June. The NFL had been pushing for a suspension of at least a year and a $5 million fine, while the players’ union and Watson’s attorney argued that the quarterback should not be punished at all because he was not convicted of a crime.
Two Texas grand juries declined to indict Watson on criminal charges after he was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 massage therapists. The accusers filed lawsuits against Watson in civil court.
The lawsuits alleged Watson would expose himself to female massage therapists, touching them with his penis or kissing them without permission. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
In July, Watson’s former team, the Houston Texans, settled lawsuits with 30 of his accusers, who accused the team of ignoring concerns and enabling the quarterback. The terms of the settlement remained confidential.
Watson has maintained his innocence throughout the matter.
The NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have three days to appeal the length of the suspension, but on Sunday, the union stated it would not appeal the ruling and called on the league to do the same.
“In advance of Judge Robinson’s decision, we wanted to reiterate the facts of this proceeding. First, we have fully cooperated with every NFL inquiry and provided the NFL with the most comprehensive set of information for any personal conduct policy investigation,” the union said in a statement.
“A former Federal Judge — appointed jointly by the NFLPA and NFL — held a full and fair hearing, has read thousands of pages of investigative documents and reviewed arguments from both sides impartially. Every player, owner, business partner and stakeholder deserves to know that our process is legitimate and will not be tarnished based on the whims of the League office. This is why, regardless of her decision, Deshaun and the NFLPA will stand by her ruling and we call on the NFL to do the same.”
The NFL released a statement thanking Judge Robinson for her “review of the voluminous record and attention during a three-day hearing that resulted in her finding multiple violations of the NFL Personal Conduct Policy by Deshaun Watson.”
“In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps,” the league’s statement reads.
If the league appeals the suspension, the terms of the collective bargaining agreement dictate that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he selects will make the final decision. The union could try to challenge the ruling in federal court.
If his suspension is upheld, Watson will be eligible to return for the Browns’ October 23 game at Baltimore. He will still be allowed to participate in practices and games during the preseason.
Watson will be able to return to practice in the regular season with the Browns once his suspension crosses the halfway mark, which will be in Week 4. He is not allowed to practice with the team during the first half of the suspension.
Since Watson signed a heavily backloaded five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract immediately upon joining the Browns, he is due only a $1.035 million base salary for this season. With no additional fine levied against the quarterback, he will only miss six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022, for a total of $345,000 lost.
Watson missed the entire 2021 season, with pay, after initially requesting a trade from the Texans and then becoming embroiled in the sexual misconduct allegations. In 2020, he had 4,823 passing yards, and 33 touchdown passes.