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NFL Appeals Deshaun Watson’s Six-Game Suspension


Deshaun Watson | Image by David Richard/AP

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The NFL on Wednesday appealed the six-game suspension of Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, seeking a harsher penalty for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal. Under the league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), Goodell can appoint himself to hear the appeal or appoint a designee to do so.

Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the league’s CBA with the NFL’s Players Association (NFLPA).

Disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson issued the six-game suspension on Monday, writing in her 16-page report that “the NFL carried its burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Mr. Watson engaged in sexual assault (as defined by the NFL).”

Robinson also mandated that Watson only receive massages from team-approved therapists moving forward and “have no adverse involvement with law enforcement” or violate the league’s personal conduct policy again.

The NFL and the NFLPA both had three days to appeal the decision. Before Robinson’s ruling, the union had announced on Sunday that it would not appeal the judge’s ruling.

The NFLPA now has two business days to file in writing a response to the NFL’s appeal. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington reported Wednesday that the NFLPA was preparing to sue the NFL in federal court over the appeal of Robinson’s decision.

Robinson wrote in her report that the NFL recommended that Watson be suspended for the entire 2022 season, while the NFLPA and Watson’s attorneys argued he should not be punished at all because he was not convicted of a crime. 

Two grand juries in Texas declined to pursue criminal charges against Watson earlier this year. 

Civil lawsuits filed by 25 women accused Watson of sexual assault and inappropriate conduct during massage sessions. The alleged encounters occurred from March 2020 to March 2021 while Watson was a member of the Houston Texans.

One of the 25 lawsuits was dropped following a judge’s ruling in April 2021 that the plaintiffs needed to disclose their names. In June, Watson settled 20 of the 24 lawsuits he was facing. 

On Monday, three of the remaining four lawsuits were settled, according to Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the women suing Watson.

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 NFL has been investigating whether Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy since 2021. League investigators interviewed Watson over multiple days earlier this summer. 

The NFL’s investigators also spoke to several of the women who were suing Watson. Robinson noted in her report that the NFL claimed it interviewed 12 women who sued Watson, but Buzbee told ESPN on Tuesday that the league only interviewed 10 of the women.

Watson has maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal and said he has no regrets about encounters during the massage sessions, which he has claimed were consensual. Watson also said he cooperated with the NFL’s investigation and “answered every question truthfully” that investigators asked him.

In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the NFL and Watson’s camp engaged in settlement talks, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. However, the two sides never came close to an agreement.

Watson’s side indicated it was willing to settle for a suspension in the range of six to eight games. The best the league was willing to settle for was a 12-game suspension and a significant fine in the range of $8 million. 

Ultimately, as part of the punishment handed down by Robinson, no additional fine was levied against Watson. Based on the structure of his league-record fully guaranteed $230 million contract, Watson is slated to miss only six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022, for a total of $345,000 lost off his $1.035 million base salary. 

Watson’s base salary will jump to $46 million in 2023.

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